Creating a healthy lifestyle is vital for all of us in today's busy world. Work, home and family take control of our lives and sometimes we forget we need to take time out of our busy day to do something just for us; something to help balance, calm and heal our tired minds and bodies. Yoga is one of those ways to help bring that balance back into our lives.
I first came across Kate Porter Yoga when I moved to Singapore in January 2010. Yoga is something I had wanted to try for a while, but always felt intimidated by the thought of going to a studio with young healthy fit people that knew what they were doing. I didn't want to stand out as the uncoordinated non yogi person. While googling for yoga places in Singapore, I was immediately drawn to the tag line... "Yoga for Normal People", and I knew this is where I needed to go. For me it was the start of an amazing yoga journey, where not only did my love of yoga and meditation start, but it also forged some wonderful friendships with amazing people that I feel truly blessed to know.
Li Ling Soon, owner of Kate Porter Yoga, is one of those amazing people and I am honoured to share her journey with you here. You will quickly realise why Li Ling and Kate Porter Yoga are so special, and whether you are a local, or a tourist passing through Singapore, you really need to try out a class there. But be careful, once you start at Kate Porter Yoga, it is very hard to stop!
Tell us a little about yourself
I was born in Singapore and grew up in a typical Chinese family. My dad was a corporate chauffeur by day and a relief taxi driver by night, and my mum a homemaker who took care of my two brothers and I.
Being the middle child and the only girl and with my parents busy making ends meet, I grew up being a very independent woman. When my brothers bullied me, I fought back. I knew that I needed to work hard in school because my parents were not the kind who were going to be coaching us three kids as they were busy putting food on the table and paying mortgage. And when I was of working age, I spent every school holiday taking on part-time jobs and contributing to the family. I’ve waited tables, been a cashier, data entry clerk, florist assistant, factory seamstress, taught tuition and even taught and performed science tricks to young children in school.
Because of how I grew up, I have always valued hard work and recognised that success in life would not come easy. I made sure my parents’ hard-earned money did not go to waste so I worked extremely hard in school and became the first girl in my family, and my extended family of cousins, to go on to university and eventually to post-graduate school in the UK.
After being in marketing and communications for a Singapore government agency for 6 years and then directing internal communications for the CEO of an international bank for another 6 years, I was looking to take a sabbatical break. Work was becoming draining and held little meaning beyond paying bills. And as fate would have it, I was introduced to Kate Porter, the founder of Kate Porter Yoga studio, started teaching yoga, and then taking over the studio which I now own with my husband Julian, and the rest is history.
What is your favourite childhood memory?
My favourite childhood memory would be the occasional Sunday mornings when my dad would take my two brothers and I to the movies after having breakfast at MacDonald’s, which was considered a luxury experience then as my family was not well to do. It was the day my father was not working two jobs. Before the movie started, we would each get a cone-shaped portion of ‘kacang puteh’ (assorted range of peanuts) as snacks during the movie. A Sunday morning like this is special as I rarely have time with my father as he’s so busy with work.
Tell us all about Kate Porter Yoga and how you became the owner
Kate Porter Yoga is a yoga studio with a real life story behind it. It was borne out of a love for yoga and what yoga meant to Kate Porter, a South African lady who had just moved to Singapore with her husband Tom, in 2009. She was battling a series of health challenges and yoga played a big role in helping her to get better. That was the main impetus behind the studio’s ethos of providing ‘Yoga for Normal People’, in which anyone and everyone can use yoga to get stronger and happier. Regardless of your age, gender, body type or fitness level, I believe yoga can be made accessible if taught thoughtfully.
Taking over KPY in 2015 was a huge honour. After two pregnancies, Kate’s health had deteriorated and she needed time and space to rebuild her health. Managing KPY, teaching yoga, and taking care of a family with two young children on top of taking care of her own health were not realistic then. At that time, I had already been running the day-to-day operations for Kate for almost two years, whilst teaching yoga. So when Kate and Tom wanted to relocate back home to South Africa to help Kate’s health improve, I was their first choice to entrust their first ‘baby’ to. Kate was extremely loyal to her students and wanted to make sure that the person taking over KPY was on the same wavelength as her and would do the best for KPY’s existing community. I promised her I would continue to do my best for the community which has become KPY.
