MGU 310 | Break The Mold

 
Trigger warning: this episode contains some explicit language as well as a brief reference to sexual assault. 

Not all yoga instructors or fitness teachers look like Barbie dolls. It’s 2022 and it’s time to break the beauty image mold, especially when it comes to physical movement. Join Whitney Lauritsen as she talks to yoga instructor Judy Lee on today’s episode. Learn all about Judy’s mission to bring more representation into the fitness community.

This episode is sponsored by Zencastr. Visit zencastr.com/pricing to try it out for free. And when you’re ready to uplevel,  enter the code “wellevatr” to receive 30% off your first 3 months of the Pro plan!

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Moving Through Life When You Don’t Fit The Mold With Yoga Instructor Judy Lee

My guest has a wonderful phrase on her website that says, “Being fit isn’t limited to skin color, physique, and gender. If you have a body, you can do yoga.” I love that. That is such an important statement. It’s also rare. It’s not something that I have noticed a lot. One thing I often reflect on and I have spoken about on the show before is how in the wellness world, it feels like it’s dominated by White people, who tend to be White women, White young women, and also White fit women.

This idea of your skin color, your physique, your gender, and even your age can be big obstacles to people trying something like yoga because they feel like they don’t fit in, don’t look like the teacher or the teacher is not welcoming. I have felt this way, even though I’m White, a woman, and relatively fit, however you want to determine that, and age-wise, within that bracket of what the cliché a woman would do yoga in that time of her life.

There have been times where I felt like my physique didn’t fit in and felt self-conscious. I still battle with that. It’s an ongoing thing for me in my life, given my history with disordered eating but there have been times where I was afraid to wear certain clothing in class because I was afraid of the teacher or other students judging me. There were times where I didn’t want to look in the mirror.

The guest now is someone that I have taken classes with in person, which is something I want to talk about but the main thing that I love and I hope that we discuss a lot is that feeling accepted in class makes such a big difference and being in a place where you feel like everyone is equal and welcome. That’s a rare thing, especially in a city like Los Angeles, where I live and where Judy, the guest, lives as well.

It can feel intimidating because there are so many people in a city like Los Angeles that seem to have it all together and have these great bodies, either they are flexible, chiseled bodies or all of these things that I have been sharing. Before we get into that subject matter, I want to tell a little story about how I met Judy. It was at a yoga studio, and I went to this studio for many years.

I don’t remember the first time I started there but before COVID-19, this was where I went and had been experimenting with yoga throughout Los Angeles for many years. I came across this specific chain of classes and locations throughout Los Angeles and loved it. I found Judy as a teacher, and she quickly became one of the best yoga teachers I have ever had.

I wouldn’t limit Judy’s work to yoga. She incorporates strength training, mindfulness. There are so much more. I feel like yoga is a limiting term. Her class was called Yoga Shred. That is part of her brand is. We are going to get into it now. The word shred was about getting mentally, physically, emotionally in the shape that you wanted.

It’s because of COVID-19, I haven’t been to an in-person class with Judy or any teacher in several years, which is nuts. I was so into Judy’s class that I would get there 30 to 40 minutes early because, at this particular studio, there were limited spots. Judy was one of the few classes at the entire studio in multiple locations. You had to get there early because if you didn’t, you ran the risk of not getting a spot, which was so amazing to me.

I was like an anal about going to this class. I would plan everything down to the second when I would leave my place, about how long the traffic would take, parking, and getting in there, signing in because I’m not only wanted a spot in the class but I wanted a very specific spot. I wasn’t the only one, there were a few other people that would line up, and we would always be in the same spot. There were a couple of people that I would have to compete with to get the specific spot that I wanted, which for a visual, was right by the door in the front.

There’s a mirror and a door right at the front of the class. It was the top left corner if you were looking towards the front. I always wanted that spot. I have some friends, and one of them always had a spot right behind me. Some of the others had spots in different parts of the class. We would joke about this.

Judy, I’m so excited to have you here to catch up with you. I am curious about what things have been like for you in the past couple of years because COVID-19 has shaped so much, given how popular you were at the studio and in person and having to pivot to online classes that you are doing now. I’m curious, what has that been like for you or what has been that journey because I imagine you have gone through a lot of different mindsets about online teaching? I know that you have done some in-person classes during COVID-19, where we were able to do that. What has been the journey since 2020 and making all these shifts since the good old days?

Never underestimate the power of a great community. That's what fitness does. Click To Tweet

I’m so excited to be here. It’s such an honor to be in your presence all the time. Since 2020, let’s say every single person in the fitness industry can relate to me and that everyone had to pivot in some way. I have a full-time job. I work in finance and have a corporate job. Teaching yoga was my passion. It was my form of creativity and craft. A lot of people think it’s teaching yoga, but for me, I would stay up until past midnight, coming up with sequences. Sometimes I wouldn’t even be able to sleep because I would get these ideas on how to train people and how I can take them to that next step.

This was my passion. Overnight, I lost all that when the pandemic happened. It was a simple phone call like, “We are canceling all your classes. We don’t know when we are coming back.” I lost my community, and I felt I lost this big piece of me that defined who I am and that I’ve got to express myself daily and freely. That was hard but the biggest pivotal point was, I tried to do free classes so that I can be seen.

