By Fiona Cheung
Stephanie Chee Barea has been a certified yoga instructor for over 13 years. Besides teaching at Mela Yoga studio in San Mateo, she also teaches at d.tech on Tuesdays and Thursdays during Lab 1, and has taught several intersession classes. We sat with Chee Barea to discuss her path to becoming a yogi, how yoga can help teens, and some tips for beginners.
Q: What inspired you to start practicing/teaching yoga? What was your journey like?
I was a dancer for many years, a ballerina, until about the age of 16, when I got to that place in dance where you have to really commit your whole life to it or not. There were certain aspects that I knew weren’t going to be my life. I was really looking for a different way to still be in my body that gave me the same kind of feeling. So I tried yoga and …got really into the physical practice, the kind of gymnastic quality.
I was really flexible from dance, so I could do all the crazy poses, and there was definitely an element of me wanting to do the most difficult thing and really challenge my body. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my son (10 years into me practicing yoga,) that I really started to explore different aspects of the science, meditation in particular, and some of the more healing, spiritual practices. I was teaching high school biology and chemistry, and some of my high school students asked if they could start of yoga club. We went on two different yoga trips to different ashrams, (places where yogis live and practice.) In 2010, I found my teacher, and became certified as a yoga instructor.
Q: How did yoga make a difference in your life?
It helped to heal some of the stuff that’s happened to me along the way. My dad died when I was nine, and there were some difficult times in my life that yoga really helped me get through.
Q: How do you recommend people incorporate yoga into their daily life?
I would say the most important thing is that you do something, even if it’s just one thing everyday. And it can be one pose, or five minutes of deep breathing before you fall asleep, in order to start to build yoga in. You start to notice a change, then you’ll start to realize, “Oh, I want to make more time for it.” The other thing, is to do it with friends. We call it “Sangha,” and it literally translates to: “a group of bright beings.” Even if you’re feeling down and stuck, when you come together, they remind you of the light that you are. For many many years, I would be like, “I’m too tired to do yoga, I’m too stressed out to do yoga.” Then I started to notice that that’s when I needed the yoga, not the other way around.
Q: Why should people start doing yoga? How does it help them?
It absolutely helps with focus and mental clarity, but I guess that all goes under the umbrella of “energy management.” I think the most important reason to start practicing, is that yoga is the science of inquiry. It’s the science of getting to know who you are and how you function, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what inspires you, what are the places you get stuck.
Yoga is the science of inquiry. It’s the science of getting to know who you are.
Q: What are some good poses for beginners?
Child’s pose is one of my favorite poses, because it’s relaxing, connects with your breath, helps when you’re feeling overwhelmed emotionally or physically, and it’s more restorative.
A pose like Cobra, like a backbend, is a good beginner’s pose, and is also good for helping to uplift your mood and energy.
And then of course, my favorite is Shavasana, corpse pose, mostly because we don’t do that enough: being there and not sleeping, actively learning to relax.
Q: Favorite yoga retreat or destination and why?
I love practicing outside, so I love yoga in the tropics. I love yoga in Hawaii, it’s my favorite – being surrounded by flowers and lush jungle and listening to birds. I just got back from Bali – that was an amazing place to practice too. I like … getting away from cities and screens and all that stuff.
Check out Stephanie’s website and her studio, Mela (may-luh) Yoga, located on 851 N. San Mateo Dr., Suite G, in San Mateo, California.