Elvina Cheong pretty much lives in her yoga clothes. The 26-year-old founder of Freedom Yoga, who has two studios in Singapore, is one of those people who live and breathe yoga. But the thing is, the transition to a holistic lifestyle start just three years ago, when a shoulder injury turned her towards the ancient practice as a form of therapy and recovery.
Fresh out of university with a degree in communications, it seems unlikely that one would make the jump to entrepreneurship, but she did it anyway – and what a success it turned out to be. In this edition of Eye Candy, we speak with Elvina to find out more.
How did you get started on your yoga journey?
I was doing yoga on and off along with other sports, like wakeboarding and tennis, but never took it seriously until 2015. That was when I had surgery on my shoulder – a torn shoulder capsule and all my rotator cuffs as well – and I took on yoga from a healing perspective. From then on I fell in love with the practice, and started doing yoga more regularly and taking it more seriously. I did my training at Space & Light in Singapore, which has now joined up with COMO Shambhala Urban Escape.
I wanted to open my own studio because I felt it would be the best avenue to spread what I believe in and my love for yoga. I feel like the practice has helped me to become the best version of myself. Spreading the good vibes through teaching a class and interacting with my students is great, but being able to create something from scratch, that embodies all that you believe in, and all that you are, and to see it come to life is beyond amazing.
Any interesting stories about your first yoga session?
I had my very first yoga class in primary school and it became more of a napping session than anything else.
Saying that there are many yoga studios in Singapore now has become an understatement. How is Freedom Yoga different the rest?
I think what makes Freedom Yoga different from other yoga studios is the sense of community that we try to cultivate here. Many other studios can kind of seem like a quick fix — people come for yoga, and leave right after class. Our studios are created with interaction in mind – at our Cecil Street studio we have a lounge area where students can gather before or after class, while our Holland Village studio is right next to an acai bowl store, whom we have partnered with to offer special perks and discounts to members.
We want to have a space for these like-minded individuals, with the same intentions and beliefs, to come together beyond the studio. We also strongly believe that yoga is for everyone. A lot of times, people might think they have to look, act, or live a certain way to be a ‘yogi’, but we want to say that yoga is for anybody, no matter what shape, size, or age you are, or how much experience you have. Inclusiveness has been one of our main goals from the get-go.
Do you have a life mantra?
I have several mantras that I live by. Your vibe attracts your tribe. I believe in surrounding myself with people who are right. The kind of people who lift others up, who inspire the people around them to be their best selves. It’s important to surround yourself with people who share the same values as you do.
Also, do no harm but take no crap. As much as I like to make people happy and see them happy, I always have to remind myself to not become a ‘yes-man’ and to set boundaries for myself. I try to remember that saying no to someone does not make me a bad person, because if I say yes to someone, it’s me saying no to myself in a situation where the other individual and I are not aligned.
You’ve already opened two studios – how do you balance work and life, and are the lines starting to blur? Yoga is a lifestyle, after all.
I used to strive for work-life balance but now I like to see it as work-life harmony. Yoga is a lifestyle, for sure, but I wouldn’t quite categorise running a business in the same category. Freedom Yoga has become such an integral part of my life that the lines have definitely blurred, but I’m very blessed to be doing what I love so most of the time, I don’t really see it as work, but more of building upon what I already love.
What are your other interests?
I love to read. Reading takes me into another dimension and I absolutely love it. Vegetating in front of the TV is something I used to be very good at as well but I don’t have much time for that anymore. Looking for new music – that I add into my class playlists – is something that I enjoy doing as well!
What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
Building a good team, working together and seeing your dream come to life is such an amazing feeling. It’s also knowing that the experiences and opportunities you create are endless.
Do you have cheat days? If so, what are your guilty pleasures?
I used to stick to a clean diet and restrict myself from a lot of rubbish but that honestly left me very unhappy and also led to me binge eating. I nourish my body by listening to what it needs. On some days, if I feel like being a vegetarian, I avoid eating meat, while on other days, I enjoy a good piece of steak. Guilty pleasures are definitely salt and vinegar chips and jelly sweets!
Any advice for people hesitating to get into yoga?
Make the decision and commit! There is really nothing to lose and a million things to gain, so why not be kind to your body? I can almost promise that anyone will feel magic if they commit one hour a couple of times a week. It does not have to comprise of super fancy poses and seeing the world upside down but more importantly, opening up the body and cultivating self-love through the practice.
If you could expand Freedom Yoga to anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why?
It might very possibly be Los Angeles. It’s very ironic as LA is the epicentre of modern-day yoga, where the misconception of how a yogi should look like stems from. Freedom Yoga, being in a region like that, would serve as a reminder – to the vast majority of us who do not look like models – that yoga truly is for everyone.
Want to learn more about Elvina’s attitude towards yoga? Support her at Freedom Yoga.