I ran into you. I connected with you. You are one of the few people that showed up. I was so grateful because I realized that having an online presence was important. Prior to the pandemic, I used to think that was vanity. It did not apply to me. I remember when I was teaching yoga, a lot of people came up to me and they said, “How come your Instagram account isn’t about yoga? It’s just you posting pictures of your dog and going on a trip.” I never thought that had any correlation. Whitney showed me how I could change that, enhance that and make that transition.

I started with TikTok, created short videos, went to Instagram Reels, listened to everything that Whitney said. I hope at least 75%, and it has been amazing. This journey that I have been on has been incredible. I saw an opportunity early on to cater to private, in-person sessions. That’s where I have been pivoting myself towards because I saw myself comparing to other trainers who had millions of followers or tens of thousands of followers when I didn’t.

I had to come up with a very creative way on how I can sustain myself if I can’t compete with those people, and that is okay, so finding that self-acceptance as well. It has been an interesting, weird, yet very fun journey, and I’m still on it. That’s where it has been. Now, we are back to in-person classes. I have my community back, and I also have the clients that I have had since the pandemic. Fortunately, they stay with me. I feel like I have an amazing group of people around me. It has been a joy.

I’m so glad to hear that because it has been a long journey of figuring all of these things out that were so new. I remember at the very beginning of the pandemic, probably in April 2020, after the first few weeks of adjusting to it. Maybe it was even later. I’m not sure when I saw some of my favorite teachers, yourself included, starting these online classes but nobody knew what they were doing.

It felt like they were all over the place and getting used to the technology. It’s also funny to think about how much people become comfortable with platforms like Zoom because, in spring 2020, a lot of people did know how to use Zoom. They weren’t familiar with that, and now it feels like second nature for a lot because that became the major platform that people were using but to your point, you had to re-tap into your community.

That was something I noticed, given my focus on marketing and social media of how many people were not set up to market themselves. They didn’t even have email addresses for their students because if you worked at a studio like you were doing, you were being employed by the studio. The studio would have all the contact info. If you wanted to go out on your own, there could even be a conflict there.

I’m sure it was complicated, and I noticed this with a number of the teachers that I loved. Also, the community element, Judy, is such an important point here because that’s the thing I miss the most. I, for the most part, enjoy doing classes at home. Before COVID-19 happened, I was the opposite. I didn’t like taking the online classes because I didn’t feel like I had the accountability. I still struggle with that, to be honest.

Going to classes in person, I had this whole routine as I described. I felt very motivated by that teacher seeing me in person, other students, and the friendships I was creating there. Those are the things that I miss. When I do things at home, I can turn off my camera. I feel like I shouldn’t admit this. I wouldn’t normally but I have been known to show up for a Zoom class and do 5 or 10 minutes, turn my camera off, check some text messages, go to the bathroom. I get so distracted. I have a hard time staying focused. I’m someone that could benefit from in-person classes. I haven’t felt comfortable going back to them.

The convenience side of it is I can now do yoga anytime, anywhere, whether it’s an on-demand class like you have offered on your YouTube channel and the short videos you have done or some of the classes that other teachers have set up where you can go do live. I have done them all over the place. When I travel, I can take my yoga teacher with me, which was something I didn’t have before. In the community element, there were two people, in particular, Judy. I won’t say their names to secure their privacy but you probably know who they are.

MGU 310 | Break The Mold

Break The Mold: Stop comparing yourself to other trainers online, who have millions of followers. Come up with your own creative way to sustain yourself if you can’t compete with those people.

 

During COVID-19, we started texting each other, and we would be like, “Did you know that Judy has these free classes? We can now get back in the rhythm, and we would hold each other accountable through text message.” These are people I knew from yoga. They weren’t what I considered actual friends but they became friends over time because we were retaining that community. Talking to you now makes me want to reconnect with them.

I also took one of your YouTube classes. It was your 15 Min Ab Class. It put me back into the experience of doing an in-person class with you but, Judy, I found myself slacking off. I found myself thinking, “I don’t have to do the whole fifteen minutes. I can just do ten minutes and give up.” Even though that sounds silly in hindsight or, “I’m not going to do this move because no one is watching me. They don’t care.” That is what I miss, especially from teachers like you, Judy.

You cared. You walk around the room, would call people out. You say like, “Whitney, adjust this or keep going. Don’t stop.” You would do it in such an encouraging way that someone like me benefits from. I deeply miss that. I’m curious, what has that been as a teacher. You miss the community but what is it been like in terms of how you have had to shift your teaching mentality?

I appreciated it more. In the pandemic, you start to realize what you appreciate. I decided to make this my priority, and it’s my passion. Giving you an example, your story about the community made me think about this. You would probably recognize her face because she was one of the regulars that would show up pre-pandemic. During the pandemic, she isolated herself because she was working in a senior home in healthcare.

I didn’t get to talk to her. She came to a couple of my online classes. Right after we were able to get the vaccine and the studio opened up, she showed up for her first class, and she was sobbing. I get the chills but for her to be there and do something normal like taking a yoga class, it brought her all back to what her life was prior to the pandemic and how much she needed it.

The fact that we were there was so beautiful. When we’ve got to take our mask off after the vaccinations rolled out and LA County had some changes on what was required or not for indoor spaces, I remember I teared up a couple of times because it felt normal. I realized how much I missed this community of being accountable.

