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Spandex Leggings Not Required: Meet Corporate Yogi Poh Teng

June 09, 2017 | Filed in: Woman of the Week

Poh Teng knows a thing or two about managing work-related stress: She began her career as a biochemist, and now manages intellectual property at a Silicon Valley tech firm. As for yoga? What began as a means of self-care during grad school has since evolved into a full-fledged passion, and Poh now teaches classes and workshops in the Bay Area. Through her Take a Break blog, Poh advocates for work days punctuated by five-minute breaks, and debunks the idea that yoga is a strict formula of pre-sunrise practice and spandex leggings. Read on for her thoughts on self-presentation, doing yoga in a skirt, and de-stressing at your desk.

PAY ATTENTION—that’s the one thing that runs through every yoga class I teach. What are your feet touching? How deep is your breath? What new sensations arise and what sensations fall away? It’s a constant practice of coming back to the moment. I focus on using the breath as a tool to anchor our minds to our bodies, which helps us anchor our minds to the present moment. The mind will travel through the past and present and spin stories, but the body doesn’t travel through time; it’s just here.

I BEGAN PRACTICING YOGA when I got to graduate school to manage the stress of being a PhD student. At that point, I was just curious about yoga and improving my own wellness. A good friend said to me one day, “You should become a yoga teacher. I would totally take classes with you.” I said, “Really? Are you serious?” My friend planted the seed, and the more I practiced on my own, the more I thought seriously about becoming an instructor.

Poh wears the Winfrey top and the Nolita skirt.

Poh wears the Winfrey top and the Nolita skirt.

I GOT MY PHD IN BIOCHEMISTRY. When I finished grad school, I worked for a while as a biochemist, studying various human diseases. I was actually laid off a couple times, because there was a lack of funding for research in the life sciences. I thought, “Maybe I’ll try to be a yoga teacher. If I don’t have a full-time job, at least I can pay my bills.” I completed my first teacher training while I was working as a scientist in San Diego, and there have been many trainings since then. I taught yoga full-time when I was in between jobs, and now I manage intellectual property for a tech company in Silicon Valley. I work there full-time, and teach yoga part-time.

I TEACH WORKSHOPS, classes, and retreats. I mostly teach in studios, but I have taught corporate classes in offices before. Sometimes I do private classes if it’s a client with a specific situation—maybe they have an injury and are interested in a therapeutic practice. I used to have a private client, a woman who can’t drive anymore, and I would go to her house every week. I teach a specific therapeutic workshop for back pain, so I get all kinds of people. Maybe they’ve been in car accidents, or maybe their back just really hurts. I’ve been in two car accidents myself, so I know what the challenges are and how difficult it can be to heal.

I ALWAYS SAY, I have my full-time job to make a living, but I have yoga to make a life. I love helping people feel better in their bodies and manage the stress that they have. What I offer is a practice people can do anywhere: You don’t have to drive across town to come to take a live class with me. Just take a moment to pause, get out of your chair and look away from the computer. Stretch a little bit. It might not even be a real yoga pose, whatever that means, but if people can learn to pause and just take care of themselves, that goes a long way. Part of my goal is to remind people that yoga isn’t rocket science.

I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO HELP PEOPLE, but my first meditation teacher made it explicit. He advocated being kind to others, and called it selfless service. I practice this through yoga, and it helps me come into the present moment. I’m not worrying about the past or the future. I’m just here with the person in front of me, holding space for them in whatever it may be that they’re going through.

Poh wears the Winfrey top and the Nolita skirt.

Poh wears the Winfrey top and the Nolita skirt.

I’M A PRACTICING YOGI and a practicing Buddhist, both of which are very introspective. Buddhism and the innate yoga philosophy posit that humans are inherently good on the inside; if we take care of ourselves, our true nature comes forth. I do a lot of meditation, and turn the gaze inward to try to work out personal issues. It’s a work in progress to peel away all the layers. Self-presentation is not something you can put on; it’s just who you are.

MY HOPE IS TO SHOW that yoga is for everyone. I hear from people all the time, “I can’t come to your yoga class because I won’t make it in time from the office.” In classes, I insert little tips throughout the practice to help yoga feel attainable and accessible. I’ll say, “You don’t need a yoga strap for this. When you go home, you can use a necktie or your dog’s leash.” When we do a certain pose, I’ll say, “You can do this pose in a skirt; I’ve done it in a skirt.” If I’m teaching a corporate yoga class, we practice forward folds that you can do while sitting in a chair at your desk. All you need is five minutes—it doesn’t matter what clothes you’re wearing or if you have a yoga mat.

BECAUSE I’M VERY PETITE, finding clothes that fit me well has been a challenge. When I put on something that fits really well, it’s a gift. Silicon Valley, especially the tech industry where I work, is more casual, but I like to dress up—it makes me feel good. And I can practice yoga in my MM.LaFleur pieces, which I love!

Photographs by Helene Cotton.

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Alexandra Johnson is an editorial associate at MM.LaFleur, where she started out as a summer intern. Her happy place is the room housing Monet's Water Lilies at MoMA. Read more of Alexandra's posts.

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