She had quit without a backup plan, but Chong managed to start her own accessible yoga studio and grew it to become the massive operation that it is today
How I’m Making It is a weekly series in which Tatler speaks to influential individuals about their unique journeys and what keeps them going.
It’s easy to assume that someone as flexible and lithe as Jasmine Chong has been practising yoga for most of her life. However, the founder and director of Lab Studios was once part of the corporate world, specifically in the private banking sector.
When Chong graduated from Singapore Management University, she immediately started working in the private banking sector where she worked for big companies such as Credit Suisse, J.P. Morgan, Merrill Lynch and more.
Though she enjoyed her work immensely, there was always something missing.
In 2012, Chong started attending yoga classes as a simple way to decompress and be healthy. At that point, Chong was also going to the gym almost daily in an attempt to lose weight and figured that yoga would help her to vary her workouts and to ease her sore muscles.
“I was a gym rat when I was about 20. I ran and did weights training every day, which inevitably made my muscles tight all over. Someone at the gym told me yoga would help to stretch me out, so I went for a class in 2009. And I’ve never looked back since,” said Chong.
True enough, Chong at that point could not anticipate just how much yoga would transform her life. In 2013, she decided to quit her full-time job and dedicate her time to yoga.
“I decided to leave my desk-bound job without any backup plan and went straight to what made me truly happy. I discovered that teaching and sharing about yoga was what I enjoyed doing, so I simplified my life by doing just that,“ Chong shared.
She started by completing a yoga teaching course and was later offered her first teaching role at Updog Studios in 2014. This was also where she met Betty Kong, one of Updog Studio’s founders who soon became Chong’s friend and mentor.
Chong began completely immersing herself in yoga as a teacher and began teaching multiple classes a week.
“I became a full-time yoga teacher in 2014, teaching up to 25 classes a week. I taught different iterations of yoga—Hatha, Yin, Vinyasa, hot, and even prenatal yoga,” Chong shared before adding that while she was doing this, she was sharing her journey online on Instagram.
“It was this online community that opened my eyes to a gap in the yoga market in Singapore at that time. My followers told me of rising class fees and a lack of accessible classes and personalised teaching for inexperienced yoga students. I realised how many people wanted to do yoga but it was not easy to sustain this practice without breaking your wallet,” she said.
It was this need that inspired both Chong and Kong to try to create a studio where they would be able to give the community yoga classes that were high quality and reasonably priced.
In 2016, Chong and Kong’s dream became a reality with the launch of their yoga studio, Lab Studios.
“We launched Lab Studios in 2016 with Yoga Lab with the mission of creating safe, accessible spaces for people from all walks of life to explore their practice. The name ’Lab Studios’ actually signifies a unique approach to fitness and wellness, with all classes created based on sequences that focus on the appropriate muscle groups to achieve optimal results,” Chong said.
Yoga Lab opened its first location along Hong Kong Street and immediately saw itself growing fast with the studio breaking even in its first month of operations alone.
As the studio continued to grow, Chong began to expand her reach and stumbled across barre which is a workout that is centred around elements of dance, yoga and Pilates.
“I stumbled into a barre class, not really knowing what it was. I worked out my muscles in ways I never had before—I couldn’t walk down the stairs after my class. I went back the next day to figure out why and I ended up doing classes for 10 consecutive days. I got hooked,” Chong said with a smile.
This inspired Chong to begin incorporating barre into her studio’s workouts in order to create more precise muscle training. Chong and Kong also managed to complete their first barre teacher training together in Hong Kong with Chong going on to further her barre certification in Australia and Bali.
It was in 2018 that she opened Barre Lab to really focus on the practice and to introduce more people to it.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Chong decided to launch Lab on Demand in May that year to cater to the increased demand for online classes. The system offered a fixed-price, online-only monthly subscription plan that gave participants access to over 200 videos from Yoga Lab and Barre Lab lessons. They uploaded four new classes weekly and saw incredible success.
In fact, in just five years, Chong and Kong have taken Yoga Lab to incredible heights and have even managed to launch their new flagship Lab Studios in Holland Village that opened in August 2021.
However, that’s not all. Chong is currently preparing to launch The Flow Pilates by Lab Studios in January 2022.
The new studio is a joint venture with Tiffany Yow, the founder of The Flow Studio in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia and will be bringing The Flow’s unique reformer methods and workouts to Singapore. The reformer method is an alternative to high-intensity training workouts and helps participants to get lean muscles and to sculpt while building endurance and flexibility.
While Chong is clearly making huge moves in her career, she is certainly not neglecting her personal life. In fact, just recently, Chong became a mother and learnt that she was capable of so much more than she initially thought she was.
“We didn’t plan for a child and I never wanted to be a mother. But through the journey of pregnancy and motherhood, I have discovered in myself a different woman who is so much more than I can ever imagine myself to be,” Chong admitted.
