Stretching capacities: it's more than a class

Consultant at Ernst & Young by day, and yoga guru by night, Shidah Mohamed’s passion for yoga began by accident after she was dragged by a friend to her first yoga class. Ten years on and she is determined that her contributions as co-founder at YogaOneThatIWant (YOTIW) will ultimately advance the community of yoga participants throughout Malaysia one small step at a time.

While many of us might have our own views on yoga and its representation, Shidah believes that it goes far beyond than just healthy living - that it can bring together people from whatever backgrounds, age and fitness level to holistically improve every aspect of their livelihood. We sat down with the 27 year old at her Shah Alam studio on a warm Saturday morning as she took us through her experience.

Why do you think yoga is not as big here as it is in other countries?

At one point, people thought yoga was banned due to religious beliefs. When we started YOTIW, we also set out to break that misconception about yoga and religion. It’s about breathing, exercising, losing weight and gaining strength. No doubt that it came from the Hindu belief, but we have positioned it in a way that shows that it goes far beyond religious aspects. It’s not so much about telling people that yoga isn’t about religion, but showing what it is otherwise.

How do you get your students from various backgrounds to bond and feel motivated together?

It’s important that everyone who comes for class feels settled in properly because if their first impression of yoga is a negative one, then they may not return. I set my students as a priority; I tend to each and everyone of them. Communication has also been key to ensuring their needs are met and that the students are comfortable in being sociable with each other so as to encourage a close knit family and growing the community.

It’s not so much about telling people that yoga isn’t about religion, but showing what it is otherwise.

You have people who work in the corporate field who are constantly overwhelmed with different things that they don’t even have time to take up a hobby let alone attend class. What advice do you have for them?

I have met plenty of people in the workforce experiencing those problems and I totally understand that they have family commitments and other things that they need to prioritise. However, I would encourage them to try something new and different that promotes healthy living. Even if it’s doing it as scarcely as once a month, that’s a start. Eventually you’ll get the hang of it and gradually build the momentum. I started yoga simply as a hobby at the gym. I’ve noticed that my asthma improved tremendously and I no longer needed to rely on my inhaler.

What is the vision you have for YOTIW?

We hope to see the company expand throughout the whole of Malaysia. We currently have seven studios in our schedule and we’re looking to develop classes for corporate companies as part of our efforts to endorse a work/life balance. Overall, we’d really like to see the yoga scene in the country grow to be something that benefits the society.

Travelling is a huge part of your life and there is always a benefit in getting to know the world around you - how has travel affect the way you run your class and handle people?

I spent a year in Germany because my father was working there. I was placed in a public school so that allowed me to pick up the language. I was sort of “forced” to learn German because my friends only spoke to me in English for two months before they abandoned it altogether and started speaking to me in German only. In my travels, I meet new people and in a way it changes how you think or even how you react to certain things. It’s made me a more tolerant person.

What is going the extra mile for you and how do you apply that in your daily life?

I guess it’s the question of ‘how much would you do in order to push your passion?’. For me, it’s sacrificing ‘me time’ to do yoga, whether it’s teaching or managing the studio. Many people perceive what I do as just teaching a class, but there’s so much more to that than what it appears to be. It’s about putting proper thought and preparation in what you’re about to teach. Even after class, I take the time to speak to my students to get to know them a little better or even if they have any issues they need my help with.

Overall, we’d really like to see the yoga scene in the country grow to be something that benefits the society.

‍‘What would you do to push your passion?’ Shidah poses (pun intended) an interesting question that I believe we’ve privately asked ourselves at some point in our lives. The road to embracing healthy living may not be exactly round the corner, but it’s not dormant either. It’s never easy juggling two jobs, but I admire her persistence and sacrifice to see the fruits of her labour all for the name of passion.

In the absence of passion, you’ll feel forced doing something just because you have to do it.