A former fashion PR professional, Victor Chau is the creator of Empowered Flow, teaching a vinyasa style of yoga focused on inversions and conditioning bodies and minds to improve focus, confidence and conquer inner fear.
Chau also co-founded Mentorships Workshop to help and prepare newer teachers for a fulfilling career – many of his 150+ graduates are now teaching at major yoga studios like Pure Yoga and Fivelements Habitat, as well as being brand ambassadors for Lululemon and Nike. Currently, Chau teaches in Sheung Wan’s Yoga Room and Fivelements Habitat in Causeway Bay.
Tell us about your yoga journey and how it changed your life?
I started my first yoga class nearly 20 years ago but it wasn’t love at first sight – I wasn’t very fit and attended that class after a spin class, thinking that yoga was just a stretch. I couldn’t be more wrong. I hated every second of it. But I decided to give yoga a second chance and little did I know that it was yoga that gave me a second chance in life. I started to practice more and my body awareness started to increase. My mind became clearer and my body became more lean and stronger.
After moving to Beijing with my PR work, I started to practice yoga a bit more, which led me to my journey to India, where I did my teacher training in Sivananda Yoga Kutir, nestled right by the holy river Ganges. There I learned that happiness could be quite simple. Upon returning home in 2010, I started teaching and found sense of purpose. Six months later, I quit my job and became a yoga teacher and never looked back since. To this date, I still don’t doubt my decision… a yoga teacher to help hundreds of people improve their lives.
Tell us about the style you practice and teach.
Like many yoga practitioners, I started trying many different styles of yoga, until I settled a little bit more with Vinyasa Yoga – a style of yoga that has students flow fluidly from pose to pose. 4 years ago, I also created Empowered Flow, which encompasses inversions, core conditioning, some handstands, flexibility and above all, empowering people to be a better version of themselves.
This is what I practice and teach mostly now. It is a challenging practice but also accessible for new yogis. As you can guess, handstand and inversions are my favourite – as they really challenge me to be physically strong and mentally focused. Most importantly, it helps me and my students conquer their deepest fears.
What is the most important thing when you are teaching the practice?
Setting an intention – which can then help people find a purpose and truly transform into a better version of themselves.
Tell us more about your favourite pose and what it does for you?
Handstand. It is one that got my attention. I remember at my teacher training, I tried numerous times but to no avail. It took me many years of regular practice and falling down before I started to come up to a handstand.
Handstand (and any inversions for that matter), has taught me to be humble. Nothing will come easy and repeated hard work a prerequisite on a handstand journey. Although it’s the handstand shape that I am aiming for, at the end of the day, it is really about the technique, the mentality and also the patience behind the practice that really counts.
I am able to be detached from the handstand itself – one day I can do it, some day I can’t. And it’s okay. Just like anything in life, it comes and goes. The ability to let go is the source of true happiness, not handstand itself. And I’m honoured enough to have taught hundreds of people handstand, watching them get stronger.
How has the HK yoga scene changed in the last three years and what developments have you seen?
Hong Kong people have definitely become more interested in yoga and their awareness for physical and mental physical has grown exponentially in the last few years. You can tell from the increase in the number of sports supplies/apparel shops, and the number of gyms and studios has also slowly climbed up. People are also more receptive of alternative, non-mainstream ways of practices that could promote mental health, such as gong bath, sound and crystal healing, and reiki.
If there is a silver lining from Covid-19, it has taught us that health is the most important thing in life, a nine-to-five schedule is not the only way to work. Online classes might have been a hit big earlier but it’s already in decline because it lacks one of the most important parts of a live yoga class – real human connection.
One of the most noticeable changes in the last few years is that people started to realise that going to the big gyms with big classes (30 to 40 plus students in one class) might not be the best way to learn, especially keeping in mind social distancing…This gave rise to the emergence of smaller yoga studios that ensure a higher teacher to students ratio (usually 1:10 or less) and they usually boast a personality that reflects that owner, usually a yoga teacher who is younger, adventurous and is more ready to take risks.
Where are your favourite places to practice?
With a hectic schedule, I practice whenever and wherever I can. My favourite places would be my home, Yoga Room and my favourite place to film my yoga videos is Fivelements Habitats. But whenever the sun is shining, you will see me practice in the big lawn of Victoria Park or on any beach. When we are allowed to travel again, I would love to go back to India and practice along the Ganges, I did that every day at my yoga teacher training.
How can yoga help with the main pain points in our hectic HK lifestyles?
First and foremost, yoga can help correct bad posture (slouching, shoulders round, core not engaged when standing or sitting). It can remind us how to stand and sit properly: upright, shoulders relaxed and chin parallel to the floor. This alone can already relieve most of the aches and chronic pain caused by our sedentary lifestyle.
A lot of the poses in yoga emphasise core strength (headstand, handstand, downward facing dog), shoulders opening (bridge pose, wheel pose), spinal rotation (supine twist) and lateral stretches (triangle pose, side angle pose) – all these can help improve our posture, ease the pain caused by bad postures. These can also improve our breathing because our breath is bound by the shape of our chests. When we breathe better, our health will improve too.
Yoga is both mental and physical, how does mindful movement benefit us?
Mindful movement is a loose term to describe the movement, and non-movement of oneself done in a meaningful, purposeful and awaken way. This means that every step we take, every time we raise our hands, every speech we make have an intention behind them. This makes a huge difference in our life in that we have been told to act, behave in a certain way: get a degree, get married, have children, buy a house, go on a holiday (or staycation), buy designer clothes or bag – all these things we think will make us happy. We almost never question why we do the things that we do. We are then merely existing, not living.
On the contrary, being mindful in every thing we do means we set an intention before we do them. For example, in a yoga class, you can set an intention for that particular practice: what is it that you are trying to achieve? What pose you are trying to learn? Or simply a state of mind you would like to be? Or simply learn how to relax more? Or be kinder to yourself and others? Or learning more about yourself. Then the class will become directional, there’s a compass in your practice. The practice will become mindful, not just about the poses. And if you can bring this intention and mindfulness into your daily life, this is where real yoga begins.
(Images: Courtesy of Victor Chau)