She added that she is a very hands-on mum and that balancing her business with her son is a constant battle.
“That’s two full-time jobs that demand 100 per cent of me. I find new strength every day to do this for my son and my business. It has been such a trying, yet amazing journey so far,” Chong said with a laugh.
With her multiple responsibilities, Tatler spoke to Chong to find out how she plans her day-to-day schedule while juggling mummy duties.
What is a typical morning like for you?
Jasmine Chong (JC): I take Joshua, my one-year-old son, out for breakfast. We cycle to a cafe 15 minutes away from our home for our daily breakfast date. I usually have half an avocado, one sunny side up egg, sourdough toast, and an oat milk latte without sugar. We get home by 9.30 am for his nap, and I start my workday.
What does a standard workday look like for you?
JC: I make time to attend a morning class after breakfast at one of our studios—Yoga Lab in East Coast or Barre Lab in Joo Chiat—to kickstart my day and set my headspace.
This prepares me to tackle the most difficult thing on my to-do list, which I will try to complete before I break for lunch. For me, lunch is a sacred time out. I don’t do any work. Instead, I read or listen to a podcast while I eat lunch, which is usually something simple. Sometimes I’ll meet a friend. I schedule my meetings after lunch and my workday typically ends at 4 pm, when I go home to make dinner for Joshua and put him to bed by 8 pm.
What time do you usually have lunch? What do you usually have for lunch?
JC: Anytime between 11.30am and 3.30pm. I’ll eat whatever is available and convenient but I prefer something light and clean, like sushi and fish soup. I also love noodles. Once in a while, I allow myself to indulge in a bowl of bak chor mee.
Free time: overrated or underrated? Why?
JC: Free time is totally underrated, especially now that I have a son. Free time means breathing space, and that translates to a clearer mind to make better decisions and get creative. I try to schedule in pockets of free time, no matter how short, every day—just to re-centre myself.
How do you achieve a work-life balance? How do you set boundaries?
JC: I apply what I learn on the mat, during my yoga practice, into my life.
When balancing in a pose, you will begin to notice the little tweaks your muscles do to hold you in position. These little movements are necessary to find balance. If we allow these little movements to just be, we stay balanced. The problem is when we react to these constant movements and try to force or stop them. That's when we lose our balance.
Another important thing for balance is your gaze (or Drishti). If you fix your gaze on one unmoving object that is in front of you, you can stay balanced indefinitely or as long as you need to. If your gaze constantly shifts, you will lose your balance.
Translating this to life, I allow for minor changes to happen in my daily schedule and learn not to obsess over unplanned hiccups. Understanding the changing needs of my family and my business, I give myself the grace to allow for these “movements” to happen in my life.
So life is structured but not rigid. I have to pick the most important thing to focus on right now—and that is to form a secure attachment with my son. Studies have shown a child’s crucial development phase is from birth to the age of three. With this in mind as a key priority, it’s easy to decide how I set boundaries.
How do you deal with your shortcomings?
JC: I used to want to be good at everything. Now I find more grace for myself and acknowledge that there are areas I can become better at. I give myself more time and space to navigate those areas, seeking help and inspiration on how to become a better person. And most importantly, I allow myself to suck at it—but I still try, anyway.
What is an idea/thought that you heard recently, that you thought was interesting?
JC: The idea of gentle parenting and developing the child’s whole brain.
I was brought up in a traditional Asian family and was taught to obey without questioning. Tantrums were thought of as the sign of a badly brought up child, a failure on the parents’ part. So tantrums were not tolerated.
As Joshua is entering his toddler years soon, I know I want to be a different type of parent. I started exploring different ways of parenting, like playful parenting and most recently, gentle parenting. The approach is so different from what I know and how I was brought up. In fact, it might even be the complete opposite. But it makes so much sense.
I want Joshua to grow up in an environment where he can strive and build good solid relationships. And the whole-brain child method might be the answer to that: The more we focus on the long-term goal of building the connections in a child’s brain, the less we have to struggle with the short-term goal of getting them to do what we want in the moment.
How do you unplug?
JC: I relax with good wine and food. I am partial to Burgundy, especially wines from Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair. I like Japanese and French food and I used to travel to try renowned restaurants like Sushi Shikon in Hong Kong, Tempura Kondo in Ginza, Tokyo and Joel Robuchon’s eponymous restaurant (which only opened for 16 months) at La Grande Maison in Bordeaux. Now that we cannot travel, I am very happy that we can find some really good choices here in Singapore, too. One of my favourite restaurants here is Esora.
How do you manage stress?
JC: When it threatens to get overwhelming, I step away from work. If I don’t have the luxury of time, I’ll reach out to Betty Kong, my business partner and my mentor, for help to work together. Or I simply vent, and in the process, I will make sense of things.
What is the last thing you do before you go to bed?
JC: A habit from when I was in school: I always make sure I pack my bag and prep the clothes I’ll need to wear the next day.