Meet Jasmine Chong, Founder of Yoga Lab. A woman that imbues flexibility and balance in her craft.
Jasmine’s eyes lit up as she warmly greeted us when we entered Juice Junkie, a cosy laidback cold-pressed juice bar opposite Yoga Lab, which instantly eased the atmosphere for the interview. Looking effortlessly chic in full yoga gear, the svelte yoga studio founder cheerfully recommended some juice for us to try.
An avid yoga practitioner since 20, Jasmine has been consistently uploading her poses on Instagram against beautiful backdrops, coupled with inspiring caption. This garnered good traction even when she started out working in her banking job, and she now has a strong following of 109,000 till date. After working for a few years, she left her stable corporate career on September 2014 to pursue her passion in yoga. Four months later, she started teaching yoga.
Not everyone among her family and friends supported her choice in taking the path less travelled. However, being a person who strongly values flexibility, she kept an open mind and persevered to see her passion to fruition. This mindset not only helped her grow her business, but also greatly impacted how she makes decisions and leads her team.
Another key thread that that plays out in Jasmine’s life is balance. Despite her busy lifestyle, she works hard to ensure that she has enough time for herself and loved ones. She also grapples with balancing many priorities, such as leading her team while being mindful about not having anyone feeling judged.
A strong social media following, an open mindset and having clarity of her different life priorities were a huge part of the equation why Jasmine was successful in founding Yoga Lab in May 2016. Another two areas that contributed to her success was having a mentor to help her navigate the industry, as well as having a solid unique selling proposition. As part of Yoga Lab’s offerings, Jasmine believes that yoga should be made accessible to all with or without prior experience, so she is conscious about pricing her classes right as well as focusing on tips and tricks behind the pose to make it simple for anyone to learn.
Armed with a triple science background, Jasmine has always viewed yoga in a scientific manner. “Each class is an experiment, and we just have to follow the steps to perform the experiment. If you train your body and muscles in a certain way, eventually you would get there. The process before it is the science behind it. Every class is an experiment. Your body is like an experiment. This is the reason why my studio is called Yoga Lab!”
To start, could you share what a typical day is like for you?
My days start early at 7:00am, where I usually teaching two morning classes, followed by breakfast around 10:30am. In the noon, we typically have lunch meetings till about 2:30pm. After which, I will either have another meeting and then take the evening off, or rest in the afternoon and teach in the evening till about 10:00pm. This is on top of the yoga teachers’ training course that I am running this month. In between classes, training or meetings, the day is filled with lots of coffee!
What drives you in life and keeps you going?
Right now, it is the team that believes in Yoga Lab, including the people who are working at Yoga Lab, and the students who are practising with us. To me, that is an honour. These people have chosen to work for or practice at Yoga Lab for a reason. This part of their life is in my hands and I think that is a big responsibility. I have to lead the company in a way that keeps giving this amazing team a reason to continue on with Yoga Lab.
How do you ensure that every class you teach is impactful?
I like to approach it in a scientific manner and to break down the physics behind each pose. So for example, if it is a pose requiring balance, and I am making an upward movement, I would also pay attention to what the counterbalancing downward force is. With a thorough understanding of how each pose can be achieved by anyone, even those who do not have prior yoga experience, I am able to share many tips and tricks which make the poses accessible to all students which made it exciting for them to keep coming back!
How much work goes behind the preparation of each class?
I would plan out every single class with what exactly needs to be worked on, strengthened, explained, and how I should demonstrate this clearly. For a one hour class, the preparation behind it used to range between half an hour to two hours, depending on how complicated the poses are. It has gotten easier now as I am much more familiar with the teaching approach of each pose.
As both an instructor and a boss, you are seen as a leader to your students and your staff. How do you view leadership, and how do you describe your leadership style?
I have never thought of myself as a boss. The team that I had when I started Yoga Lab were my friends. The team eventually grew with time but the essence of the team has stayed. When we make important decisions or changes, it has always been carried out as a discussion rather than taking a top-down approach.
In terms of my leadership style, I would say I am quite open. I believe that flexibility in thinking is very important. If someone throws me an idea and I feel shocked by it, I would question whether it is because of the rigidity in my mind or if it is because it is completely not acceptable or feasible. Before rejecting any idea, I would open it up for discussion with the team first. This allows us to bounce around more ideas and possibilities, which expands everyone’s minds. That is why I appreciate it when my team comes together to discuss on decisions and issues. Through this approach, I teach them something, and they teach me something every day!
Is there any leader that inspires you?
