After experiencing the benefits of yoga, Jessica now dedicates her life to helping others. By Estelle Low
There’s no stopping Jessica Sinclair once she sets her mind on something. Photos: Veronica Tay
Yoga is said to have many health and fitness benefits. Improving strength, flexibility, posture and sleep are just some of them. For Jessica Sinclair, 33, co-founder of The Yoga Mandala, it also saved her from having to undergo surgery for scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine), a condition she has had since young.
In late 2013, she was hospitalised for severe back pain. “I was hurting badly and could barely move my right side,” Jessica recalls. “My doctor gave me the option of surgery or trying something rehabilitative. I decided to give yoga a shot.”
Three months was all it took for Jessica – who was then working as a real-estate agent – to make yoga her lifestyle. “My posture improved, and my spine curvature reduced from 40 degrees to 30-plus degrees,” she says.
Motivated, Jessica ditched her job and signed up for teacher training. She got certified within a month.
“I wanted to learn more, and use that knowledge to heal my pain from scoliosis,” Jessica explains.
Jessica would think of yoga poses that’d help improve her scoliosis, and do them every day. Three years on, the curve in her spine is down to 18 degrees, the straightest it has ever been.
This can-do spirit has opened many doors for her, including landing a spot in a Marks & Spencer commercial to promote their new range of jeans.
Most recently, Jessica was invited to lead a yoga retreat at The Andaman, a Luxury Collection Resort, Langkawi. She guided participants – including myself – in yoga sessions.
It could be that we were in a lush rainforest, doing yoga against a breathtaking ocean backdrop, or Jessica’s soothing voice that seemed to be able to calm anything down, whether it was the scurrying squirrels, mischievous monkeys or the unruly waves, but throughout the retreat, my conservative self was lulled into doing stuff I’d never dared to try, like gravity-defying acroyoga poses.
Whenever I hesitated, Jessica’s words came to my mind: “It’s all in the head. Fear is the only thing that stops us from getting what we want.”
Always up for a challenge, Jessica puts her balance to test by doing a standing split on a rock.
Shape: You got your instructor certification just a few months after you started doing yoga? That’s pretty amazing!
J: Yeah. I was determined to ease the pain in my back, so I averaged eight to 10 hours on the mat a day. That accelerated my practice. I guess my athletic background also helped. Before yoga, I was doing muay thai, krav maga, and taking part in obstacle races. Plus, my mum, Jojo, was a former bodybuilder, so I think her passion for fitness has rubbed off on me. But I don’t think there’s a prerequisite when it comes to yoga. I know of many yoga professionals who don’t have sports background.
S: Are you still spending that amount of time on the mat?
J: Now that I own a business, my students come first. People who know me will tell you that till the day I die, I’ll always be helping someone. That’s where I get the most satisfaction in life. When my students tell me things like “Thank you so much, my life is much better” or “I can breathe more easily now”, it makes me very happy.
S: How have you helped students through yoga?
J: Physically, they’ve improved in terms of posture and stamina. Those with scoliosis are drawn to my school after they saw how yoga has straightened my spine and drastically reduced back pain for me. I’m in a good position to guide them. Mentally and emotionally, we [The Yoga Mandala] are there for our students.
S: Has scoliosis affected the way you do yoga postures?
J: Due to the uneven muscle distribution in my back, it’s hard for me to balance and hold a posture in perfect alignment. It hurts even more when I don’t do it correctly. To fight the discomfort, I need to fully engage my core. That’s why you can see my abs! [Laughs]
S: What are your best moves to train the core?
J: One, stand against a wall with heels 5cm away. Shoulders, upper back, middle back, lower back and bum should be flat against the wall. Make sure there’s no gap in between. Scoop tailbone in and feel the core engage. Micro-bend knees if need be.
Two, a simpler version that’s also effective: Lie down face up. Roll up as slowly as possible to a seated position. Bring arms in front of you, tuck chin into chest, lift head and roll up as slowly as possible to a seated position.
Do these as often as you can. Of course, eat sensibly if you want to see those abs! (Check out Jessica’s best yoga poses for a flat tummy.)
S: What other benefits have you experienced?
J: Yoga has helped me find inner peace – for instance, doing the simple asanas [postures] that require me to sit down and focus on my breathing. Many people don’t like to do that because they have to face the noise in their head. I’ve learnt to deal with that. The more difficult arm-balancing poses have toughened my mind. I used to be a big procrastinator. Now, once I’ve decided to do something, I will do it.
S: Looking at your Instagram (@jessica.r.sinclair) posts, you seem very fearless. Does anything scare you?
J: [pauses to think] I don’t see boundaries in life. I believe fear is an illusion. That said, I’m very afraid of forgetting the faces of those I love if I get dementia one day. My first dog passed away two years ago from kidney failure, and I took a big hit. One night, I dreamt of him and didn’t remember how he looked like. That really hurt me and made me scared. Memory loss is not something I can prevent, so what I can do is to love my loved ones as much as I can now.
S: How do you help others overcome fear?
J: When people tell me that they’re afraid of something, I like to ask them “why”. Fear has to stem from something. Then they will start thinking and realise that there’s really nothing much to fear. Once you see that you’ll still be the same person no matter what happens, the sky is your limit.
Take yoga, for instance. When you do a challenging pose and you fall, you’ll realise that falling (or failing) isn’t that bad. And you’ll get up and do it again. With every try, you’ll only become stronger.
S: What’s next for you?
J: I don’t think long-term like that; I take things one student at a time. Every student is special. As long as I can make a difference to someone’s life, that’s good enough for me.
The writer’s trip was sponsored by The Andaman, a Luxury Collection Resort, Langkawi.