Tiffany Soi is a modern polymath of sorts: the Londoner of EurAsian heritage is a presenter, yoga & wellbeing coach, and respected climbing athlete. She also picked up a first class space science degree and is a classically trained performance artist. She champions empowered, active and diverse women and has positively influenced many people.
Could you please introduce yourself as well as your background?
My name is Tiffany. I was born and raised in London. But I'm half Thai-Chinese from my father's side, and I'm half Polish from my mother’s side. I'm very proud of my identity, as well as being British. I’ve spent the last four years in Asia and came back to the UK in December 2019, bought my first home in London, and have spent the last year of lockdown renovating it!
Professionally, I am a yoga teacher and wellness coach, but I also have a media career. I have my own yoga movement program called “ClimbFlow”, which I’ve developed over many years. The program brings the benefits of yoga, strength and conditioning work, as well as a mindful approach to move and to exercise. Originally, the program was targeted towards the climbing community, because I've also been a climbing athlete for the last 13 years. In addition, I’m also a presenter and actor when those opportunities arise - of course that side was not particularly great last year because of COVID-19. In terms of filling out little bits of my background, I was previously a top ranked gymnast in Britain and I also have a background in science (my actual degree is in Astrophysics).
Why did you choose to study Astrophysics?
I'm very fortunate that my parents are very supportive and unbounded in their perception of what you can do and achieve. Anyone who has migrant parents or who have left their home countries in order to try and create a different future, or the possibility of a different future, can definitely relate. Many migrant parents were educated and could do well in their home countries, but there are a variety of reasons, including conflict and social upheaval, that see people leave with the hope of pursuing and creating something better for the future - but that inevitably meant they had to work extremely hard to make things happen. Both of my parents are very much like that: they are very, very smart, driven, capable people. That has taught me - if you are passionate, you should pursue and explore.
At school I was doing well academically and then I also started training as an athlete. I started gymnastics when I was three. I also loved arts and music. Although I was primarily pushing on an athletic level, which was my biggest dream and goal, I always had these other facets. Despite what I was able to achieve in both analytical subjects as well as artistically, you get very limited choices for university. There was a path to pursue a degree at acting school (I was already part of the junior school of a prestigious institute): but the luck and chance reality within Performing Arts made me reconsider at that time. I decided to pursue my academic aspect, and chose to study astrophysics. I worked extremely hard through those years but it earned me a first class degree! It was around that time that I also discovered rock climbing.
How did you transition from a quantitative background to where you are now? Was there any trigger point?
I graduated during the year of the great financial crash of 2008 - a terrible time for graduate job opportunities and the cause of enormous financial hardship. I’d intended to re-engage my creative and performance side again, now that I’d had a good fall-back degree, but I was pulled by my family responsibility during this crisis, that coincided with my brother being very sick. So, I was extremely fortunate to land a graduate job in the tech industry. The job was obviously very rewarding from an analytical and intellectual perspective, but on a soul/human level, it was proving to be quite challenging for me. There was all of a handful women in the building I worked in, and I had to deal with some very archaic working structures. My colleagues were highly intelligent, and lovely people, but many struggled with communication skills and having a young female in an otherwise completely male dominated environment. It wasn’t the most stimulating environment and certainly not one that pertained to a thriving culture. Hence, I became really interested in trying to understand how we make the working environments better. I’m very thankful that I actually had an incredible mentor in that environment: the Chief Technology Officer in the company, who turned out to be a highly personable and communicative man who was also very interested in the topic. He was incredibly good at his job but he was also very human-driven. He really picked up on my human insight capability and got me connected with the professional and talent development units in the company. So, I made a transition from doing hands-on tech work, to developing programs that supported people in these environments to expand, explore, grow and feel good about their work and themselves. It really brought back to me my love for people and wanting to help empower people so that they feel capable within themselves, and feel fulfilled on a human level not just a professional one.
There is the “space aspect” within me, no doubt, which is very much about the continuation of the human journey and the exploration in future. Then there's the other aspect, which is how do we help people with their experience now on this earth. I still love the possibility and the potential of the human journey, but we are not going up there anytime soon and we still have to figure out how to thrive in this life here. My connection with yoga grew: yoga has been very helpful for me through my own particular physical difficulties. I was in a back brace when I was 16 after gymnastics having sustained spinal damage, things I still deal with now. Getting into a yoga practice helped me to reconnect with my own body and my mindset.
