For a decade, Michelle Tai was a successful lawyer with thriving legal firms, fighting for her clients’ rights in court.
But, she felt something amiss as she didn’t feel she was giving back to society.
“I had entered a comfort zone in law. Anyone can draft agreements and I wasn’t indispensable. I wanted to contribute inner peace and joy to people’s lives but I didn’t know what I could offer. Until a friend told me about a community in Thailand where trust is the magic word and everyone offers something to live in harmony,” says the 40-year-old.
She headed up north and returned inspired. Then she remembered her adolescent years where her mind was constantly disturbed and she couldn’t quieten it.
“Whenever I closed by eyes, I’d see visions of blood, ghosts and other scary images. I couldn’t sleep. I felt trapped in a web and was searching for a solution,” she recalls.
Her brother suggested meditation and Tai signed up for a silent retreat. Slowly, by the time she was in her mid-20s, the images started to vanish and her mind became calmer. In time, she signed up for several retreats and yoga courses to discover her calling.
Recollecting how she managed to overcome her troubled thoughts, Tai established Journey Within Studio in Petaling Jaya in 2008. She didn’t know what she was going to offer but she knew she wanted to help people find their own journey, hence the name. Tai hired teachers to teach yoga and meditation.
Alas, she wasn’t able to dedicate the hours required to grow her new business so she closed her legal firms, sold her assets, and struggled for a few years without an income.
Tai says, “My husband who is also a lawyer, did the same because we needed something more fulfilling. Relatives and friends criticised us and my mother-in-law actually thinks we are lazy because we ventured into the wellness business! We had nothing in terms of different skills so our journey was more challenging.”
In 2013, Tai finally found her niche in Critical Alignment Therapy – a yoga-based practise that helps release tension held in the body. The method uses specifically engineered props to give precise support and pressure to the areas that are stiff so they can be “felt” again.
Tai became more confident and open.
“It spoke directly to my heart!” she says, eyes lighting up at the thought. “People tend to want to increase their physical challenge in yoga but do not include the mind to conquer daily challenges. They have no pain so they don’t appreciate the body.
“On the other hand, a lot of people are still sceptical about yoga and think it’s only for the flexible. A lot of yoga instructors also live in ivory towers and don’t seem to know about students who are suffering. This manifests itself in physical stiffness and held-back emotions.”
From 20 students a month, the enrolment at Journey Within Studio has now progressed to 400 students a week.
“People are stuck in routine and fearful of the unknown territory. These are the people we’re trying to reach out to – the office warriors and the uninspired. I want to put a genuine smile back on their faces. Many people advocate they want to save the world but you have to save yourself first by being responsible for your health and happiness,” concludes Tai.