DEWI CHEN (b. 1985)
YOGA ACTIVIST & DOULA
It all started with two diagrams of a pelvis – one male, one female. Dewi Chen was attending a yoga teacher training when she realised that the trainer didn’t seem to care that the two pelves were built very differently. The ideal poses, taught in a prescriptive manner, were based on the male anatomy as a default. “I felt a complete disconnect. To me it was extremely, extremely troubling, the more I went for these classes, that there’s an entire spectrum of women’s experiences that are largely ignored,” she says. It didn’t help that most of the teacher trainers were male.
Her search for a more meaningful practice led her to discover womb yoga, developed by UK-based yogini Uma Dinsmore-Tuli. Womb Yoga honours the female body through her life stages, which might entail taking note or making adjustments when someone is on their period, or breastfeeding. Dewi is also a practising birth doula, which she started learning about after dealing with her own traumatic birth experience. Doulas give mothers physical, mental and emotional support, complementing the more medical functions that doctors and nurses serve during the delivery, and making the experience more positive and healing.
The mother of one girl currently runs Terra Luna Yoga, a women-focused, trauma-aware studio located in Bukit Timah. Trauma-sensitive yoga recognises that everyone carries different kinds of trauma in their bodies, which might include anything from sexual assault, abuse, or a loss of a child. Because of this, facilitators try not to physically assist their students. “Lovestones” are placed on a mat instead to indicate whether assistance is welcomed. The language used in the studio is very invitational, though Dewi acknowledges that there can be cultural limitations – Singapore students are very used to following what their teachers do and say.
She doesn’t like the term yoga teacher, and opts for facilitator instead. She finds it rooted in how patriarchal the traditional teacher-student dynamic is. It also creates a power imbalance in the room, which has led to dubious practices in the industry such as inappropriate touching during class, something that Dewi herself has experienced. She considers herself an activist, and even then she challenges the traditional perceptions of the term.
“I feel that the activism I do is very quiet. It’s not something that I shout about. It’s very ordinary – I’m just teaching you things that I am experiencing in my body,” she says. “But the work is niche, which makes it unordinary. To me, it’s really work that’s needed.”