Sibylla Chan has spent a lifetime learning about yoga and discovering its amazing results. Here's how her relationship with the ancient practice developed and why she is spreading the word.
My experience of yoga is based on a lifetime of practice, teaching and applying its principles to the practical demands of modern living. Alongside a busy secondary school teaching career, teaching science and modern languages, I ran yoga classes during evening and weekends. I am now in a position to concentrate solely on teaching yoga and its five principles - meditation, pranayama (breathing techniques), postures, relaxation and diet - emphasising its therapeutic effects and employing yoga as a practical tool to enhance all aspects of one's life. I teach from my home in Plymouth, Devon, and run yoga weekend retreats, workshops, private and regular classes, and an eight-week chronic pain management course.
I first discovered yoga 42 years ago at the age of 19. Trained in ballet, I easily took to the discipline of yoga, at once recognising the powerful interplay between the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of yoga and its benefits. At the age of 22, I attended the funeral of my father-in-law, who had become a Buddhist monk late in life in Singapore. There, I spent two solid months learning the art of meditation at Kwong Meng San temple under the guidance of Vimalananda, a resident monk. As my mentor, he helped open my "third eye” and guided me in a conscious out-of-body experience, deepening my connection with spirit and moving my life path inexorably in the direction of teaching yoga and healing.
The Master of the temple, Hoong Choo, went into a long period of meditation before giving me my Chinese name, Poh Lien Huah, which means Precious Lotus Blossom.
He felt the natural characteristics of the Lotus flower, as stated in Buddhist teaching, personified my character and personality, and especially my ability to move and change with any situation. Thereafter, I immersed myself in the study of yoga philosophy and its different forms. I finally settled on teaching Hatha yoga, guided by Swami Vishnu Devananda (Founder of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres), always bearing in mind my students' individual needs, recognising and emphasising the therapeutic, healing effect of yoga, and applying it to myself and others.
After having my two children, I gained a Masters Degree from University of London, where I read education, psychology and social biology. I went on to become a secondary school teacher. By this time, the study and practice of yoga had become a daily part of my life and in addition to the stresses and strains of teaching I set up a yoga studio and began teaching the discipline in earnest, running small evening and weekend classes.
Life throws us countless obstacles to overcome. Some are easier, others harder, but I am a firm believer that all can be achieved with the varied tools of yoga. As well as the usual hurdles I have had to cope with in my personal and professional life, I have also suffered from grand mal epilepsy during my adult life. While I took the prescribed medication, there is no doubt in my mind that a healthy lifestyle, meditation, positive thinking and self-healing has played its part in controlling the condition. I have now been free from epileptic fits for the last 20 years.
In 1997, I developed cervical spondylosis, suffering chronic nerve pains emanating from my neck, which seriously interfered with my work, personal and social life. Despite the fact that the condition is chronic, I conquered my pain through a mixture of meditation, relaxation, visualisation and changes in thinking and behaviour. By understanding the "Gate Control" Theory of Pain (Melzack and Wall 1965), I began to view my condition differently, which finally enabled me to control my pain, rather than the pain controlling me. I now want to share that knowledge and experience with others and offer a successful eight-week pain management course for chronic pain sufferers.
In 2006, I contracted breast cancer. While I endured two operations and a month of radiotherapy, I continued with my daily practice of yoga, meditation and deep chakra breathing, which enabled me to maintain a positive frame of mind and gave me the healing energy to secure a speedy recovery.
At this time, I also conceived the idea to offer yoga retreats, inviting people to my home, where they could be introduced to all aspects of yoga while enjoying a weekend away on the beautiful Devon coast.