I’m the same way with you. It’s hard for me to stay focused when I’m not held accountable by others. I love taking classes. That is my main form of working out because I love the community. Also, as someone who is in the fitness industry, who is always here to learn something, I find that taking any classes out there is a learning opportunity and an outlet for me to be creatively inspired.

People underestimate how much creativity it takes for you to design a workout and for you to have this sense of perkiness when you meet people as an instructor. It comes out naturally because you are in your zone. It’s like an actor performing the greatest act of their lifetime. That’s how I feel every single fitness instructor can relate to, you are in the zone.

Speaking of being in the zone and crafting these routines, I was thinking this. “How exactly do you do that?” Especially most of your classes are an hour long. “How do you come up with what you are going to do and remember?” It’s very impressive, all of these different moves you are doing and the flow. You also are one of those great teachers, in my opinion, who has an amazing playlist of music, and you are timing things out with the music. As a student, I have often wondered how you do that? How do you know what the next song is and what the next move is?

You listen a lot. You memorized the shit out of your playlist until you can hear the next song coming. I always say, “It’s like rehearsing for a play.” When I first learned how to do it, every time I drove, which was a lot in LA and you get stuck in traffic, I would rehearse what my line was. Every single song, I would know the first 30 seconds of what I was going to say.

I would hear it a transition, and I have a book of all my sequences. You have a skeleton that you build out, and then there’s a skeleton that certain studios want you to use. You start out with that but you get creative with it and that’s what I mean like I would wake up at midnight, get inspired by this one song. I’m like, “I can write the sequence.”

Anyone can be a fitness trainer. You don't need to match the beauty standard. Click To Tweet

I would stay up, drawing stick figures of yoga moves. I have a huge book of that. That’s how other people can relate to me. I’m not the only one that does it. Every single person does it. There is a lot of work behind the scenes. I hope you are nicer to your teachers. We do a lot of work, even if it’s like a 45-minute HIIT class.

I don’t think I have ever asked a teacher this question before. It has me in a state of awe because that’s a lot of work. As a student, you can take for granted in general. I know another one of your passions, specifically is fitness teachers, and I want to get to that next. Do you see them as may be going through the motions or something?

Maybe you don’t even think about what goes into it. The fact that you spend all of this time memorizing your lines and the pacing, coming up with new things, and being creative that also makes you a stand-out Judy as a teacher. As I said, I have been doing yoga off and on for several years. I started in 2006, the first time I did yoga.

I have had a lot of different teachers and got into a lot of different classes. The reason that I am pulled towards teachers like you is that I can feel that you care. You put intention and thought into it. You are creative. I’m also someone that gets bored with the same routine. The fact that you change things up and you also adjust to the newest songs that come out like, “That is amazing.”

There’s a whole other level to this that I didn’t even recognize in the work that goes into that. How do you justify all the time? This is something that I’m also curious about is I don’t know exactly how much yoga teachers get paid. I have an approximate idea but it might make sense hourly for the time it takes to teach the class but the prep work that goes in, you are not getting compensated for any of that. You are probably getting paid way under your skillset.

If people can know the drama that certain studios get and force on seasonal teachers, I’m not going to name which studio but I know from being in LA and being in the industry, talking to people, it’s unfair, and there has to be some shift down the road. Hopefully, there will be because those teachers generate a lot of clients and bring that namesake for the brand or to the studio.

We do get compensated little for what we do but thank God for me is I love this. This is my passion, and I’m very fortunate to have a sustainable revenue-generating job where it’s a full-time job. I say it’s my big girl job, and I moonlight as a yoga teacher. This is my moonlighting gig now, but not everyone is fortunate. It does break my heart because I know how hard being good at this industry means.

It makes a huge difference because of the experience you have as a student and staying accountable for yourself. You are probably one of the teachers that have said this common line I have heard for years in fitness classes, which is, “The hard work is done. You’ve got yourself to class.” I think about that a lot. Even at home workouts that I do, getting dressed, setting aside the time, and putting out my yoga mat, which I usually keep out on the floor as a visual reminder for myself.

Prepping, gearing up, and then also picking the class, all of that can be mentally overwhelming for me sometimes. In the past, I had have to create my whole yoga schedule, get in the car and go to class. There were so many times where that felt like the hardest part. When I finally sat down on my mat at class, I was like, “This is easy. I have already created the momentum.” We need to acknowledge that but also the teachers that encourage us to keep going.

If you are not interested in the teacher, you don’t feel like they care about you and that they see you, maybe you feel like it doesn’t matter if you show up or not but someone like you, Judy, who acknowledges each student and gets to know them on a deeper level. You and I have been fortunate to have a deeper relationship, and I’m sure you have with most students. I feel like you know most people’s names. That was another thing I was impressed about. How the heck did you memorize these students? Your classes were typically what, 50 people or something?

Yes. I talked to them a lot, and I’ve got out of my comfort zone. I’m very introverted, and I always consider myself a little bit of a socially awkward person. It’s because I’m an introvert, I have extroverted moments but I do need to recharge. I get very quiet. I’m pretty sure introverts out there can relate to me. It was a challenge, in the beginning, to get myself out there and talk to people after class. I remember something that the voice inside me would be like, “Get the fuck out now. Go home and get dressed.” I would be like, “No, I have to talk to at least three people.” That’s what I did.

MGU 310 | Break The Mold

Break The Mold: As a fitness trainer, taking any class out there is a learning opportunity. It’s an outlet for you to be creatively inspired. People underestimate how much creativity it takes to design a workout.

