Yoga teacher Briohny Smyth is a former child pop star from Thailand who found solace in yoga after work pressure and stress at a tender age bogged her down—she had a platinum album at 13! Today she lives in Los Angeles, is a jetsetter and mother of two, and teaches yoga at workshops, festivals and teacher trainings around the world.

Briohny Smyth and Singapore-based Denise Keller during a cover shoot for Yoga Journal Singapore

By Denise Keller 

Singapore’s Denise Keller met up with Briohny, her friend and mentor, at the cover shoot in Singapore. She shares some excerpts of their tête-à-tête.

Denise: Take me back to your very first yoga lesson. Were you naturally bendy?
Briohny: My very first yoga session was in Goa, India. I was 15 years old and had spent 2 weeks hosting and filming a Thai travel show in Nepal and India. I had met a couple of girls from the U.S., and they invited me to an ashram to try yoga. I can’t say I was hooked immediately because I spent almost two hours feeling uncoordinated and dizzy. It was the post Savasana feeling that hooked me immediately. At the time, I had been a pop star in Asia for  three years and my body image was at an all-time low. I wasn’t eating well, and abused drugs and weight loss additives just to fit in. When I came out of Savasana after that first practice, the feeling of serenity was like none other. That was when I decided that yoga practice was a necessity in my life. Almost two decades later, it still is!

D: What is one of the most valuable lessons you’ve been able to take off the mat and into your life?
B: I was a very hot-headed teenager, and always felt like I needed to be right. I would get into screaming fights with my parents, boyfriends…you name it. I was the type of person who would always look for fault in others and really lived with a victim mentality. The yoga practice—asana, pranayama and meditation—helped me observe my thought process and react less to my negative thoughts. I gradually realized that I am the only person who can control my happiness and that I have the power to shape my life the way I want. Taking responsibility for my own happiness allowed me to interact with my loved ones in a more compassionate way. Yoga also helps me be the best version of myself for my kids. The calming quality of yoga is really important in my hectic life as a mother, teacher, and entrepreneur.

Briohny on the Jan 2017 Cover of Yoga Journal Singapore

D: What was it like to become a yoga teacher from a teenage pop star?
B: It was a difficult time for me when I first started teaching yoga. I was in the middle of a very heated custody battle with my first husband over our daughter, and had already spent all of my savings on lawyers. Not only was I broke, I was also accumulating debt fast. Teaching yoga in LA was already so competitive and studio rent was so high, I was barely breaking even. I took every job opportunity I got, sometimes driving an hour to make just $30. After almost two years of making ends meet, I started to feel my confidence dropping. But right before I was about to call it quits, I landed myself a job with Equinox, a U.S. based gym chain. And so, my life took a new and happy turn.

D: Yoga in LA versus yoga in Asia? Give me the lo-down.
B: Yoga has a universal language, and communities around the world really share a lot of the same values. There are some differences—mostly because of culture and the way business is done. Yogis in Asia are more respectful of their teachers: for example, they ask to go to the bathroom, and they face their feet away from the teacher while doing Savasana. Not to say that yogis in the West are rude, but they are culturally a bit more assertive in a yoga room.

D: We both grew up in the Asian entertainment industry where only certain looks, shapes and sizes were accepted. Did you struggle with this? You have a pre-teen in your own house now, how is that going?
B: I really struggled with my body image and self-confidence when I was younger. I still do sometimes, but am better equipped with my yogic tools to deal with negative emotions. High school was tough for me because I was touring and recording more than ever and missed a lot of school. I was bullied by older and meaner girls those days and used to feel very insecure, until I moved to a music school and received a lot of support from peers. Now, I have a 12-year-old daughter who’s growing up much faster than I did at her age, and with a lot of extra information that comes from cyberspace. It is scary as a mother to see how much they can be
exposed to through social media—I try my best to keep an open dialogue with her, and of course limit her time on the Internet as well. Even I start to feel a bit intimidated by the perfection that you constantly see on Instagram, and have personally moderated my own exposure to it.

D: What is family to you?
B: I grew up in a very tight-knit family and my mother lives with me even now. I love having her around to help with the kids, and to just be close. I guess it’s an Asian family quality. Both my parents have always supported me 100% and I can only hope to return the favor. In Thailand, many kids will live with their parents until their parents are older and then they live with their kids. The caretaking roles merely switch. I believe that you have to take care of yourself, learn to love yourself, before you can give that love to others. So, what is family to me? Just unconditional love.

D: You are a big part of the Wanderlust festival. Tell us a little more about that.
B: Wanderlust, for me, is a yearning for adventure, exploration and discovery. After almost a decade of teaching yoga— private and studio classes, retreats, workshops, trainings, online … you name it—I find nothing quite compares to a Wanderlust Festival experience. The first time I attended Wanderlust, Tahoe, I was hooked. But it wasn’t until  a couple years back that I got a chance to teach at one. It was incredible for me to finally have a platform to combine two of my greatest passions—Yoga & Music!

Denise Keller is a yoga teacher, environmentalist, TV personality and former Yoga Journal Singapore cover model.

This article was first published in the print edition of Yoga Journal Singapore, which is now Yogahood Online.