Today we have the honor of getting to know international yogi, designer, and “chanting cat lady” Cora Wen! Cora Wen is one of our studio’s most iconic teachers who leads advanced workshops, restorative trainings, and yoga classes!
(YGSF) Tell us about yourself! What was your first job? Any fun hobbies or personal interests?
I was born in Hong Kong and moved to the US when I was about 10 years old. We also lived in Taiwan and Switzerland before moving to New York. I’ve always felt that one of my feet is still planted in traditional Chinese values, and the other is moving with the pace of the changing Western world.
I’ve continued to nurture my Asian roots by returning to teach yoga and participate in local communities in Thailand, Malaysia and the Himalayas.
In the 70’s I lived in NY and worked with Stephen Sprouse, making clothes and stage wear for legendary rockers Debbie Harry/Blondie, Patty Smith, Angie Bowie and the Clash. It led me to a career in fashion and merchandising throughout the late 70s and 80s.
By the 1990s I was a corporate banker. I left that career to teach yoga full-time in 2001. I love to travel to new places, and this year we will be exploring Vietnam for a few weeks, and then teaching in the South.
Gardening is a passion of mine, and we are planting loads of veggies this summer! I’m also a knitter, and sometimes known as the crazy chanting cat yogi on Youtube 😉
(YGSF) How did you become interested in yoga?
As a corporate banker, I was super stressed out, and my adrenal system was overloaded and exhausted. So I found yoga as a relief to my body and mind, and a sanctuary for my heart and spirit. My first class was with Rodney Yee, and all the years of Buddhist meditation and practice suddenly made sense in my mind-body.
I became an addict for asana, and took 37 yoga trainings in my first year of practice. Remember this is in the mid 1990s, so I had to look hard to find that many! I travelled and haunted my teachers for years, until Erich Schiffmann told me to teach.
My first time teaching a class, I was so nervous and wrote meticulous notes and practiced the sequence for 2 weeks for hours. As you all know, those pieces of paper and intentions have to go out the window when 30 people are standing in front of you waiting to exhale!
Nonetheless, with the encouragement of my teachers, I pursued my teaching. And that was
24 years ago this summer.
(YGSF) Tell us about your yoga journey. What style you started in, and what you like to practice on your personal time.
I have always been taught by Iyengar trained teachers; from my first teacher Rodney Yee, to my current mentors Judith Hanson Lasater and Patricia Walden. I never sought to certify in the Iyengar Method, as I
wanted to have my own voice and experience influencing my own teaching.
My childhood exposure to Buddhist philosophy and Chinese Medicine inform my life, and in turn, my teaching reflects these influences.
My personal practice has softened as I have aged. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I loved to practice many advanced poses every day. Now, I have learned to respect my own body, and the daily influences of life on that body.
Understanding how to sequence and move into poses with attention and awareness are critical to a long term yoga practice. In fact, as Ive aged, the poses have become more graceful, more attentive, and I respect the poses and the body in the pose.
It has allowed me to move deeper into the poses, and hold them for longer, breathing into sensation
and illumination. So that support helps me still fire up some advanced backbends and balances into my practice. Keeping bones healthy and strong for the woman’s aging process.
(YGSF) What are some advice you have for those interested in teaching yoga but feel too intimidated?
Be humble. There are too many young teachers out there who are trying to teach more than they are capable of understanding for themselves. Don’t be afraid to say “I do not know.” That can be the best and most honest thing to say to someone entreating you to tell them how to move and breathe.
Letting someone know you do not know, but will research for them is an act of compassion and concern. A student will more readily return to a teacher that is concerned for them, and cares about their practice. Longevity is the goal, not Instafame!
(YGSF) Aside from yoga, what are you truly passionate about?
(Cora) Travel and education are probably my biggest interests. It is important to me that we see different cultures and we understand one another. As an Asian living in the West for so long, I have felt like I am constantly building bridges between Eastern and Western cultures, and striving to make sense of them in my own heart-mind.
I believe it is critical to educate ourselves about the world around us; from natural phenomen to cultural heritage. Travel has been my greatest education – it has allowed me to see first hand what it feels like to have a volcano roaring under my feet — the intensity of nature, or the immensity of a complex of human endeavor like Angkor Wat, that took generations to build and changed focus between Buddhism and Hinduism throughout the ages.
The greatest lesson of travel is meeting and connecting with others. To learn about other lives, experiences, traditions and healings. From the Jamu of Indonesia to the herbs of the high Himalayas, and the herbal
concoctions of daily Malaysian cuisine, there is much to be learned from other cultures around the world.
What is next for Cora?
Im excited to be starting a new activewear line for the mat and beyond. The clothing line has come out of my own journey as a teacher, and traveling workshop and retreat leader. I need clothes that will last, and
look good throughout an active day.
I need them to be comfortable, wash easily, and be available at a good price. This is what I’ve designed; a
simple basics brand of yoga pants, leggings and shorts. We did add a few simple tops to tie the line together, and are featuring our fantastic “Tranquility Pant & Legging” The clothes are sewn with love in our
manufacturing facility in San Francisco, so it is a local comapny. Look for the Kickstarter soon on YogaBloomActive.
Ive also added a natural gemstone line of bracelets and necklaces, EnerCHIgems, that are made for yogis. These pieces are particularly good for us to practice on the mat. The stones are natural untreated gemstones that we have sourced internationally, can be worn during practice.
Ive worn the Chakra Balancing set during my long Iyengar sirsasana practices, and they are super comfortable and easy to wear!
(YGSF) Thank you Cora for opening our eyes into your beautiful, muti-faceted and fascinating world. Want to see more of Cora? Check out her upcoming events below!