 

I kept talking to three people, and I’ve got to know them. I know so many people that from the yoga studio, I can call them my friend and clients. They have opened up many doors for me. It has been incredible. We can’t underestimate the power of a great community. That’s what fitness does. It has no judgments. We don’t care.

It’s a collective group of people who are here to let something out and to be part of something that is greater than themselves. I always start at the class asking, “Why are you here?” Go down that rabbit hole of why and find your intention. Even if it’s simple as, “I needed to burn 300 more calories now,” that is fine. Everyone has a reason and a journey. We are all here to just respect it. Being in a room where everyone has that common goal or aura is special, and it does break a lot of barriers.

You end up being friends with people you would never be friends with. A studio is a perfect place to meet people because you realize that all these people have cool jobs. I found out that one of my clients works in Hollywood, and I had no idea that she was doing all these things. Another client is a restauranteur, and the other one is a venture capitalist.

I met this other guy who always wears his high-school shorts. I never thought he would be this fancy lawyer in LA. I’m like, “You don’t even wear a Lululemon but you are here balling out.” You never know who you meet. Hopefully, one day I will see you in the studio. When things die down, when this virus is a little bit more subsided or whatnot, you can come back. We are happy to have you.

Hearing you talk about these things is helpful because it reminds me of what I missed. One thing that you said earlier is when you went back to class, and you took off your mask for the first time, it hit you on a physical level that you hadn’t done that in so long. As you were saying that, Judy, I was thinking about how I probably don’t even realize how much I miss going to in-person classes. It’s like you start to numb out, maybe as a coping mechanism or you get used to things.

There is so much trauma built up in us throughout this pandemic. I imagine that that is a reason to do yoga even more because you can release or work through a lot of trauma, through the moves that you do. I know that you have a few recorded videos on your YouTube channel. There was one about releasing tight hips or a tight back. That’s a place I have noticed that I store a lot of tension. It has been fascinating working on my bodily awareness. There have been spots in my body that I get pain ongoing, and I’m not doing anything knowingly.

I will go through a checklist and I’m like, “Did I do a certain fitness move that’s creating that pain? Did I sleep in a weird way?” Sometimes I will check off no on all these physical reasons that I might experience pain. I will realize that must be a place where I’m holding tension or trauma. It’s manifesting in my body as pain.

My body is begging me to work through it, to either stretch, acknowledge it, to maybe do some research on the specific pain points. I’m curious if this is something that you give a lot of thought to, Judy, given how much effort you put into your workouts. When you are structuring a sequence, how much of it is focused on the physical benefit versus the emotional benefit?

That depends on the style that you are teaching, Whitney. For me, I always come from the physical benefits side of it. I’ve got into yoga because of chronic knee pain. I couldn’t drive because of my knee. It was that bad. Learning about anatomy and how yoga can benefit me really helped transform the way I sit and the way I think about my body, emotion, and everything that I do.

That’s where I approach things when I draw up my sequence. That translates into emotions and spirituality by nature because when you start from something that you are very passionate about, curious, and interested in, that passion I believe will ooze in all aspects. It will touch people differently. I may have come in thinking, “I’m going to do this. This is going to be a killer glute workout.” I may have said something in class where it inspires someone to do something.

I said something in class, “Be present.” I forgot it was something cliché, and she was like, “That’s it, I’m quitting my job, and I’m applying for a new one.” She did. I would have never thought that. It wasn’t supposed to be an emotional and spiritual class but when you are passionate about it, you will touch people in different ways. That’s my take on it.

Get rid of the word 'modification' in yoga. Click To Tweet

That also points out that people go to yoga for all different reasons. You mentioned the spiritual side of it. A lot of people think that yoga is a religious practice or something. There are so many misconceptions about it. One of the things, as I mentioned earlier, that I love about your style of teaching, Judy, is you do tap into all sorts of strength training, which is my preference.

I am not a huge fan of flow. I don’t like doing the same warrior 1 and 2, all the different moves that you would go through in the sequence, and honestly, when I’m in a class like yours, that’s my least favorite part of the class. I’m like, “Can we get this over with?” It’s important because that does teach me patience.

A lot of the things that I’m struggling with like my impatience, I can work through by a yoga practice because it feels meditative. The repetition and the boredom that I might feel from that have some mental benefits to me but I love the physical side of it. I’m feeling more flexible, stronger, empowered, in touch with my body. The list goes on.

There are also many different styles, as you mentioned too that, “If you don’t like one style of yoga, you can try another.” I like going to classes that give you a variety of different styles to choose from. There are teachers like you where you might switch things up, and sometimes you might be more focused on one thing or another.

Something else I miss about your classes is you would sometimes focus on one particular part of the body like the abs. We might be much more ab-focused in that particular class, and then another class would be more about the legs. For me, I like changing that, and I love learning more about my body and being pushed by a teacher like you.

Another thing I wanted to touch upon that you shared very briefly earlier, which is this comparison mentality when it comes to different teachers. That’s something else that I noticed during the pandemic, especially as a lot of teachers gravitating or being forced into doing online classes because if they didn’t do that, they wouldn’t be practicing at all. This mentality of, “How do you make yourself different as a teacher,” feels like so much competition but that you have already made it clear in this episode what is different about you. You naturally stand out.

