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Gen Y Speaks: Burnt out and stressed, I turned to yoga to stretch away my workaholic life

Whenever someone worked overtime, it was common to hear beaming superiors react by showering the person with compliments about his willingness to sacrifice his personal time, and lauding him for his positive work ethic.

Gen Y Speaks: Burnt out and stressed, I turned to yoga to stretch away my workaholic life
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Alvona Loh Zi Hui

Whenever someone worked overtime, it was common to hear beaming superiors react by showering the person with compliments about his willingness to sacrifice his personal time, and lauding him for his positive work ethic.

On the flipside, it was rare to hear of bosses who encourage me and my colleagues to take more days off, even after periods of immensely high workload.

That was the situation four years ago when I first started work providing patient care in the healthcare sector.

Over time, I realised it has become ingrained in me that someone who prioritises work and continues to work beyond normal working hours is considered a “good worker”.

Although the work is meaningful, what drained my soul and increased my levels of stress and irritability was the fact that I had to work on most weekends, as well as the 28-hour overnight calls that are common in the industry.

To make things worse, I do not own a separate work phone and use the same contact number for both personal and work uses, which has become a constant regret.

There were many occasions when I had to attend to a question about work from a colleague late at night, probing for clarity on patients’ conditions and plans. This sometimes interrupted the rest that I needed to recharge for the next day.

I can’t count the number of nightmares that I’ve had involving myself swamped with many patients waiting to be admitted, only to wake up while drenched in cold sweat.

Working to the bone in such a way, I unknowingly began to neglect myself as well as my social relationships, and my physical and mental health suffered.

Initially, I coped by bottling up my feelings, since many other colleagues are working just as hard as me, with working hours as long as mine. I felt that I should not complain about the situation which I could not change.

But occasionally, I would rant about my exhaustion to my friends, especially those who were patient enough to lend a listening ear.

At that point, the mental and physical drain made me feel that I was probably burnt out. I felt like a candle melting under the immense workload and hours placed on me, with no hope of putting out the fire.

Some of my friends noticed it too when I missed certain gatherings that I used to join. I was in no mood to go out and have fun.


What changed for me was when I came across a speech by Kevin O’Leary, a Canadian businessman and panellist on the television show Shark Tank. It was called “Why I Don’t Believe in Hiring Workaholics”, which he posted onto his Facebook.

According to O’Leary, the life of a workaholic leads to burnout. This is why he always asks someone what he or she does in their spare time before hiring them, because successful people need a balanced life to work optimally.

I was surprised at first that a capitalist and investor like him would value work-life balance over sheer hard work, but I began to understand why self-care was so important to reach success.

With a newfound understanding of the perils of a workaholic life, I began to try to find a balance in my life from May to August.

One of my friends, who is passionate about the concept of mindfulness, recommended me to try yoga as a way to find wellness and balance in both mind and body.

Some of my other close friends, on the other hand, did not believe that I could stick to a yoga routine, as they thought my fast-paced lifestyle was simply antithetical to a yogic life.

Not knowing how yoga could help me, I was nevertheless determined to put in effort to turn my burnout around and seek a more mindful lifestyle.

I was quickly drawn to aerial yoga after some research, due to its visual appeal and diverse shapes. This is a form of yoga that uses fabrics suspended in air to perform yoga routines.

For over two months, I trained and practised doing backbends, poses, inversions and drops from a silk fabric or a trapeze. Sometimes, I even did back-to-back classes on the same day.

Once I started, there was no turning back.


Although I was initially a sceptic, I started to discover several life lessons from my yoga classes.

For example, aerial hanging postures, such as the Inverted Buddha pose, showed me how to attain a sense of healing and inner peace as the action of dangling upside down somehow calmed and cleared my mind.

My theory is that because such a posture encouraged me to not focus my surroundings, lest I lose my balance. Instead, I would close my eyes, focus on myself as well as every breath I took.

It was a revelation that I needed, at a time when I was so concerned about how people might frown upon the burnout and exhaustion I was undergoing.

This introspection has allowed me to have a better relationship with myself, as well as engage in more positive self-talk instead of being distracted by the cacophony of the outside world.

I was also taught another heartstopping yoga move, which involves falling some distance after releasing my grip on the fabric, and allowing the fabric to catch me safely later on.

Known as the Goddess Drop, this routine taught me to let go instead of attempting to over-control parts of my life that are less than perfect. I didn’t need to always be in control of every little thing, but to let life take its course instead.

If I was less prepared for a conference presentation at work for example, thanks to the Goddess Drop, I now adopt a “better done than perfect” perspective, rather than fault myself for not achieving the epitome of perfection.

Most importantly, aerial yoga taught me that it is perfectly fine to make myself a priority.

I learnt that taking care of one’s health is paramount. As the saying goes, we cannot pour from an empty cup.

While work is important, I now realise that overworking is shortsighted and leads to deep-seated unhappiness and an unhealthy body.

In the future, I hope to continue to strike a mindful balance between work and life, and perhaps take up aerial yoga teacher training, explore new routines and postures in an enjoyable way.



Alvona Loh Zi Hui is a junior doctor who works at a public hospital in Singapore.

Related topics

Gen Y Speaks Work life balance yoga mental health burnout

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