There’s basic Vinyasa, and then there’s Briohny Smyth’s brand of yoga: ethereal, acrobatic and undeniably awe-inspiring. But it wasn’t always effortless inversions and a well-balanced lifestyle. As an Asian pop star in her teens, Briohny developed a chronic eating disorder that would persist long after her years on stage. Today, she credits yoga and — most importantly — becoming a mom for her healthy, positive outlook on life. DailyBurn’s editorial director caught up with Smyth to talk self-acceptance, practice and why, in her home, yoga is always a family affair.
How did you first discover yoga?
As a singer in Asia, there was a lot of pressure on how you should look, who you should be, and it really affected me. I was bulimic and anorexic for a very long time. Then at 15, I hosted a travel documentary in India and Nepal for work, and was lucky enough to get to stay on for a couple of weeks by myself. During that time, I stumbled upon a yoga class by chance, and for the first time I was able [to escape] being in my own head — worrying about what other people thought and what was expected of me. After that, I came back to Bangkok, Thailand — where I was living at the time — and decided to look for more yoga experiences. From then on, yoga has really just been a tool for me to find time for myself, something that I hadn’t been raised to do. So yoga, in many ways, has been my guide, my partner in life.
I imagine yoga wasn’t necessarily a quick fix, though, especially when faced with challenges so complex.
No, it wasn’t. And they never go away really — the negative thoughts, at least. You live with them but you learn how to not react so quickly to them. I was 15 when I found yoga, and I would say I stopped torturing my body at 21, when I had my daughter. Although yoga helped me grow spiritually, it was really my first pregnancy that helped me decide to stop hurting myself. It was kind of an easy choice to make at the time because I realized it’s not just me now that it’s affecting; it’s this little baby inside me, too … I was really lucky to have my daughter when I did. It was a gift. Although I still deal with body image issues, I haven’t reacted on them in almost 10 years now thanks to yoga and how it helped me stop and appreciate the present moment as much as possible.
What does your typical yoga routine consist of today?
When you have kids your yoga is: Can I get out of bed, and get through the morning without losing my mind? Can I drive on the 405 without wanting to kill someone? [Laughs.] So yes, it’s a spiritual practice. The physical practice comes when time allows it. After everyone goes to sleep, my husband, Dice, pulls out his yoga mat and does yoga for about two hours and sometimes we end up doing handstands together. I also find time to stretch every day.
How quickly did you get back to your practice after giving birth this spring?
I did my first handstand and my first down dog three weeks after having my baby, which felt really great. And then I went to my doula — my midwife — yesterday who told me I should absolutely not be doing that yet! So right now I’m practicing the non-physical form of yoga as much as possible.
Describe your style of “Brice Yoga” that you teach alongside your husband.
The style that we teach and practice is rooted in Vinyasa flow because we both like to make the physical practice a moving and breathing meditation. But we’ve also included lots of inversions and arm balances, so we call it an inverted Vinyasa flow. We’re upside down as many times as we possibly can be.
Why did you gravitate toward a more athletic, acrobatic style of yoga?
When I first started practicing yoga, it was more of a static practice of holding postures, and for many years it was a softer practice. But yoga evolves with your life. When I found inversions about five or six years ago, I had just ended a relationship with my daughter’s father and moved back to LA. I went through a very horrible divorce and custody battle, and I felt like the yoga that I found during that time was empowering me. It was helping me be strong.
When did you first begin sharing your practice with the people closest to you?
I first shared it with my daughter when she turned three, and I remember forcing it on her. But she’s my daughter and so, just like me, she rebelled. I learned a lot about her through that. I needed to know that she could choose. And then I met Dice and we really just had the same passion for this style of yoga, and wanting to live and raise our family with yoga. Once Taylor, our daughter, got to see that he and I could share our practice together, it made her want to be a part of it as well. And now my father and mother and Dice’s mother, too, all come to our yoga classes.
What was it like having your entire pregnancy captured through DailyBurn’s Beautiful Belly prenatal yoga series?
It was quite therapeutic, actually. It was like a mirror for me because I tend to be that type of person who tries to push through things and forgets to back off. But by creating a sequence that was good for all women it forced me to really be honest with myself and ask, “Do I really want to do 30 chaturangas while eight months pregnant?” The answer was no! It really helped me learn about myself and how to treat my body best. It was challenging, mentally, but it was fun.
How does nutrition fit into your practice?
I’m careful not to diet because that kind of throws me back into the negative thinking that I used to have. But as a family, we do watch what we eat. We try to avoid dairy and wheat — mainly because of allergies in our family, and my daughter and husband being gluten intolerant, so I do it out of support for them. For me, I find it’s a great way to feel just a little more energetic since you’re not weighing yourself down with as many heavier foods.
What’s been the biggest challenge in your day-to-day?
Right now, sleep, definitely. I think time, too. With the amount we travel and how much we work, finding quality time to spend with the family is a challenge. But I feel blessed that we have as much work as we do because I think it would be even more of a challenge if we didn’t. So we’re just enjoying life as it is and being thankful for the amazing gifts that we have.
Will your newest addition be a yogi?
We’ll let him choose. But it’s hard not to be a yogi when everyone is at home.
And for expecting moms: Briohny’s Beautiful Belly pre and postnatal yoga series is now available at dailyburn.com/beautifulbelly.