One of the things that makes you special is what I shared at the very beginning and that you are representing all sorts of different people. In fact, you said on your website or maybe it was in your bio, that your life goal is to represent Asian fitness trainers and dismantle the preconceived view of what a fitness trainer should look like. I would love to know more about what that means for you and from your perspective. What has been this preconceived view? What have you come across in your journey as a fitness trainer and feeling maybe you haven’t been represented as an Asian person?

It all starts to boil down to Barbies. I know it’s a total change of subject but hear me out. Growing up, I loved Barbies but all the Barbies were blue eyes, blonde, and had perky boobs. They had an amazing ass, tall, small hands and small feet. I thought that was a standard of beauty. I never thought I would be a fitness instructor because I had never meld into that.

I remember even in high school or college, I had a scar on my armpit because I had chickenpox in my armpits as a kid, which is weird. I still have scars from it, and I would get terrified thinking about wearing tank tops and working out with my arms lifted. That was terrifying. Seeing instructors being able to do that, I was like, “I’m never going to do it because instructors are like Barbies.” They are pretty, blonde, look like models like Charlie Stern.

My yoga mentor, she’s Asian. I ran into her through this other studio in Arcadia, and I’ve got to see her. I was able to relate to her more because she had an accent and came from a different background. Without me knowing, that’s what immersed me into yoga. Now that when I looked back after several years of teaching, I realized it was because of her.

It’s because she looked like me and my aunties, I was like, “I can do yoga with her.” That’s why it feels empowered to show everyone that I’m shored. I’m not blonde. I have brown eyes and dark hair. I’m a Korean American. I love working out, and you too can work out if, even if you look like me and don’t look like a Barbie because, as I said earlier, everyone is there for a common goal, which is something bigger than themselves.

MGU 310 | Break The Mold

Break The Mold: When drawing up your sequence, think of how yoga can transform you. When you start something with passion, it will ooze into all the other aspects. It will touch people differently.

 

For me, my personal reason why I work out is so that I can be here in good health for the future people that I’m going to run into and fall in love with. Not just the present. If I have kids and another dog, I want to make sure I’m there. The reason why I put that on my website is I want people to forget that preconceived notion. Unfortunately, in the fitness industry, it’s still slow. If you look at the top influencers and the models that are wearing the Lululemon, Alo Yoga on those billboards, they are all a certain type. They all look like Barbies.

I’m not saying that is wrong because people who look like that should be celebrated. They are beautiful, and there’s a reason why they have those careers. What I’m saying is there’s a negative consequence to that, and it does marginalize a huge subset of people who love working out, who don’t fit the mold and that is okay. The same thing with yoga, I am passionate that we need to get rid of the word modification in general when we teach.

When I do the splits, just because I can’t touch the ground and use a block, that’s not a modification. That’s me still doing the splits. It’s my splits that look like this compared to yours on the ground. How do you design a T-shirt expecting Kendall Jenner to fit into it and look like that but you can’t expect me to look like that in it ever because I’m not her. I don’t have her physique. I hope that this trend of diversity and accepting all body types will be translated into the fitness world. It’s only a matter of time but unfortunately, it’s slow going.

I guarantee you, go to SoulCycle or the top five studios that you know of and search some of the instructors there. They fit a mold. I dare you to find at least five Asian instructors in each of those top boutique studios. You will not be able to count five Asian American instructors that are female as well. Maybe someone will disagree with me. I would love it if someone disagrees with me and shows me proof, but at least in LA, I have not seen that.

That’s upsetting to hear the way that you are pointing that out, and it makes me wonder how many studios are choosing their instructors based on their physique and how marketable they are. With my background in marketing, I often look at things through that lens. It’s disturbing that you are right because I look back, and most of my teachers have been White. They have been a very specific body type.

As I mentioned earlier, I would prefer it not to be the case. A) Because on a personal, ethical level, I want equality but, B) Even on the body side, it’s intimidating for me to have a teacher who has a body that I will never achieve. In your point too about these modifications, it’s such an interesting shift in my head to think about modifications that way. When you use the word modification, you are telling someone, “You have to do something different because you don’t fit into my routine.”

It’s almost maybe the people with disabilities might feel like they are outcasts and they have to change things but they can’t be normal people or they can’t live up to some standard. That’s heartbreaking. I get excited when people look different. That is so much more interesting. I have noticed that the more I have tuned in to myself and my sensitivities, I get uncomfortable when I see some of these more like Barbie types as you are describing because the beauty standards is a huge issue, and it feels like it’s all part of this big machine of capitalism.

It’s easier to profit off of somebody if they look a certain way and make someone feel insecure about their bodies if they don’t feel like they fit the mold. It’s easier to maybe get someone to keep coming back to a yoga class if the teacher looks a certain way because that student’s going to want to keep striving. I can tell you after several years of doing yoga, my body has not changed that much for yoga classes. I have had more awareness. There has been a lot of emotional impacts. I have certainly become stronger and flexible but for years, I felt like a failure because my body wasn’t looking like my teacher or some of the other students.

That would get in the way of me because I would feel ashamed or a failure. To that point, Judy, on the subject of beauty standards, that can be very damaging for a practice like yoga or fitness in general, because fitness is such an important part of our physical and mental wellbeing that we need to find every avenue possible to get people to do that.

If they don’t feel like they are fitting in for whatever reason, and that’s the reason they are not doing it, that’s a sad notion. Thank you for bringing that up, and thank you for the work that you are doing to dismantle this and to strive for more representation in all of these different levels. It makes me appreciate you so much more.

