These days Briohny Smyth is known for her strong inversions on the mat, but before she found her love for hollow backs and handstands, she was tearing it up as a teen pop star in her home country of Thailand. After stumbling upon yoga while traveling for work, she slowly started building a practice, which quickly became a source of solace and healing. When, 10 years into her singing career, she—plot twist—dropped everything to become a yoga teacher, the transition was far from seamless, but Briohny persisted, and now brings healing to others through online classes, retreats, and teacher trainings at Bryce Yoga School, the L.A. community she helped cultivate with fellow yogi Dice.
You found yoga at a trying time in your life. What was it like being a pop star in the public eye and maintaining a certain image while also having this vulnerable experience on the mat?
It was interesting for me. I found yoga when I was 15, and I was struggling with eating disorders. At the time I didn't understand that I had a problem, and it wasn't until five years later that I understood my problems stemmed from insecurities—about my body, my self-worth, my identity. What I realize now is that yoga started creating that space within me for who I am now and who I was then. [It helped me accept] the fact that I might not have the same body as everyone else, or the same mindset. That first yoga practice and the continued practice in my teen years were such an important part of me being able to be me. It was a crazy time because part of my job was to have fun and party, so yoga became the sanctuary for me to recover and start a new life.
What was it like making the transition from practicing on the side to pursuing yoga as a career? Were you still in Thailand at the time?
When I made the transition into teaching yoga, I was in the middle of a very challenging custody battle. I knew I didn't want to raise my daughter in Thailand or be in a career that wasn't conducive to raising kids. Singing, promoting and recording was fun, and I'm still thankful for the opportunity, but it wasn't a very healthy job. So, I made the transition.
It was a challenge mentally because one part of me knows how to hustle and knew that this was the right thing for me. But the other part of me was feeling really down on myself because I had just come out of a very successful career, and I was hustling just to make ends meet, sometimes teaching classes to one person, charging $10-$15 an hour for teaching and driving all over the place. I remember questioning what I was doing all the time. But I stuck with it and hustled. I took every job that I could. Now, 10 years in, I'm happier than I could have ever imagined because I get to make my own schedule, do what I love, and share wellness, and I have the wonderful opportunity to help people in their journeys. In hindsight, I'm glad I kept at it.
Thinking about why you practice now versus what drew you to yoga in the beginning, how has your relationship with yoga evolved?
Initially I found yoga without even knowing what I was getting into, and the movements were what kept me present and got me through hard times. I practiced Ashtanga at first. When I started getting more interested in it, I tried all different types of yoga. I practiced Hatha, Iyengar and Kundalini, looking to build strength and confidence in myself, and that's when the inversion practice really became a focus for me.
I remember questioning what I was doing all the time. But I stuck with it and hustled. I took every job that I could. Now, 10 years in, I'm happier than I could have ever imagined because I get to make my own schedule, do what I love, and share wellness, and I have the wonderful opportunity to help people in their journeys.
When I found vinyasa about 10 years in, it stuck and it's been part of my practice ever since. Then when I started teaching, everything shifted again because when your passion becomes your career, you do have to evolve it. For the most part, my practice includes meditation, pranayama and a bit of stretching. I know yoga is going to be part of my life forever. When I realized that it is a tool for my life rather than a way of life, that's when yoga started to become something beautiful rather than this pressure cooker of fears, which I see in a lot of people out there these days.
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What have you learned from yoga that you're now teaching to your kids?
A number of things. One that's very important is taking a deep breath. It's so helpful and useful, both metaphorically and literally. It's a great tool to calm your mind and release tension. I'm also teaching them that focus is important. It takes a lot of focus to get into and out of a pose. I'm also teaching them that movement and exercise are an important part of your daily life, and that you should look for something to do that you love and will keep you healthy.
It's no secret that you're a pro at inversions. What advice would you give to someone who wants to advance their practice and explore going upside down?
Figure out where you are right now. If you're at a place where you're needing to build strength in the upper body or flexibility in the lower body or maybe just build confidence, figure out where you are and work from there. I'm always here to help with tips!
What projects are you really excited about right now?
I'm really excited about offering more online learning for yoga students and teachers. Many exciting things are coming this year!