I love your tagline, 'Yoga for Normal People'. Tell us what this means to you
Every person discovers yoga in his or her own way. If someone wishes to try out yoga and feels discouraged because they are made to feel inadequate or feel that they do not fit in a ‘normal’ yoga class, that to me is a pity because yoga can do so much good.
Kate discovered yoga during one of the most challenging times in terms of her health and she used it to improve her quality of life. She was not looking for a handstand or to be the bendiest person, nor was she decked out in the latest Lululemon fashion. Yoga, to her, felt good and it helped improve her quality of life. This is such a powerful message and it was out of this love and appreciation of yoga that the studio was borne.
Yoga was a powerful tool to help me manage my life’s ups and downs, especially when my dad got sick and after he passed away. Physically, psychologically and emotionally, I am a better person today because of what yoga has brought out in me.
As I get older, Kate’s story continues to remind me about the fragility of life, to honour my body where I am on any particular day, and to be happy with what I have. I want to continue to share this spirit with the people around me, whether in my personal life or at the studio.
You recently opened a second yoga studio, tell us about the challenges of expanding your business
Every business — new and old — has its challenges. KPY has been in the East Coast of Singapore for 10 years and the expansion was two-fold.
First, although Singapore is a small country, people living in the central and Western parts of the city-state have been asking us to bring KPY closer to them. The new KPY studio at River Valley helps satisfy that demand.
Secondly, and a more altruistic and personal goal, is to spread the KPY philosophy of ‘Yoga for Normal People’ to people who are just looking to use yoga to get healthier and happier and not worry about how they look or whether the can do the next arm balance. Singapore can be a very intimidating place for yoga, especially if you are just starting out in yoga or if you are battling a health condition. I don’t believe there is another yoga place in Singapore that is as authentic, down-to-earth and supportive as KPY. The challenge is how to spread this message to a highly fitness-oriented yoga culture in Singapore.
With your second studio located near the city, I guess tourists and locals have great access to your classes. Can people come to a one off class as well as an ongoing basis?
Yes anyone can join us for a class, one time or ongoing.
You also hold Yoga holidays. Tell us about these. Are they only for your regular clients or can anyone join?
KPY Yoga Holidays (we don’t call them ‘retreats’ as retreats sound dull and restrictive) are special. Beyond the two yoga sessions a day, we encourage everyone — yogi or non-yogi — to join us in order to get away from their daily routines and stress. There are no rules, no diet restrictions and no expectations.
From idyllic beach resorts in Phuket, Lombok and Bali to the more nature-filled Chiang Mai and Hue that we have organised our yoga holidays, we try to create an environment where everyone gets some well-deserved time off to reorganise their priorities and make like-minded friends. You will be surprised how much we all have in common when we talk about our lives.
More on our yoga holidays here: http://kateporteryoga.com/yoga-retreat-holidays/
What is your favourite yoga style? Is it the same as your favourite style to teach?
My favourite style used to be Ashtanga and Vinyasa practices. Today it’s Hatha and it’s my preferred teaching style today too. What I teach that day is usually about who I see in class and what I think they might need.
What is your favourite yoga pose?
Backbends, especially Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel pose), because it opens up every part of my body.
What pose do you find most challenging?
Not quite a pose but I find meditation most challenging because it’s so hard to be single-minded. Two years ago, after three teacher trainings in the last five years, I felt a need to deepen my understanding of yoga philosophy and the subtleties of pranayama and meditation, so I completed another 100 hours of training. My physical and meditation practice continues to be a work-in-progress.
Where has been your favourite place to practice yoga?
My favourite place to practise yoga is at home because it’s my sanctuary, my safe place, my happy place and I have my two dogs, Coco and Rainbow, around me.
Which yoga teacher had the most impact on you and why?
