updated 31 Dec 2010, 07:46
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Journey of discovery
by Edther Au Yong

MOST busy professionals work first and play later, after the sun sets.

But for Ms Gloria Suen, a banking executive, her day starts with play, then work. A Bikram Yoga practitioner, Ms Suen wakes up at 5.30am almost daily to attend classes at Bikram Yoga City Hall, Singapore's first authorised Bikram Yoga studio.

Ms Suen is also a respected competitor in the yoga championship circuit, being a top three-placed competitor.

The type of yoga that the 34-year-old practises is a system of yoga created by Indian yoga guru Bikram Choudhury from traditional yoga techniques and popularised in the early 1970s.

The classes run for 90 minutes and consist of a set series of 26 postures and two pranayamas, or breathing exercises. It is practised in a heated room of about 40 deg C.

"If I can't make it in the morning, I attend class after work at 7pm or 8pm, if I can get out of the office on time," said Ms Suen.

"Someone once asked me if yoga keeps me sane from work, or work keeps me sane from yoga. I think it goes both ways!" she added with a laugh.

Ms Suen works in the consumer- banking strategy department of Standard Chartered Bank. The Hawaiian native, who has been living in Singapore for close to three years, said that her career is "very important to me from an intellectual standpoint".

As for her yoga journey, which is an ever-evolving one, Ms Suen explained that what started as a way to keep fit and to get in touch with her quieter side has now become something more meaningful.

She has represented Singapore in the annual Bishnu Charan Ghosh International Yoga Asana Championship, held in Los Angeles in the United States, for the past two years. She looks forward to representing Singapore again next year. She said: "Being able to share my practice with people around the world in such a venue is an honour, although juggling training and work is quite challenging, especially right before the championships.

"I think my role in yoga, especially since placing third in the international championship this year, is to promote yoga and inspire people. Now, when I visit studios around the world where my friends are teaching, I'm often asked to demonstrate postures on the spot."

She added: "I don't look for the spotlight, but I suppose it is something that comes with being a champion (of the sport). "Oftentimes after class, if one person is inspired, it makes me feel like I've done my duty." However, Ms Suen feels that one does not need to be a champion to make a difference. "I don't think one needs to be a yoga champion to inspire others. I've met so many people who have rehabilitated themselves, and improved themselves in one way or another through yoga. They inspire me," she said.

"This year, I helped to train some of the competitors in this year's Singapore championship. It was very fulfilling to see the women work so hard, improve their postures tremendously, and complete their journey on stage," she recalled.

While yoga has helped her spiritually, emotionally and mentally, Ms Suen feels that she still needs to slow down in life, whenever and wherever she can. "I think it's important to listen to your heart. I don't do it nearly enough. It's one of the reasons why I would like to start doing more meditation in the new year,"she shared.

"It will take discipline. Usually, when I find a free moment, my 'me' time is (spent) unwinding by listening to music or catching an episode of Grey's Anatomy."

Besides practising more meditation, Ms Suen is also looking forward to continuing her yoga journey.

"I want to continue to deepen my yoga practice. It amazes me every year how my practice changes in ways I don't even expect or can't comprehend yet," she said.

"Also, I would like to travel, especially to one or two countries I've never been to."

And her one constant companion on this journey will be chocolate, Ms Suen confessed. Like yoga, the delicacy has been a "constant companion in my life", said the choc-lover. "Chocolate bars and nuggets can get me going through a tough day. Chocolate souffles are decadent, for celebration." She added: "When I'm travelling for longer periods, particularly in developing countries where I don't have access to Western food, it becomes a lifeline to the familiar."

One of her favourite types of chocolate is dark chocolate with no nuts - its smooth and intense flavour "represents a kind of sophistication", she said.

"Champagne truffles make me feel like there's a party in my mouth. And milk chocolate with crispy puffed rice is a traditional option, but with a pop," she said.

Well, just like her yoga journey, Ms Suen's chocolate choices are ever-evolving and the luxury of variety definitely adds spice to life.

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