Hongkongers use their wellness skills to benefit others for next to nothing

The wellness industry is taking off around the world, but some Hongkongers are using their skills to benefit friends, and even strangers, for next to nothing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 12:59pm

Wellness has certainly become big business. Euromonitor, a research group, predicts the global health and wellness industry will reach a record high of US$1 trillion in global sales by 2017, and Hong Kong is no exception to the trend. Each week brings a new outdoor fitness class, a studio opening, or organic restaurant.

But some Hongkongers are shunning big business in favour of food and fitness made by friends for friends. Keeping it small, simple and affordable, these community health leaders are championing a healthy new way of living. Marcus Wong: yoga Inspired to share his passion for yoga, private teacher Marcus Wong began offering pay-as-you-wish group classes six months ago in sports centres around Central and Tsim Sha Tsui.

From time to time, I donate all my class profits to charities or individuals that I believe in
Marcus Wong, Yoga teacher

"In private yoga, you put all your attention into an individual, and only one person benefits," says 37-year-old Wong. "But I believe that everyone should be able to experience yoga in their own bodies and minds."

True to his philosophy, Wong now offers weekly community classes, from beginner's sun salutations and yin yoga, to more energetic Ashtanga or power yoga classes for advanced students. He also organises musicians to play live classical music during his classes.

What started as a small gathering of family and friends has since grown into a vibrant yoga community. His Facebook page has more than 700 devotees, and his classes now attract up to 40 students each time.

There is no set fee, and students pay what they think the class is worth, and what they can afford. "I think that's the true spirit of community. You are catering for everybody's needs, and adapting to everybody's spending power," he says.

Wong, who works full time in corporate public relations, also uses the classes as a way to give back to the community. To date, he has donated HK$14,100 to Hong Kong charities.

"From time to time, I donate all my class profits to charities or individuals that I believe in, and feel like helping, and tie their missions to class themes to bring out their positive messages in the context of yoga. Karma Yoga is the yoga of selfless giving or service to others, with no strings attached," he says.

But Wong assures it is ultimately he who benefits. "They say, 'The meaning of life is to find your gift, and the purpose of your life is to give it away.' And that's hopefully what I'm doing. I give what I have and I'm happy that it causes change in other people's lives."

Sour Times Dairy Company: handmade healthy produce Hong Kong is known for its fine dining, but not for its fine yogurt - until now, at least. Sour Times Dairy Company is believed to be Hong Kong's first local company making handmade yogurt. Created by Winy Cheung and Eileen Leung for the Asian palate, the result is warm red ginger, wild hibiscus and naai cha creamy yoghurt mixes, among other seasonal flavours.

"Yogurt is healthy, of course, with beneficial bacteria," says Leung.

Leung and Cheung bonded over their love of yogurt two years ago while they were colleagues at a local design studio. Growing up abroad, they both enjoyed eating yogurt, but they couldn't find any of comparable quality back here. So they paired up to create their own product, and decided to share the virtues of yoghurt with the community.

After spending months developing a taste, they launched their yogurt at a Discovery Bay Farmers' Market in April 2012. It was a hit.

These days, their market yogurt selection often sells out by lunch.

It's all because of the love put into each bottle, says Leung. Each one takes 36 hours to make, requiring the duo to slave away after hours to prepare for each weekend market.

"We're exhausted by the time we open our store; we don't really sleep much," says Cheung.

"We've definitely noticed at the markets that people are more aware of what goes into their food," says Leung of the rising interest in handmade and organic produce in Hong Kong, adding that their yogurt does not have any stabilisers, thickeners or preservatives.

The response has been overwhelming at times. "People get really excited about the markets, and have been very supportive; we didn't expect to be this popular," says Leung.

Despite their popularity, they intend to keep the product small and local: "Our goal is to keep the product handmade, so we're not intending to grow too big."

Sour Times Dairy Company yoghurt is available at SpiceBox Organics in Sai Ying Pun and Island East Markets on the first and third weekends of the month starting at the end of September. Hour of Power: exercise When Adam "Uppers" Upton brought a few mates together four years ago for a weekly workout, he didn't realise he was starting an outdoor workout revolution.

Today, Upton leads a dedicated bunch through an "Hour of Power" (HOP) fitness circuit every Wednesday in Hong Kong Park, through rain and typhoons. He is helped in his quest to get Hong Kong's young lawyers and bankers fit by Dan Chapman, 32, and Stephen Johansen, 29.

While other fitness classes charge hundreds of dollars a session for an outdoor workout, HOP is free.

"It's never crossed my mind [to charge a fee]," says Upton, 41. "If people want that kind of session, there are plenty of others out there. Everyone comes here because they want to be here, not because they've signed up for 10 sessions."

The result is a workout with a community feel. The dedication creates a unique brand of teamwork, says Upton: "There's a real sense of comradeship at the sessions. HOP is a philosophy; it's a crew."

With suits off and sweats on, everyone laughs and grunts through the sessions, which include Spider-Man push-ups, plank holds, hill sprints, and Indian file running up Bowen Drive each Wednesday evening.

"The competitive element gets people going, and they push each other," says Upton.

There is a regular core of 50 attendees, and there are 300 people on the distribution list. Chapman began running a follow-up session on Saturday mornings at Happy Valley two years ago. "While it's a commitment, it's the training I would do anyway. So it's good discipline for me, too," he says.

Upton, Chapman and Johansen are training other HOPers to keep the concept alive. "I hope HOP continues beyond when I'm too old to do it. I hope I come back here in 20 years and find HOP is still going," Upton says.