Additionally, I’d been climbing and competing very intensively and pushing to a high level. I got a little broken doing that as well, with several dislocated body parts and lots of strains and exacerbation of my back problems. I would find myself coming back into yoga, alongside fitness, rehabilitation and physical therapy work. I trained as a yoga teacher, alongside other movement modalities, and I found a way to combine my love of connecting with people through the vehicle of movement - it opened a path for how we are able to continue expressing ourselves, and also how to live through emotionally-intense experiences, trauma, etc. Even though we were doing a physical practice, what people were getting out of that was something so much more: self-connection and self-development through their own bodies, understanding the relationship between their mind and their bodies, and the nature of physical practice. So, it's been this very interesting transition, I love it, and I'm really passionate about it.
I noticed that you have “multidimensional” after your name for your Instagram account. What do you mean?
It is an expression of myself and also to remind other people - you are not one thing. Society likes to label us and fit into tidy categories and tick boxes. We might even have a label that we put on ourselves. Maybe it's attached to a job. But you are more than your job. You could be a partner, a lover, a mother, a sister, a creator, an explorer etc. There are many things which also ignite you, inspire you and are important to you and your self expression. I am a science mind who loves the stars and stays open to the multifarious other universes that may be out there, but I am also an athlete, a performer, an entrepreneur and a business woman. I think being mixed Eur-Asian born in Britain has been part of embracing this “other-ness”. Growing up, I had to tick the “other” box on school forms, medical forms, any kind of surveys etc. I feel that we have the right to own ourselves fully and completely according to our definition, not one that’s thrown on us. And even if an aspect of you might not be wholly alive right now, it doesn't mean that it's not something that's important to you. I believe we are all multidimensional beings.
Do you assess yourself often?
Yes, constantly, like right now! It’s an interesting time as we move through this pandemic and live in entirely changed ways. We are constantly having to do this evaluation. Many people will say they’re just feeling really bored - but I, personally, can’t imagine it because my mind is constantly going at 100 miles an hour, trying to figure out what the next step is, and what the next piece of the puzzle is. That’s not a good thing entirely and I admit to that very openly. I teach yoga and I do meditation because I actively need those things since my brain is on all the time. Reset and recalibration is a vital tool for sustained endurance through this life saga.
This year in particular, I turned 35: I’m thinking about what has happened in the last five years and how do I progress from here in a way that actually matters. When we are going through changes or shifts, we often think about what we might lose versus the potential, and that can be a heavy weight that skews our thinking. That’s why I think in these times, trying to insert more room to have quiet time and quiet space is really important, even if it is a very short period. We need to make space to really understand our own convictions and our own thought processes. How much of our thinking is ours? How much of it is coming from outside us (news, society, social media etc)? Do we validate ourselves according to our own standards of being or to some external factor? I work with a lot of very switched-on, high performance people, and the biggest thing I’ve seen is how much more space people are craving mentally in order to find peace with their own thoughts and sense of self.
How do you strike a balance between work and life during this pandemic?
I live and work pretty much at home, as so many are! My studio is on the other half of my living room. I was very clear about what I wanted when we bought our home: I wanted to have a dedicated space for moving, so I could practice and teach yoga, but also be able to use it as a creative space for shooting. Our guest bedroom is now an office full-time for my husband who’s also working from home. We moved into our half-finished home just as the first lockdown happened.
In terms of managing life during Covid, I think it is important to create some sense of routine around ambiguity. I am teaching groups of people and clients, and these are my working hours. Regarding physical movement: yes, I teach people and that's movement, but trying to make sure that there's time for me to move in my own way is also important. Although we’ve been unable to do so during the pandemic, rock climbing for me is very much a kind of therapy, and always has been, aside from being an athletic pursuit - so it’s been extra important to dedicate time to move and meditate (I’m very glad we’re able to climb again now!).
