How did you first discover Bikram yoga?

In the summer of 2005, I was back home from college and going through a major depression. Every day, I felt hopeless. I felt trapped in my body and mind – I had zero control over anything, and my life had no purpose. One day, my mother saw an ad for an introductory deal from a nearby Bikram Yoga studio. Since I already felt like I was at rock bottom and had nothing to lose anyway, I might as well try it. Having no clue about this style of yoga, we went to the studio to sign up. In the first class, I didn’t bring a towel, did most of the postures wrong, didn’t hydrate enough, and I remember thinking, “This class is so long; when will it end? How come everyone here knows what to do already? Do they really come here repeatedly to do this? They’re all crazy! Why?!?! I hate everything.”

I felt amazing as soon as class finished, and I couldn’t wait to return to the torture chamber the next day and the day after. I’ve continued practicing almost daily for the next 18 years and counting!

What have you gained from your yoga practice?

Not long after starting the yoga, those daily feelings of hopelessness turned into optimism. I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. This yoga has helped me in numerous other ways as well:

I used to have severe eczema since I was a child. I would scratch myself until I bled, and prescription medications, creams, and diet changes didn’t help. I pretty much accepted that I would have to suffer from this forever. After just one week of doing the yoga, the eczema completely disappeared.

I’m able to manage my anxiety better. Working in a highly demanding job, I don’t think I would last as long as I have without carving out time each day for this yoga. We emphasize the importance of work-life balance, and yoga plays a humongous role in achieving that balance.

I’ve had issues with my weight and body image since adolescence. I struggled with eating disorders and did various exercise regimens, trying to fit into some mold of what I believed I needed to look like. Of course, nothing worked. After a month of doing this yoga, the excess weight fell off. And the thing is, I didn’t even have to do anything other than go to yoga. I’ve rarely had to think about eating habits. I eat what I crave, and practicing yoga has me craving good, healthy foods and a crazy amount of water. But most of all, this yoga has transformed my body into what it is meant to be, for me and only me, and as a result, it has helped me to love and embrace everything about it.

Stephanie Chen in yoga sport practice

What has been your greatest struggle or accomplishment?

It isn’t easy to pick just one! Placing 5th at this year’s USA Yoga National Competition in Philadelphia was the highest I’ve ever placed at Nationals and the first time I managed to crack the top 10!

Getting myself to compete: I remember when the idea of competing in a yoga competition came up about ten years ago. I was reluctant because I feared that preparing for a competition would be too stressful and take the fun out of yoga. I finally gave in and decided to go for it and see what happens. Instead of making my yoga practice stressful, competition prep motivated me to push myself further than I thought I could in my regular practice. Instead of making yoga unenjoyable, competitions are extremely fun! Yes, there is nervousness before performing in front of an audience on stage. Still, that feeling of being in the zone, and especially finishing the routine, is exhilarating!

Continuing to come and take class regularly: With work being crazy and life stuff popping up randomly, just being able to make it to the room is a daily accomplishment.

Stephanie Chen practicing Eagle pose
Stephanie Chen in yoga class
Stephanie Chen with Rajashree at USA Yoga competition

What advice would you give new students or those struggling with their practice?

Keep on coming! You are not going to get better if you stop practicing. Sure, there will be times when it feels like it’s taking forever for a posture to get better or easier. But your practice will not improve if you stop putting in the time and effort.

If you’re getting discouraged because you’re not getting to the full expression right away, then focus on getting a bit further than before. Try to do just a millimeter more than the previous class, and when you’ve got that down, go another millimeter more in the next class. Over time, all these millimeters will add up, and you will end up much further than when you started.

Your yoga journey and path to healing or growth aren’t supposed to be a sprint. Don’t rush the process. Trust the process.

What do you like to do outside of yoga?

I’m a proud doggy mommy to my Labrador retriever, Tippy Toes. He loves his walks, snuggle time, and taste-testing all the different treats I buy for him. I’m always planning where to take him for another adventure.

Stephanie Chen with Michele Vennard and Cynthia Wehr at Nationals
Stephanie Chen in the lobby at Bikram Yoga San Jose