Speaking of appreciation, something I touched upon earlier that I want to circle back to is your passion for teachers. You have done so much work to help teachers in school, and you seem passionate about education. I’m curious where you are at with that now but if you can give a little backstory to some of the work that you have done.

Fitness is just a collective group of people who are there to let something out and to be part of something that is greater than themselves. Click To Tweet

I am an immigrant. I came here when I was eight. I have a huge appreciation for school teachers. It’s because of them, I’m where I am now. I probably would not be an American without the teachers showing you how to be an American and assimilate into this culture. With that passion in mind, when I found out that teaching is such a low-paying job, teachers have to pay for their own school supplies, I’ve got mad and infuriated.

A couple of years back, I started a Kickstarter to combine my passion with yoga and also to help out teachers. I had these leggings designed by kids art. I was very fortunate to have a teacher come into our class and take a couple of drawings from her art class. I worked with a designer to translate that into leggings. It was fully funded through Kickstarter but unfortunately, during the pandemic, I realized one thing was at the end of the day, I was starting a new business, which was a leggings brand business, and all I wanted to do was go out there and help teachers.

It was so hard for me to try to sell something because I didn’t care about yoga leggings. I care about helping teachers. I folded that side of my business and dabbled into helping teachers on my own through social media. I did that. My goal was to do it for the whole year, but unfortunately, it only lasted 3 to 4 months. That was a great way for me to meet teachers over social media, talk to them and donate.

From the Kickstarter alone, I raised around $7,000, and I donated about $3,500 to the teachers all over. In tandem with my Kickstarter, I had a campaign through social media where I was collecting teachers who needed school supplies. I spent two hours on Amazon after the Kickstarter ended, sending money out. To be honest, I did not make money off of these lanes at all. It’s because of the amount that I donated, I was under the water for a bit with my savings. When I did the social media campaign, I used my own funds to help out the teachers as well.

Unfortunately, I ran into some personal crisis, and because of that, I wasn’t as consistent. That’s where I’m at with my passion to physically help out the teachers. A PSA to everyone who doesn’t know anything about how hard teachers have it is yes, teachers in America have to pay for their own school supplies. Some teachers are fortunate enough to be in a district where the principal and their superintendents allow a budget that’s big enough for a teacher to buy their own school supplies.

However, there are so many counties and districts within that county that do not do that. Some teachers have to pay for a white paper, colored paper and glue. If a student comes from a dysfunctional family, their parents did not buy them school supplies, and the teachers would have to buy them their school supplies. The teachers get a tax deduction annually for the amount of money they spend on the supplies but that tax deduction, from what I heard, is not that much.

It’s four figures, and it’s menial compared to if you had a corporate job and were expensing your happy hour, which costs $3,000 for 10 people. It’s a very different mindset. I always like to say imagine you started a new firm and the company tells you, “Great, you started but you are going to have to pay for your own paper. Printing is going to cost $0.10 per copy, be careful with that. By the way, spend $2,000 on equipment because we are not going to give you anything. We are never going to give a raise for the next six years. If you do, this might be 3%. We are not sure.” I don’t think anyone would take that job.

It seems like something that you can relate to as a teacher, as we talked about earlier. With all the work it takes behind the scenes for you to be a great fitness trainer, you are not being compensated for it. I imagine a lot of teachers don’t put a lot of effort into their fitness classes because they feel like, “Why should I do that when I’m not being paid for this time, and I’m already being paid a low amount.”

In a lot of ways, what you are describing with the teachers at school and to your point about how much of an impact teachers made for you as an immigrant, many people have felt the impact of a good and a bad teacher. That has a long-lasting ripple effect on us as human beings because most people spend the majority of their time at school before the age of twenty or so.

Their brains are still developing, their social skills, confidence, knowledge, and that ripple effect that has on the rest of your life in terms of the work that you do. It’s important for teachers to be supported and feel like they can thrive. It’s heartbreaking to hear that they are faced with this question of, “Do you have enough money to spend on your students?” I didn’t know that. That’s a huge shock, and I’m so grateful again for the work that you are doing there, Judy.

You touched upon social media and how much of a part that played in your ability to support teachers. I’m also curious, going back to that side of your work, how social media has been for you? What are the pros and cons? That’s a big pro because you are able to raise awareness about teachers. You are able to collect donations, get people interested in meeting other teachers.

MGU 310 | Break The Mold

Break The Mold: Social media is a double-edged sword. It can be used as an outlet for creativity but you have to keep that engagement alive. You have to reply to DMs and work with negative comments. It can get exhausting.

 

You also touched upon earlier how you pivoted to platforms like TikTok, and you started making videos. What is the role of social media has been for you since the pandemic? I also know that you have struggled with platforms like TikTok at times. They are not always a great place to be, mentally. I would love to share more about where you have been with all of that.

Social media is a two-edged sword. That’s what we call it. First, it was great because I was able to create these videos. It was my form of creativity during the pandemic. Creating those TikTok videos and Instagram Reel videos was so much fun. Now, we are in this booming trend of making short clips. That’s why every single social media platform out there is becoming their version of TikTok. Funny enough, my videos have been doing pretty well on Pinterest compared to other social media platforms. I have been invited to be a part of Pinterest Creators.

