A Journey of Discovery with Josie Huang

A Journey of Discovery with Josie Huang

Women of Cincy caught up with Josie Huang at Cavu Coffee in West Chester on a warm summer evening. We grabbed a comfy couch, sipped on some fruit smoothies, and talked about this inspiring woman's journey from West Coast businesswoman to Queen City yoga teacher, student, and mom.

Interview by Kelsey Johnson. Photography by Jess Summers.

IMG_0624.jpg

To start off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am primarily a young mom to a 20-month-old daughter with a second baby on the way. I’m 24 weeks along. I used to be a corporate woman; I worked in finance banking for almost ten years throughout my twenties. As fate would have it, I met my husband and I kind of see that stage of my life as a catalyst for change in many different ways. I was tired of working that 8-5 job – well, actually more hours than that – and I felt like something was not quite complete. I wanted to be able to explore my life outside of that.

I took a break from my corporate job in finance banking and didn’t go back. I find that I don’t know the answer still – I’m still searching and looking for ideas, inspirations, and passions to fill my life. Long story short, that kind of brought me here. I moved from California to Arkansas, where I lived with my (now) husband who was in grad school, and then we moved here to Ohio in 2013. A few years later we got married, and now I’m a mom.

I went down the path of trying something a little different and it didn’t work out, but I also found my other passion: yoga. That was kind of a side step – it wasn’t my focus to become a yoga teacher, but I’m so glad that it worked. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today: really focusing on taking care of myself, focusing on what matters to me, being a mom and caring for my family, and having good people in my life. That focus shed a lot of layers of what I thought I should be and has helped me just feel comfortable being in my own skin. Though I still feel I’m in the process of trying to find out how to be comfortable in my skin, whatever that means. It’s always changing, especially now with a new family member coming along. I’m in a flux, trying to enjoy this. But I can’t help thinking about what’s coming up next. I’m always a thinker and planner. So that’s who I am right now – who I am, what I’ve done, where I’ve been.

How did you find your passion for yoga?

I was already practicing Bikram yoga when I was working full-time. It was more of a twice-a-week practice just to feel relaxed and recharged after working. Fast-forward to when I moved to Arkansas: I didn’t work and I felt like I needed to figure out where I was going with my life. It was a very hard transition at the time. It was a totally different environment going from L.A. to the country where I just didn’t know what to expect. I needed something that could keep me anchored and I thought that yoga could help me bridge that transition.

So, I practiced at home even though there was no studio in the whole entire state. That was my way of really immersing myself in yoga. I was working for something that would help me transition mentally and physically, but I also wanted to be sure that I wasn’t hurting myself. I wanted to do it right. I felt like the best way to do that was to become a teacher, so I could teach myself first and foremost.

I went to teacher training for that reason, and after training I felt that there’s a whole new world to explore and to understand. It was like the beginning of being a student again. The more I found out, the more I felt like just how little I knew. Circumstances weren’t so much in my favor at the time. I couldn't really teach since there was no studio in the state. I really wanted to see this opportunity come to some sort of fruition, so I tried my best to reach out to studios so I could at least teach part-time, even though they were hours away. I became a part-time yoga teacher that way for about 6 months. But obviously, there was a lot of driving and commuting, being away from home half a week at time and then coming back, and I didn’t really get a chance to recharge and relax. Being on the road and working away from home like that was taking a toll. I realized I needed to take a break; I needed something that was more sustainable and that wouldn’t be pushing my body that hard. Even though I wanted to see myself as a yoga teacher, the timing wasn’t right. It wasn’t the best time to explore that. My body was telling me, “Eh, maybe slow down a little, or reassess. Maybe this is not the best way to go.” So, I temporarily took a break from teaching and went back to the workforce again.

IMG_0631.jpg

Did you go back to working in the finance world?

