Get Healthy/ Fitspiration
Kristin Booker • December 10, 2014

Fitspiration: Mimi Chen of Jivamukti Yoga

If you follow me on social media, you’ve no doubt seen me checking at various workouts all over New York, and the most common check-in is for yoga. I’ve got my regular schedule of instructors at exhale, and I feel like I’ve got a really great practice there. But, about once a month, I like to head to Jivamukti Yoga in Union Square to expand my yoga practice, which means I get to take class from one of my favorite yogis, the beautiful and amazing Mimi Chen.

Mimi was introduced to me by my friend Heather Park, and it was one of the most amazing connections anyone has ever made for me (thanks, HP!) Mimi and I have similar stories in that we left corporate careers to explore our passions and we share a common life experience: finding out who we are through leaving who we thought we were behind. If you take the time to separate who you are from what you do, all sorts of amazing things can happen. If you’re like Mimi, you could take the evolution of your yoga practice into a whole new career as an instructor.

From finding her voice to laughing at fitness wardrobe malfunctions (and we’ve all had them,) please meet one of my sweet friends and greatest Fitspirations, Mimi:

Photo: Kristin Booker.

Photo: Kristin Booker.

I didn’t set out to become a yoga instructor….

“I was an investment banker before I came to yoga instruction. I’ve been practicing Iyengar yoga since I was a kid, but when I moved to New York to work in banking, I got into Bikram because I wanted to sweat. I needed to work out, and all the sweating in Bikram made me feel like I was really doing something. Plus, because there are only 26 poses I could see measurable results pretty quickly and I didn’t feel overwhelmed or intimidated. I did that for a while, and then I reading yoga books and seeing all these other poses (particularly in the Jivamukti yoga book,) and I thought, “Wow, that must feel really good to be able to do that pose.” That book really inspired me to come to Jivamukti and try to expand my practice and maybe try some of the harder postures. I didn’t come here to become a yoga teacher, I just wanted to try to advance myself. But I was between jobs and I had a break between jobs, so I went to yoga teacher training because I thought when I got my next investment banking job I’d want to be able to do a more advanced practice while I was traveling. I didn’t think I’d want to actually instruct because I didn’t like public speaking and I was really intimidated to touch people. But it was amazing: during my apprenticeship after 500 hours of yoga teacher training, I worked on speaking to classes more and found this voice I never knew I had. I worked on learning to communicate through positive touch, and the next thing you know, I wasn’t looking for a corporate job anymore and I evolved into an instructor. I never planned to become a yoga teacher, it just happened for me by looking for little challenges in life and overcoming them. I wanted to evolve my practice, and now I help others evolve theirs.”

About finding that voice and overcoming the fear of touching others…

“I realized that I was afraid to touch people and speak because I was intimidated by others. The evolution of my practice as an instructor is so amazing because it’s taught me to connect with people, to touch and embrace them, and that I’m powerful enough to actually stand in front of people and speak with attention focused on me. I never thought I was someone who would want to command attention, but after finding my voice, I feel a tremendous amount of growth and confidence from it. I thought I would just get better at certain postures, but it really evolved me as a person. I’m stronger than I ever thought.”

Photo: Kristin Booker.

Photo: Kristin Booker.

You can’t “think” yourself into a better yoga practice…

“Yoga creates body awareness, and it’s not about intelligence. I have students who are incredibly learned, and it can be very challenging for them to connect with commands like, “Lift your right arm and left leg.” Yoga switches your brain from unconscious movement to a conscious awareness that connects your body and breathing in a very mindful way, but that’s only if you can let go of your mind and be in your body. The first part of your yoga journey is really focused on the physical connection to your body, so you have to find that before any of the deeper metaphysical aspects can come about. Don’t think so much about what you’re doing. Let your awareness guide you.”

Yoga is more than just exercise…

“My greatest motivation is to help people find a happy, connected place in their mind, which is what creates a ripple effect across all their choices. Yes, yoga burns some calories, but the biggest effect is that it helps calm that “monkey mind” we all have that causes us to panic and make poor choices to soothe those racing thoughts. Look, we emotionally eat because we’re sad. If we can separate ourselves from that with yoga tools like asana and meditation, we learn to eat for actual survival and nourishment rather than emotional survival from pain. A treat every once in a while is fine, but if you’re using food for medicinal purposes, that’s something coming from deep inside. I feel yoga has powerful tools to help with that.”

Photo: Kristin Booker.

Photo: Kristin Booker.

Mimi’s three tips for a happier life…

“This is going to sound a little weird, but live in your own world. Nobody cares if you just fell on your mat. Everyone’s wrapped up in their own stuff, so no one is really paying attention to you. Second, let go of the self-deprecating thoughts. It’s natural to do it, but work on that natural inclination to put yourself down. Third, have fun! Even if you can’t do a particular pose, just laugh and enjoy the process. I was in the front row at SoulCycle a while ago and had a “wardrobe malfunction” in the front row with all of my friends there. All you can do is laugh. Life is supposed to have moments of joy. Embrace the process.”

Want to evolve your practice? Try Instagram…

“I was joking with a friend the other day that I have more success finding fellow yogis on Instagram than most people do with online dating. It’s really fun for me to connect with other people on our shared passion around yoga and then they either show up in my class or we go to a class together at another studio. So, if you want to evolve your practice and find other people who will challenge and support you, try looking for other like-minded friends via social media.”

On what brings her joy…

“Being around happy people who make me laugh brings me so much joy. I love laughing.”

On when she feels her most beautiful…

“When I sweat. Always when I sweat.”

Photographed at Jivamukti Yoga NYC, November 2014. All photos: Kristin Booker for Fashion.Style.Beauty. All rights reserved.

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