Rituals are also important: making morning tea is important for me. Making coffee is my husband’s ritual. I really love smelling his ground coffee beans as well as being part of that process. I only really drink coffee on the weekends, because I'm very sensitive to caffeine. For me, making that pot of tea, inhaling the aroma, and having my morning cup is very grounding. In the evening, reading a novel - a physical book, not something off a screen - has been very helpful for disconnecting from the day, even if it’s just a few pages! Lastly, trying to sleep and wake up around the same time every day, helps create structure. Together, these give me a sense of self-control during the day, despite the many things that can’t be controlled at the moment.
How do you feel about the difference between the Eastern and Western cultures?
I think there are things to be learned from all sides and I feel fortunate to have strong European and Asian culture that shapes my British identity. As with all cultures, there are nuances to every individual one, and “East” or “West” isn’t entirely appropriate as it assumes every culture into one homogenous society.
That said, I feel there is an assertiveness that comes from my Mother, and my upbringing here, that is definitely helpful for navigating this life. My Father and Thai culture taught me how to do that more gracefully! I do feel there is a spiritual-ness and holistic approach to life across much of Eastern culture, with Buddhist philosophies that are not limited to the concept of religion, but pervade more as a collective human movement. In Thailand, somewhere like Bangkok is a wildly big, heaving city - but there’s so much allowance and acceptance for the present moment. There’s a flow. Being able to go with that flow of energy, let go of the internal resistance and aggression, and move with it with grace is something that only makes sense when you see it, feel it and experience it. Even though it's busy and chaotic, there is a serenity and an ease which pervades all of that in a way that’s far less apparent in Western culture.
It’s why we can sit in a traffic jam there for 3 hours and retain some degree of internal peace, that would otherwise inspire utter fury and outrage here in Britain ha! Every time I'm home in Asia, I feel like I learn something new about being a better, more accepting person and I try to bring that back with me.
What does serene living mean to you and how do you curate your serene home?
Colours are very important! I love gold and burnished yellow. I have a gorgeous yellow sofa, yellow plant pots, teapots, cups! I also love green, which is just very calming and grounding.
I have a lot of plants around to bring nature into my home. We were very sad when we left Singapore: all our plants that we had been growing and cultivating for years had to be given away! I also love flowers and nothing delights me more than seeing blooms, even in the most unlikely of places, like sprouting out of a brick wall.
Next, aroma, as I am very sensitive to smell: it’s very evocative and powerful for me, and triggers a lot of association and memory. I diffuse a lot of essential oils, candles etc. it’s been really important for me to create a sense of home as well as familiarisation for myself.
Also music is a big thing at home! It’s very rare that we do not have music on. I was trained as a classical singer but I love all kinds of music and I’m very eclectic that way - be that classical, latin jazz, pop, country, electronic beats - I have different playlists according to my mood, whether I need to focus, chill out or let loose!
Could you please give three takeaways to our readers who would like to pursue serene living?
First, I’d invite everyone to take up some kind of meditation practice. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to meditate, in my mind anyway, but the easiest thing that you can get involved with is probably breathing meditation: practice sitting upright, closing the eyes, and bringing attention to your breathing rhythm. Even 5 minutes of observing the breath can be helpful for quieting some of that overwhelming chatter and help you feel calmer, and more focused. Contrary to what many think, meditation is not about trying to “empty your mind” or be absent of all thought! Rather, to not get so emotionally caught up in the thoughts, and create some space around them. It helps us see them more clearly, and to let them go where needed. It helps with better decision making, more balanced emotional responses and tapping into your intuition. It takes repeated practice, but even a few minutes a day can make a big difference.
Secondly, move, even if it is really gentle! We were born to move, not to sit still for endless hours each day! Walking, yoga, climbing, dancing, Tai Chi, whatever it is that you find agreeable and enjoyable to your body - get moving! Movement boosts your circulation and helps to shift toxins through your lymphatic system, which in turn can help you feel less lethargic and clearer in mind.
Lastly, pick up or re-engage with something that you enjoy that has nothing to do with an outcome, result or achievement. Do it because you simply like it, not because you’re good at it or not! If it lifts your spirits and makes you feel good, then it’s worth giving time to - we all need more of that in our lives!
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