Betty, my previous boss from the yoga studio, Updog studio, who is now my current business partner, has this amazing ability to lead, mentor and guide those around her without making anyone feel small. She believes in empowering people, and that to me is inspiring. As an entrepreneur and leader myself, there are people who are less experienced in yoga who are looking up to me for direction, and these are the people that I would have to guide. Similar to Betty, I hope to guide them along to empower them and lead them without putting them down, which is a very fine line to tread. She made me realise that you can be both a leader and mentor.
What is the secret between empowering and leading others without putting them down, given that this is such a delicate balance?
Betty does this well by approaching it in a loving and motherly way. She is perceptive enough to know when there is something wrong with someone, and will make the effort to have a genuine conversation to understand where they are coming from. This was something I was not used to initially because, in my past work experience, this would indicate that you have done something wrong. However, Betty made me realise that a talk can be nice, and that she genuinely wants to find out whether everything is fine in your life.
We had an instance where one of our staff was not performing up to expectation. Instead of getting angry, Betty suggested to have a chat over lunch with her, and we that was when we found out that our staff was facing some personal issues which was affecting her at work. This does not mean that she is a bad worker; it only means that she is going through a tough time. So instead of judging her based on her behaviours, we offered to support her in any way we could to make it easier for her, and to give her time and space to heal.
As the issue blew over, our staff told us that it was the first time in her working environment that she felt she would not be judged at work. Maybe that is the secret to it. I also trust that she would treat our students right and show them love, because we have treated her right and shown her love. Being a leader, guiding, mentoring and truly caring about our staff is more precious than getting the bottom line up. This is also being flexible in taking a different perspective, where rather than getting angry with others, try to understand them first as it might not be personal but it might be because of many other reasons.
How has your mentor helped you?
Betty has been in the yoga industry for eight years, so she knows what needs to be done, which has saved me a lot of time in setting up Yoga Lab. There are many small details that she pointed out that I had to pay attention to, such as getting all my payment systems up before starting my studio lease. So even from the very first day I opened Yoga Lab, we were prepared to accept multiple forms of payment, which impressed those who noticed it. In addition, she has helped me deal with staff and people management as she was familiar with the typical concerns and gripes about the industry. So with her mentorship, it has significantly made the process more smooth sailing and manageable.
Moving on to the topic on women, do you think that it is possible for a woman to have it all?
It depends on how you define having it all. If you have an unrealistic definition will, then of course it will mean that you cannot have it all. To me, having it all means that I get to see my loved ones once a week, my boyfriend does not feel neglected, my dogs are well taken care off, my staff are happy, and I have enough time to rest. That, to me, is enough.
A lot of it has to do with contentment rather than a standard you have to follow. When you say “have it all”, implicitly it would mean that there is a standard that you are benchmarking to, which can be influenced from various sources like the media. However, is such a standard even applicable to you as an individual? Instead of thinking about whether it is possible to have it all, I think it is more important to consider what it means exactly to have it all for yourself, and then this makes it possible to create a life that allows you to have it all in your own way.
What is one challenge that you are trying to overcome as a woman?
It is the societal and family pressure, especially in our Asian society, to settle down and be a mother. As I still intend to expand Yoga Lab further, my parents are concerned that I would be too busy to dedicate sufficient time to starting a family. I do understand where they are coming from, and being 28, I know that I am responsible in being answerable to my parents in terms of family planning, especially when they believe that family should come first before career.
However, I do not think that there is a right or wrong approach, and I am not at that stage where I am ready to slow down. I am cognisant of both balancing the business and family planning, and will give this careful consideration. This is not impossible; ultimately, this is a matter of problem solving.
Would you have any advice for young women who may fear connecting with potential mentors?
They are definitely not alone! Though I think the fear is irrational because we assume that these potential mentors are judging us, but they are not. Potential mentors have probably also once gone through the same issues when they were at the stage where we are now. So they do not expect that you would have it all together, and it is likely that they will be open to hear questions on problems you are currently facing at this point. In fact, the sooner we open up about our insecurities and problems, the easier a connection can be formed with our mentors.
Is there any cause that you are passionate about?
I like animals, so perhaps having a collaborative event with SOSD, Singapore’s volunteer-run dog shelter, at Yoga Lab could be in the pipeline in future. Another cause I care about is young women with eating disorders, though delving in this area can prove to be rather challenging. I personally had an encounter with a young girl who had eating disorder, and it was very tricky speaking with her as everything I said felt like it hit a wall. This then intrigued me because, being the owner of a yoga studio seeing normal health young women all the time, it made me question whether we ignore other women who may not be as healthy just because they do not walk through your door? I do believe I have the platform to reach out to them to exercise and become healthier, and if they do want to practise yoga, I welcome them to come in any time.
To end off, what is one quote that has inspired you?
“Don’t let one bad day make you think you have a bad life”. It is not the end of the world when you suddenly face a major obstacle or setback, as difficult as that might seem. Trust that you will figure out a way to make things better.