It was cool. I thought they were lying to me but it’s a select group of 45 to 50 people that they have handpicked from their headquarters. We are contracted for six months to create our videos. We go to meetings to talk about trends and what’s out there. It’s a new program that they started with. I have been having a lot of fun, and as part of that, my contract ends in March 2022 but that has been my social media journey.

Having said that, because I come from a very competitive background, I also have a history of depression and all of that, I can delve into if you want to know in college, I do compare myself a lot. I realized that Instagram wasn’t very healthy for me mentally because I felt like I had to keep going and keep that engagement alive. I had to respond to all the DMs.

It was exhausting for me when I would get a comment that was not so nice or get someone’s DM calling me, “You are stupid.” A complete stranger or TikTok trolls trolling my videos because they think it’s very sexualized when I didn’t mean it sexual at all. To give you an example, one of the videos that I thought would be funny, apparently in retrospect, was very sexual to a lot of perverted people out there, which I’m part of. Everyone is perverted. Let’s not get that wrong but some people can be very mean.

People on TikTok started trolling me. Before I knew it, I was getting thousands of comments by the minute. I was experiencing what we call a viral moment because I checked how many views I had on that video, and every 30 minutes, it would go up by 10,000 to 20,000. All these people are leaving comments.

It shook me because it was not very nice comments. I turned the comments off. What those guys were doing was they are going on my other videos. They were commenting on that like, “Turn around and show me your ass,” things like that. As if I was an object that they wanted to see and whatnot. I’m not in that business. I didn’t create social media for that business. That’s something else. I said something on Instagram about it, and someone messaged me a photo of a girl getting fucked, and then they Photoshopped my head on it.

I woke up at 5:00 AM, ready to train my clients. I look at my DM, and there’s this random stranger that says like, “Boys are stupid or perverted.” He photoshopped my face on a girl that’s getting fucked with a dick on it. That shook me for a while. I have been questioning everything that I do on social media but we need it. As a fitness instructor, you need social media. That’s how you show the world that you are legit and an expert. That’s how people judge you and know that you are legit.

That’s the world that we live in. That’s where I am with social media. I have an Instagram account but I try not to go on it too much now. I go there to post, do my thing and leave. I’m more active on Pinterest and getting back on TikTok but those experiences have left a little bit of trauma and hesitation on my end, for sure.

I don’t blame you. I’m so sorry that you had to go through that. It was eye-opening because I remember you telling me when that instance happened with Tiktok, and you are the only person I know directly that has gone through something like that. It was an important moment for me because it was like taking off the rose-colored glasses. I have a lot of positive feelings about TikTok.

I had less positive feelings about Instagram and other platforms, even YouTube because I have experienced some negative things there, although not quite to the extent that you have. I can’t fully relate to it but it’s sad to know this. I know that other people go through all extreme versions of bullying. I hope that a shift happens where now it seems like there needs to be some collective monitoring and a big change because for so long, I thought, “You can block these people. You can ignore them.”

No one wants to be a teacher because teachers in America have to actually pay for their own school supplies. Click To Tweet

Maybe if you move from this platform to that one or this account to this one and then you will be able to stay away from those people but the truth is they tend to follow you no matter where you go, except for maybe platforms like Pinterest. Hopefully, you haven’t experienced anything to that level there. Even there, people can comment, and other women can be rude.

You are describing something that a lot of men were doing to sexualize you as a woman but women can be just as awful to one another. Also, it’s not a gender thing. It can happen from anyone and on any platform. It’s an incredibly disturbing side of this, given the mental health thing. It’s sad because what you are saying about feeling like you have to be on these platforms, you have to keep up, make sure that people see that you have a following, you are being active, and posting the right photos. There is so much pressure that goes into it, and it’s sad that that has become the main way in which we market ourselves.

We feel like we have to always be on, have to be hustling, and never stop. For the readers, after learning from someone like you, Judy, and all you have to offer, passions, and things that you are doing, you have to pause certain things or pivot in certain ways to avoid these people. Those that are getting in the way of you being able to get that message out and the trauma that causes is something that I advocate for but it says something about humanity. We live in a time where somehow a huge percentage of the population gets away with stuff like that. I’m sorry you had to go through it.

It is what it is. I have a mantra that I live by, which is, “It could always be worse but it could always be better.” I enjoy what I have now. That’s how I see this. It was bad, but at least I’m not someone who has millions of followers. I can’t imagine their inboxes and DMs. If it’s me with my teeny bit of followers that got this experience, I can’t imagine what those people go through. At least I’m not in their shoes.

I don’t know if it sounds like I’m settling or something like that but for me, that’s how I rationalize a lot of things. A lot of these moments that set me back is could always be worse. It could always be better but what are you going to do now because this is what I have? I’ve got to do something about it. It’s an experience that I had and love talking about it because we need to warn people out there that this is very real.

It could hurt other people because those people that DM me have no idea that in college, I was sexually assaulted, and because of that, I had bouts of depression for two years. At one point, I was even suicidal. I spent a whole year in college where I couldn’t even look at the mirror because I was so self-conscious. If those people knew that side of me, would they have said the words that they did? I have had guys that DM me, “You look so fucking stupid.”

I had a guy who comments on my features or stuff like that. If I go through it, it means that other people go through it too, and they have it so much worse. I wish that people could take a step back, even though it might seem funny to make a meme out of it, post it on Reddit or send it to your friends, that person has a story, too. You don’t know what that person went through, how it could affect them, and what stuff it could bring up. That’s my idea.

