Co-author, Cheryl Hung

The last few posts, I’ve written a bit about this theme of Not Waiting from a place of… well, regret. Immense regret and how regrets of our past can propel us forward to choose how we live our life differently.

In this next series of posts, I’m switching gears and instead explore this same theme but from a different angle: what if. This “what if” intention is so crucial because it is from the place of “what if”, where we imagine a more joyous and beautiful life that’s worth our living.

In writing this post, I decided to enlist help from my cousin Cheryl. So a quick intro seems to be in order – Cheryl has been a market research professional since graduating from college in 2005. She’s also a certified yoga instructor, and teaches yoga in corporate settings. In the Spring of 2015, at the age of 33, Cheryl unexpectedly walked into her Jesus Year.* So here’s an excerpt of our conversation as she describes surviving her Jesus Year, and how through sitting and listening to her inner voice, she managed to transform her life into a more beautiful one, while touching others through the art of yoga teaching:

Angel: So I’m really interested in the “inciting incident” of your story. Can you share with me a bit about it? I always like to think that, it is often through crisis that we make the best, most inspiring, transformations.

Cheryl: The “inciting incident” – was the morning that I woke up, and I couldn’t go to work anymore. The night before, I had stayed up until midnight, pulling a last minute request for a client and it was a very difficult project, for a very difficult client. And this client was not happy…My overall attitude at that point was – this is kinda boring and I felt like my career had plateaued, and why was I working so hard and this client is still yelling at me?? There has to be something more to life! I WANTED to do something more, but I was so complacent.

So the morning of that inciting incident, I woke up and was running late. I needed to get up but I couldn’t. Everything just felt heavy. I was like “Do I have the flu? Am I sick?” But my body didn’t feel like it was sick. When I tried to get up, I started having the hardcore, hyperventilating panic attack. I couldn’t breathe. I just started crying hysterically in bed. And I told my partner Hani, “I’m not going to work, I can’t go to work, I don’t want to go to work. And I just don’t want to.” I couldn’t articulate that I wasn’t sick physically.

By mid-morning I get up, and it hit me that there was no way in hell that I was going to pretend that everything was ok. Because things were not ok. It took me, 4 hours – until after lunch! – for me to make myself decent and put on some clothing. When I got to work, instead of going to my office, I went straight to HR. I described to HR what had happened in the last 24 hours and requested for some time off. I needed to regroup. I needed to clear my head, I had no idea what was going on, only that there was something loud and resounding screaming inside of me to just STOP.

As Cheryl and I chatted more about how her inciting incidence unfolded, it became clear that this was the beginning of a journey, not merely the aftermath of an incident. What was it about hitting rock bottom that forces us to re-evaluate how we are choosing to live our lives? It is often through crisis or major life events that many of us stop and start to wonder ‘what if’: what if it didn’t have to be this way? What would happen if Cheryl kept going at status-quo? What if Cheryl chose happiness instead?

Cheryl confessed that she didn’t know the answers to her ‘what ifs’. At that moment, now that she decided to take time off, she recalled wondering what she would do with her spare time. Cheryl recounted her big plans to hit the gym every day, catch up on housework and friends & family during her time off, etc. But none of this materialized.

Instead, Cheryl “did nothing”. On a “good day”, she described walking down the street to go to Starbucks, or going to yoga. With suddenly no work demands or rigid schedule to follow (and no motivation to go to the gym!), Cheryl began to listen to herself. At the thought of throwing in the towel for this career, she questioned why after working so hard. She questioned if it was her time to exit, or did she needed to simply shift her focus?

A: Cheryl, were you always good with listening to yourself?

C: No, I didn’t always have an intuition, or listened to myself. I listened to my mother, I listened to society, I listened to what I was supposed to be doing… I was supposed to go to university, get a degree, get a good paying job, work my ass off, and then keep going keep going. And then when the time is ticking… meet someone, have babies… get married… and I did that… well not really. But from a career perspective, I did what I was supposed to do. I was FUCKING BLOODY MISERABLE. I was good at my job, I had a good salary, by our parent’s definition –by anyone looking in- I was good! No, I wasn’t. My inner voice was saying GET REAL.

Get real.

There it was. The demand from our inner selves to start living our authentic lives as it was meant to be. For some of us, it means hitting roadblock after roadblock before getting to the truth of what, where, and why we are meant to be. In this place of ‘what if’, through this inevitable life journey of discovery, “real” starts to manifest in ways that only makes sense to us.

At this point, I asked Cheryl if it was through her Jesus Year that she discovered yoga was her life calling. Did yoga ‘resurrect’ her to live from a place of authenticity and help others through health & wellness? Being a yoga practitioner myself, I noticed many yoga teachers always seemed to have their stuff together. They looked glowingly healthy and stress-free from their diet of green smoothies. They traveled the world and did cool poses on mountaintops. They preached gratitude, love, stylish stretchy-pants and everything-zen. To me, they were yoga fairies sprinkled all over the city to remind the rest of us to live authentically. Cheryl told me to get real.

She described the reality of moonlighting as a yoga teacher and holding down a full-time job in order to make living in the city, feasible. She told stories of fellow yoga teachers who would not be able to if they didn’t have a supportive partner, and of others who are barely getting by with family to take care of. There was messiness involved. Life as a yoga fairy was not all green smoothies and pixie dust.

C: Yoga practice for me is all about staying open. It’s anything and everything on and off the mat. On days when I really need it, it will be 75 mins of vigorous non-stop movement, advanced poses… and I’ll come out of it, “oh yea, exactly what I needed.” Then on other days, you’ll find me sitting on my mat 20 minutes not moving. And I’ll just sit there… and I’ll come out of it, “oh yea, exactly what I needed.” That is the type of openness I need, that I draw from, from my yoga practice. Yoga is not just about stretching my legs in different directions. “Practice” is in here (Cheryl points to her head) too.

Cheryl goes on to describe some of her teaching philosophies, in encouraging her students to maintain a practice that was right for them. She tells her students “I’m not always going to be here: you’re going to move away, I’m going to move away. There’s going to be times when you won’t be able to come to yoga practice because life happens. But I hope you’ll hold your own practice. And I’m here to teach you how to safely build your own practice that’s truly for you: your body, your mind. That’s my job as your yoga teacher.”

And just like in life, the notion of a practice – an authentic practice leading to an authentic life – differed from person to person. It was about ‘getting real’. Let’s face it, life is messy. Some of us navigate it better than others, but we all hit roadblocks at one point. There will be a point where all of us encounter the ‘what ifs’. Some may be lucky enough to encounter a yoga fairy that sprinkles pixie dust on us and everything will be OK…likely not. It is my hope that, like Cheryl, it is the beginning of a journey that allows us to find our voice and start living and navigating life from a place of joy and authenticity.

* Jesus Year is the (approximate) 33rd year of one’s life where one is reborn and/or undergoes transformation. So called, as tribute to the year of Jesus’s crucifixion, where one could imagine the transformation he underwent the year(s) leading up to his sacrificing himself for mankind. 

Published by Angel Ling

Podcaster, storyteller, producer of 80 Minutes Around the World Immigration Stories storytelling show.

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