Few people know that Singapore theatre artist Kheng Hua Tan – better known as Rachel’s mother from “Crazy Rich Asians” – is also a yoga buff.
By Kavita Chandran
I spoke to Kheng Hua Tan in November 2016 when she was busy launching her latest theatre production in Singapore. As the editor of Yoga Journal’s Singapore edition, I wanted to feature her under a section called “I’m a Yogi” where we spoke to practitioners to find out how yoga benefits them.
I was introduced to her by Betty Kong, co-founder of now defunct Updog Studio in Singapore, of which Kheng Hua was part owner too. Betty is now co-owner of Yoga Lab.
She told me yoga helped clear her head and heart, and tame her monkey mind. Below are excerpts from her interview, as published in Yoga Journal Singapore January 2017 edition.
I picked up yoga when I was pushing 50. I wanted to find a more restorative form of physical activity, something that built me up and strengthened me rather than tear me down. More of an outdoor exercise person, for years I rejected yoga—but I knew my body was changing and so were my needs as a person. That’s when a friend of mine bought me a yoga session at COMO Shambala as a milestone birthday present. I was hooked by the third class, and then I found hot yoga at Updog Studio in Katong, and later became a partner there.
Yoga never fails to clear the air—around you, in your head and in your heart. I am in the field of arts. I use my heart all the time and it is a part of my job to feel for, understand, and then reflect humanity in all its beautiful and ugly ways. Sometimes you are forced to open your heart and mind to entertain thoughts and feelings that can overwhelm you. Yoga clears the air in my heart, and as a theater artist, where I have to infuse various characters on stage, yoga clears the kinks and brings me in greater touch with what my body can do in greater detail than say, running.
We have offered free yoga classes at Updog to some theater actors especially during their most heavy rehearsal periods. Many artists have remarked how good
yoga makes them feel, and how it helps them focus. An actor friend of mine, who was recently in Pangdemonium’s successful production of the musical ‘Rent’, said his stamina greatly improved because of yoga, and it helped him in the extremely challenging dance sequence he had to perform night after night. I feel a synergy between an actor and a yoga teacher—they are both sensitive to where they are as individuals, to who they are communicating with, and have the ability to change the air in the room with their hearts, bodies, voice and intention.
I love twists. They make you sensitive to both sides of your body, left and right, top and bottom. When I am in a twist, I find harmony and balance on my two sides,
not to mention the opening of my heart that makes me more vulnerable and more humble as a person.
In 2016 I was neck deep producing the biggest theatre production of my life. It was called ‘Tropicana The Musical’. Though I enjoyed myself as it was my own independent production it was also stressful, as I needed to sell as many tickets as possible. I found there was less time for yoga and yet I knew I needed it more than ever to sort my monkey mind out. When I do yoga, my heart beats slower, I breathe deeper, my brain gets clearer and I get better sleep. And that recharges my body
and mind, and puts me back on my busy feet again.
This article was first published in the print edition of Yoga Journal Singapore, which is now Yogahood Online.