I went into the retail industry – gave that a try. Where I lived in Arkansas is very close to the Wal-Mart headquarters, so I actually ended up working for Wal-Mart for a while. The experience was very full – it’s very busy, very different. A year later, we were getting ready to move and I realized that wasn’t really what I wanted. But I’m grateful for the experience. It was just as crazy and hectic as I thought it would be. I went a full circle. I got back to where I was and I thought, “Okay, that’s not for me.” But I tried going from something like corporate work to yoga, and that didn’t quite work out for many different reasons. I recognize the fact that I should give whatever is around me a try and just be open to it – figure out what I’m really passionate about. And then, I found that I was also very passionate about cooking and talking about nutrition. I talked to a lot of my friends about what I cook and what I make – all kinds of food.

How did you pursue that love of cooking and nutrition?

It was a hobby to begin with, like a lot of people. But I have had a lot of friends who have told me, “You should consider being a nutritionist.” I thought to myself, “At this point, really, I have nothing to lose.” I could do anything; it was just a matter of how far I wanted to push myself. Again, how far am I willing to push myself for something, some end goal? I was also afraid that if I set my bar too high, I would disappoint myself. I think ultimately, it’s just me who sees these things as “live or die situations.”

So, I went back to school. I told myself, “This is just for learning. This is just for my passion of that knowledge.” And I thought to myself, “I have a goal; that’s great. But this is not going to be a goal to ‘make it or die.’” I gave myself a little space to breathe, and I got my classes and all my pre-nutrition degrees completed. My husband got a job at Miami University, so we decided to settle here [in West Chester] right between Cincinnati and Oxford and I get to have access to Cincinnati and all its fine schools. Once we moved, I went to Cincinnati State Community College here to get my associate degree in pre-nutrition science. Then, I could transfer to UC as a student in the dietetics program.

I thought it was great – really perfect for me. So yeah, I became a student again and loved it. I love learning. I enjoy sitting in a classroom and just being in college again. It’s better [this time] because I’m much wiser and much more focused. And this is what I want. No one’s telling me that I have to or I should – I want this for myself.

I’m very much self-motivated and that makes the learning that much more enjoyable. And I really felt like whatever I learned, I could totally see how people could benefit and use this information through me as a medium. Maybe one day I could become a nutritionist or dietitian so I can help people with all kinds of information that’s being thrown their way. Because I think it’s becoming more and more of a conversation; maintaining a healthy diet and all kinds of stuff related to it.

So, are you enrolled as a student at UC now?

Where I am right now with that…I guess I’m taking a break. I found out I was pregnant with my first child and I had just transferred to UC. So, I had to make the decision of whether I wanted to continue after she was born. Three months after she was born, I was supposed to decide what I wanted – if I wanted to enroll in the spring semester. I was so torn because that’s a fork in the road decision. At the time, it was really like motherhood or career/school. I could almost see myself in a career after school. But do I take the life of a student and split myself up between more roles, or focus on fewer things? I chose to focus on fewer things.

IMG_0702-Edit.jpg

I said, “I will always be a student, one way or another.” I’m so glad that I listened to myself, which was another hard thing to do. Both sides seemed like me and who I am, but I can’t see myself splitting in two. I can only do one thing, and right now family comes first. It’s always in the back of my mind, though. I’m so used to having a professional identity from my past, even though I know that’s no longer who I am. But right now, there’s just not a lot of room for that. Focusing on my family feels like right where I want to be. As far as focusing on my school and career aspirations, I feel like there’s a time and place for that. I know I’ll be older, but I think I’ll be okay with that. I don’t think that bothers me anymore. I think people go back to school anytime these days. It’s just not an issue. As long as you want to do something, it’s always there.

For now, I’m a mom. One day, when my kids get older, I’ll figure out where that little patch of myself is I want to revisit and I’ll go back to it.

Did you go back to teaching yoga when you moved to Cincinnati?