Different teachers have impacted me in different ways over the last two decades. I learnt how to appreciate breath and flow from my teachers in my first 200-hour teacher training in Ashtanga. Kate taught me how yoga should be taught and how impactful being a teacher can be. My next set of teachers taught me that it’s possible to love what I do and make it a career. My current teacher who has a Hatha/Iyengar emphasis teaches me the importance of grounding and setting a solid foundation and that is what I have been trying to share in my classes as well.
And because I have a team of almost 20 teachers working with me to deliver classes across both KPY studios today, I am very fortunate to be learning from each of them too.
Who do you admire most in your life?
The person I admire most in my life has to be my husband Julian. He’s one of the most hardworking, big-hearted and passionate persons I know.
If you could have dinner with any three people, dead or alive, who would they be?
I would like to have dinner with my dad again (he passed away before I could spend quality time with him), Adam Levine (why not!) and Michelle Obama.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
I have been very lucky to have traveled many places but there’s always so many other places to go. If I can only pick one, it would probably be Latin America because it’s so far from Singapore, and if I were to be there, I know it would be a long trip with my best friend and husband and we would be talking so much and building even more memories together.
When are you at your happiest?
When I am at home with my dogs.
How do you spend your free time?
Free time is a luxury. I work every day of the week and at odd hours. So when I have free time, I am pretty much a couch potato. I sit in front of the TV with my husband and my dogs with some ice-cream and a pack of chips.
What is a new skill you'd like to learn and why?
It’s not a new skill but as I love cooking, I’d love to get proper lessons from chefs from different cultures and countries.
If you could only keep five possessions, what would they be and why?
Possessions are less important to me. I would keep all my memories and my life experiences.
What does a perfect day look like to you?
A perfect day is being out in blue skies, green hills and clear waters with my loved ones.
If you could tell your 18 year old self anything, what would it be?
Be patient. Be kind. I have enough.
Why did you choose yoga teaching as your profession?
At the peak of my disgruntlement with my last job, I was practising yoga at a studio every day. It was a place where I could get away from the unhappiness with my work and my colleagues. The financial industry can be quite a cut-throat environment and I was questioning my purpose in life, even though I was earning a five-figure salary. Instead of spending my bonus on another branded handbag or pair of shoes, I decided to enrol myself into a part-time yoga teacher training programme to deepen my understanding of the practice which I love so much. I thought I could use the certification later in life too.
At the point when I decided to quit my job and give myself a one-year break to figure out what I wanted to do in life, I was introduced to Kate. She gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to teach at an established yoga studio, which was very rare for a new yoga teacher to join in those days. Because of Kate’s generosity, I was open to a whole new world of teaching yoga which I find hugely meaningful because I have the ability to help improve other people’s lives. It was life changing.
What achievement are you most proud of in your life?
There are many things that I am proud of in my life but coming from a below-average income and typical Chinese family, I am most proud and grateful to be the first girl in my family and extended family to go on to university and break a few stereotypes.
How would you describe what you do for a living?
My job involves helping people feel better physically, mentally and emotionally.
What's coming up next for you and Kate Porter Yoga? Anything we should be excited about?
Introducing a second studio for KPY was a big step forward for both the brand and myself. Going forward, it is important that I continue to steer KPY towards consistency in its brand promise,’Yoga for Normal People’, serving up joyful experiences across both studios and maintaining our excellence in teaching.
I’m also very excited to be leading my very own yoga holiday this April in Siem Reap. It’s a chance for me to know my students even better and an opportunity to have a more direct impact on their lives. More details on my Siem Reap holiday here: http://kateporteryoga.com/yoga-retreat-holidays/yoga-holiday-with-li-ling/
Is there any advice you would pass on to anyone aspiring to become a yoga teacher?
Know why you are teaching yoga. If you are teaching to become an Instagram star, have lots of students adore you and buy a big house, you are probably better off doing something else. Teach yoga because you want to make a difference in other people’s lives.
How do people find out more about your classes and Kate Porter Yoga? Please supply your contact details:
Social Media (FB and Insta): @KatePorterYoga