It also ties into this discussion around comparison and realizing that the grass may not always be greener for someone because they look more successful, have more following or even your points about these Barbie body types, given how sexualized you were and you don’t feel like you fit the Barbie type mold.

I imagine that women or men, gender aside, anybody will have an experience of being sexualized, especially if they fit the beauty standard because it’s almost like, “This person is asking for it because of the way that they look.” The way that their body looks, the clothes that they wear, the way they do their makeup or the poses that they do. There are so many instances of that. That’s another thing that I find so deeply disturbing but, unfortunately, the way that a lot of people think.

To your point, Judy, is instead of being upset and focused on other people and what they are doing insane, it’s like asking yourself, “What can you do?” Going back to that question you asked at the beginning of your yoga classes, it’s like, “Why are you here? What is your intention?” One of the best ways that we can move through these challenges is to ask to go inward instead of focusing so outward because a lot of times, the struggles we have mentally are when they are outward-facing.

That leads me to something else that you had written and wanted to talk about, which was mental hacks to get out of the mental funk. I would love to hear that you have three mental hacks. I don’t know if you remember them all. If you don’t, I have them here on my list but I would love to know what things work for you when you are in a mental funk?

MGU 310 | Break The Mold

Break The Mold: As a fitness instructor, you definitely need social media. That’s how you show the world that you’re legit. That’s how the world works, people will always end up judging you.

 

The first one is to talk in the mirror. How I’ve got through my year of this depression was I couldn’t look at the mirror because I thought I was so worthless and this hideous person. One thing that I did because I had to put my makeup on, I had to look at myself, it’s cheesy, I close my eyes and say out loud like in a whisper, “I am beautiful.” Ten times and I open my eyes. It’s weird but doing that ritual every morning was what allowed me to put my makeup on and look at myself for a couple of minutes so that I could at least look presentable to the world.

To me, that’s a great mental hack. If you are in a funk, I don’t know where you are, mentally. If you are reading this, I hope that helps. The second one is creating small wins. Even if it is putting your cup in the sink so that you can wash it later, you don’t have to wash it now. That’s a win. Your hair is a little greasy. You dry shampoo it, you don’t have to shower but you can dry shampoo that shit. That’s a win. Creating small wins that you can do so that you can go and achieve bigger wins or what you want it to do for now.

The third one is journaling. For me, I survive a lot on journaling. Nowadays, I type a lot faster than I write. I have a lot of notes that I put on my MacBook, and I have a file that says, “Burn.” It’s super cheesy but those are docs that I don’t ever want to look back because those are my dark moments. When I did that, it was so cathartic.

The thing that I learned when I was depressed was I had to do those things. Looking back, that was what sustained me and eventually gave me the courage to call my mom when I was on my last wit. That’s what I have, Whitney. The three mental hacks are talk to yourself in the mirror, telling yourself you are beautiful, creating small wins, and the third one is a journal.

Those are all-powerful, and I also like that they are so simple. To your point, when you are struggling, you don’t want to do anything that feels like effort. If you can pick one of these things or maybe do a few of them, all three of them, you have the opportunity to make a movement towards something more positive for yourself, and it’s not always that simple.

You have such an inspiring story, given all of these things that you have gone through and the resilience that you have built over time. That’s also one of the big reasons why you are such a powerful teacher because you have worked through all these things like you said, the darkest moments help build you up and create the person that you are now. Maybe that’s a bit cliché but you have certainly demonstrated that through everything that you have shared now, and I’m so grateful.

You have certainly inspired me to go to your in-person classes but I know not every reader will have the opportunity to do that. Maybe you will get a reader from the show that shows up in person. I know you offer private classes but for people that don’t have access to you in person, Judy, I would love for you to share what you have online that they could try now if they feel inspired to take one of your classes.

It could always be worse but it could also always be better. So just enjoy what you have now. Click To Tweet

I have a couple of classes on YouTube. Check me out there. I have short yoga-related tips that are available on Pinterest, TikTok and Instagram. That’s where you will find me.

I cannot wait to check out the Pinterest account that you have. I have not looked at it, and I’m so glad that you brought it up because now, I tend to look at TikTok and Instagram. Sometimes YouTube, although I don’t spend much time there but Pinterest is such an amazing platform. I’m proud of you and excited. I can’t wait to see what you are doing there.

I imagine many readers are also on Pinterest. It feels like a positive place, and it’s a platform that’s gone through all these different waves of popularity. If you are someone like me who hasn’t been on Pinterest for a while, maybe this will inspire you to go on there. I’m going to check it out as soon as we wrap up now.

Judy, I’m so grateful to know you. You have inspired me in many ways just talking to you. I feel good. I took one of your classes. I’ve got to spend all this time with you. You have a beautiful ability to uplift people. Thank you for taking the time to do that for the readers as well. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Thank you so much, Whitney. This has been a pleasure.

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About Judy Lee

MGU 310 | Break The MoldI am a yoga sculpt trainer based in Los Angeles, CA. My life goal is to represent Asian fitness trainers & dismantle the preconceived view of what a fitness trainer should look like.

By doing what I do, I hope to show everyone that being “fit” comes in different skin colors, body shapes, and life experiences. Fitness is a community of people who want to do better for themselves & others- I plan to share that with the world!