Yes. When we moved, we found out that there’s a Bikram yoga studio here! The woman who opened the studio, Chelsea, was actually my fellow yoga trainee – when I was trained, she was also trained. There was that instant familiarity, almost like a community with all of us Bikram yoga teachers that came out of training together. I contacted her and she was like, “I’m so glad you’re here.” She was like, “Just come on in and tell me when you want to teach. I’ll put you on the schedule right away.” I thought, “This feels right.” It finally feels like the right place and I was so happy. There was this studio and a community with someone who can kind of be my flagship person and help me find my place here as a budding yoga teacher.

I started teaching at Hot House right when I moved here, and I’ve been teaching part-time ever since. One exception is when I took a break close to the end of my first pregnancy. I’ve been practicing there since 2013. I was so glad I kept practicing throughout my pregnancy; it was so helpful. It’s actually great for pregnant women. I’m teaching and practicing still, and I’m about to take my break from teaching again soon. I’ll still be practicing a couple times a week to prepare my body for the big day.

Tell us more about your specific branch of yoga: Bikram.

Bikram yoga is yoga that’s sequenced very specifically. There’s 26 postures. It is a physical practice first and foremost, by design of the posture sequence. You have to be very patient, stay kind, and learn things step by step. A big component of it is heat – a fairly warm temperature, around 105 degrees average. I think it’s the sweat that allows the body to physically be more open to the postures, and work through the muscles deeper to the ligaments. There’s a lot of compressions, extensions, stretching, compressing the organs and muscles – really, everything in the body gets tapped into. 

This particular style of yoga is different and distinct from other schools of yoga as we call them. There are eight branches of yoga. Bikram falls under Hatha yoga, the physical limb. The other seven limbs, or branches, of yoga are not physically related. So, there are others that deal more with the mental aspect of yoga, meditation or practicing tightness, or nonviolence/no harm, and there are different concepts. Bikram yoga is primarily focusing on the physical aspects, but I think it’s almost like a gateway to help people understand the other aspects of yoga. After you step into this idea of taking care of yourself physically, then your mind can be more open to practicing those nonphysical aspects of yoga.

I think the biggest thing with yoga is to take what you need from it. You have to kinda figure out what that is for you. And not just with Bikram yoga, but in a general sense. The union of the mind and body – what does that look like to you?
IMG_0616.jpg

Who have been some influential women in your life?

There are a few people; really, bits and pieces of them. From the yoga world, there’s one of the teachers that I met in Arkansas, Teri. She’s not a Bikram yoga teacher, but she’s one of the teachers that I met from a different school of yoga who taught me a lot about all of the other branches. That really opened my eyes to everything I wasn’t immersed in yet. She’s very open and free and wise. She’s helped me keep my mind and my heart open. I still love my yoga practice, but I recognize there’s a much bigger world of yoga. I appreciate her very much.

Here in Cincinnati, Chelsea has been very influential. Even though she moved away, she’s always been a strong and passionate person. If I ever want to do something, her energy and passion are what I would love to channel. Her passion is very easily felt.

Her successor, Michelle, is now the studio owner. She’s different [from Chelsea] but she’s also very strong in her own way. And not just physically strong, but also very savvy. She knows how to balance things out; running a studio, managing, keeping her sense of self. I think there’s a lot of things I learn from just observing her. Not just because she owns a studio; there’s no sense of entitlement or ego. She’s like this servant to the community, but also very business savvy and genuine and generous. Keeping that balanced from day to day is not easy. That’s something I find very admirable – wearing multiple hats all the time, keeping it all afoot, graciously and authentically. I know that it’s hard to balance that cross between business and service. Serving people is a selfless act, but business has very much of a for-profit attitude. You have to balance that well and I think that’s not easy, but she’s doing that really beautifully.

It all comes back to yoga. That’s how I connect with some of the most influential people in my life. It’s the yoga that brought us together. Our own personalities are still intact, but we have a lot of common threads. It’s all about community. I say this in my head a lot: We’re better together.

Six Lessons from AIGA’s The Momologues

Six Lessons from AIGA’s The Momologues

Words We Heard: 'How do we empower girls to view themselves as leaders?'