How yoga changed a Hong Kong woman’s life and how she gives thanks by running free outdoor yoga classes

Facing a life of limited mobility and the prospect of a knee replacement after breaking her leg, Janae Hagan took up yoga and now the 28-year-old American runs free vinyasa-style classes in Admiralty

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 March, 2017, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 March, 2017, 5:53pm

Janae Hagen seemed headed for a life of limited mobility after breaking her leg at the knee when she was young – then she discovered yoga.

“Yoga has kept me moving, quite literally. Before I started practising, I was fast-tracking towards a knee replacement by 30,” says the 28-year-old American. “It’s also a five-star stress reliever, especially in Hong Kong. I work a corporate job with the classic fun-yet-stressful combo of an unrelenting inbox and working across a dozen time zones.”

Hagen was certified as a yoga instructor in 2014 and began teaching. Moving to Hong Kong in digital marketing about 18 months ago, she began ad hoc community classes for friends last spring.

Word of Hagen’s free classes spread and recently she began regular sessions: two Sunday mornings a month, at Tamar Park in Admiralty. The vinyasa-style class is meant for all levels.

“People always tell me they don’t do yoga because they’re not flexible,” Hagen says. “I always laugh, because yoga is not designed exclusively for flexible people, it’s designed to help you find more flexibility in your body and mind.”

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Hagen started learning yoga via YouTube while at college in her native North Dakota. Within two months, she started to notice for the first time since breaking her leg as a kid that she could do a full squat, a lunge, and balance on one foot without pain.

After moving to Seattle a few years later, she started practising regularly at a studio. Soon afterwards, she took a six-month, 200-hour training course with Yoga Alliance to become a registered yoga teacher.

Having been raised on a farm in North Dakota, how do you find that peace and tranquillity again in Hong Kong?

I refer to my life here as the “Hong Kong hustle,” because everything is so intense – the crowds, my job, the speed of walking – it’s a “can’t stop, won’t stop” atmosphere and like most normal people, I need to have moments to slow down, I just have to fight a little harder for those moments here. Having grown up on a farm, I have found that my tolerance is quite low for the city’s intensity.

Until I moved here, I wasn’t aware of how much I relied on being able to see sunrises and sunsets or even walk on ground other than pavement and asphalt – things I had taken for granted my entire life. It’s not uncommon for me to go Monday to Friday living and working in the city without stepping foot onto real ground.

Ever miss life on a farm?

Sometimes, yes I do miss the farm. But I have a sense that I’ll return to my roots when the time is right. I miss the quiet and the space from the farm, but I also love the vibrancy and activity of the city. There are moments in Hong Kong that trigger vivid memories from home – the smell of the horses and grass at the track in Happy Valley, seeing cows while out hiking, and that small-town feel in areas like south Lantau.

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Arriving in a new city, how has sport helped you to plant your roots here and establish social connections?

Being active in workout groups has enabled me to meet some amazing people. You will always meet the best people doing the things that you love, and I’ve tried to stick to that in Hong Kong and the result has enabled me to be part of a diverse group of smart and very fun people.

Why don’t you charge for your class?

Yoga has a reputation for being intimidating for those who haven’t tried it, and it’s also super expensive in Hong Kong. Especially for people who are new to the city or to practising yoga, it’s difficult to invest thousands of dollars in an activity or studio until you find something that feels right. It makes me feel good to extend the best class experience I can offer while enjoying playing outside on a Sunday morning. I also value very much the friendships I’ve made through the class – it’s priceless.

Do you live by any mantras?

There are two mantras I live by: “Be kind to the world and the world will open up in return” and, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”.

For more details, search for “HK Outdoor Yoga” on Facebook. Bring your own mat and water.