Hip-hop yogi, stand up paddle boarder and a floating advocate… meet our next That Mama, Dee Cheung!
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Dee Cheung, you’ll know what I mean when you feel like you’ve met a long-lost friend. Bonding through our Toronto connection, we sat down and chatted about what we missed about Canada and even discovered we had several mutual friends between us. It just goes to show how small our world really is! As I listened to her story about what she hopes to achieve through multiple health and wellness initiatives, there was one common message that linked all of them together. Dee is simply passionate about helping people disconnect from their busy, screen-filled times, and to realign and prioritise their health and loved ones. It’s amazing to see that she exudes that mantra of self-love and love for others while balancing teaching yoga (on a stand up paddle board and through hip-hop music!), running a business (Float On Hong Kong), and being the best mama to her one year old, Mya. She openly admits she doesn’t have everything all sorted out in one pretty package, but her vulnerability and candour is something to be admired. I for one, appreciated the time we spent together and am not surprised by how many others will say the same about her as well. Read on as Dee dishes on all things motherhood in this edition of That Mama.
Tell us about yourself and how you found yourself in Hong Kong.
I moved to Hong Kong on the first of November in 2006. I was born and raised in Toronto and I spent almost a year in Vancouver before moving out here in search of a better career. I found myself teaching English and Dance in schools across the city while also tutoring in early childhood development. One of my goals in moving out here was to also get to know my dad better as he left Canada to work in Hong Kong while I was finishing high school.
How would you describe your life philosophy/personal mantra?
Let love rule. It’s so much my mantra that it’s tattooed onto my forearm. This city (like life) can often make you lose your cool because it vibrates so strongly. It’s my personal reminder to let love lead the way, soften a little and be a little kinder to that person who nearly took my eye out with their umbrella.
Describe your personality with three words.
Nurturing, thoughtful, and determined.
From hip hop, to stand up paddling, to yoga and floating… we know you’re working on a ton of different projects! Tell us more about them and how they all come together.
Where do I begin?! What I see through all the work I do has a common thread which is to help people disconnect from their phones and connect to themselves and each other. Yoga is the common thread. I started practicing yoga when I was 16. It was at a YMCA class and it reminded me of my love for dance minus the makeup and costumes! I loved that the lights were always dim which was a welcomed contrast to the bright lights on a stage. From there, I just kept seeking out yoga wherever I went. I took my first official teacher training in 2011 when my teacher’s mentor would be leading the class and it would deepen my practice. I knew that I have always been a teacher/learner as I love learning stuff and then teaching other people, which helps me remember what I’ve learned. From there I went on to take yoga diplomas specialising with babies and children. Somewhere in between I worked with a wellness centre and lululemon athletica in it’s earlier years in Asia and still found myself loving teaching yoga the most.
SUP YOGA HK was born in 2013 over a tea date with my friend, Nadine. I see value in co-creating because you have two brains, two skill sets that compliment each other and one shared vision. When you co-create, magic happens. It really is our passion project and we are only now seeing how much we are growing through instructor trainings and providing safety guidelines for people in the water.
Float On Hong Kong was an idea that my husband and I decided to pursue after trying float therapy during our travels. A giant bathtub like pod is filled with 500kg of Epsom Salts (magnesium sulphate) and water kept at your surface skin temperature. The pod allows your body to float effortlessly and you are in full control of the experience, you can leave the lights on, off or the pod lid open or closed.
We felt that Hong Kong was ready for and needed a place to get quality rest, aid in stress related issues (like autoimmune disease) and for the body to physically reset. We’ve been open for almost 2 years and we’re still learning how people are using the pods. Our clients keep coming to float regularly because they come out the best versions of themselves! Recently, I have taken a step back from day to day operations at Float On to focus on teaching yoga and collaborating on wellness experiences.
And finally, my love of dancing and yoga combined! My friend Amber spent five years in Toronto and it was the era of hip-hop, from the music, stepping, MC-ing and break dancing. She knew that I had danced competitively and was a part of the original crew that started OUCHH (Ontario University Competition for Hip Hop, still running today!) and asked me why I wasn’t teaching Hip Hop Yoga, (aka yoga to all your favourite hip hop tracks). So I threw it back at her and said, “Co-create it together?” Now we’ve collaborated with The Hive to run Hip Hop yoga every last Friday of the month. June’s theme is a tribute to the Queens Of Hip Hop (Think Queen Latifah, Mary J Blige and Missy).
If you could choose a brand new career what would it be and why?
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to work in a corporate 9-5 job as a wellness director. I would want to help companies find balance or create wellness marketing events with a decent budget. But then I see where I am now and the freedom I have to create my schedule to balance home life and I don’t think I could ever hold down a nine to five.
Where do you find inspiration for all your endeavours and who inspires you?
I get inspired by what I see when I travel, by talking to people along the way, experiencing different things and staying open minded. With Float On and SUP Yoga, I saw the gaps that could be filled and with some luck was able to make them come to life!
Who inspires me? Definitely my mom. She was an immigrant from the age of 24, leaving her family in Hong Kong, moved to the UK, had 2 boys, lost one son tragically and then moved even further away from her family to Canada and had me. She learned how to drive and speak English through music and she worked from sunrise to sunset. She began by running a busy pizza joint in downtown Toronto and then a deli, Bread and Bowl at the popular mall, Eaton Centre for 9 years and somehow managed to do the laundry, make dinner and pack a lunch for us. She displayed grit, how to work hard, give where you can and not to let obstacles stand in your way. She is the ultimate #bosslady and full of compassion. She would always pack up left -overs at the end of the day and give them to the homeless. No food would ever go to waste.
This woman is in her 60’s now, has NO greys and still works everyday doing what she loves. She is designing wigs and making cancer patients feel beautiful. I used to think of her as a tiger mother but as I’ve grown older and become a mother too, I see that she’s only ever acted out of love.
How has being a mom changed the way you view your professional life?
This lifestyle has been intentional and by design. It gives me the freedom to manage my time between home and work. I gave myself the first year, with the support of my husband, to be as hands on as possible and I am now stepping back into teaching full-time.
The most common thing I’ve heard from working with new moms is that the ones who are working full time 9-5 feel guilt going back to work so soon and some are grateful to be going back to work. There’s no right answer and as mothers, we just need to support each other. I also think that Hong Kong could do a better job of giving working mothers more than just a few weeks of maternity leave.
How do you balance work and mama life?
I spend most mornings at home until after breakfast and two times in the week, I will go to playgroup with my daughter, Mya. Other than that, I aim to be home by 5 so I can spend time with her and have dinner together as a family. Some nights I’ll have private clients, so I step out before bedtime. Thankfully, evenings are usually daddy-daughter time anyway as they have a lot of fun with bath time suds and bedtime stories.
What are some of your organisational tips and tricks?
Colour-coded GOOGLE CALENDAR! I have a calendar that’s shared with my husband with the times I’m teaching, a calendar coloured for Mya/Family events and one that’s for my own meetings and times to write and do admin. I’ve been managing my own schedule for a long time, well before a child was in the picture. I always give myself at least 60 minutes between meetings and classes so I can go to the bathroom, refuel and fill up my water bottle.
What do you do to get in that “me” time?
Me time… I am only beginning to discover what that is again. I run twice a week with a girlfriend and if I can muster up the energy to take myself to a class, I’ll drop into a yoga class. I’ve recently really enjoyed going to Shared Space in Causeway Bay. Every class I’ve gone to has always left me feeling fluid, floaty and stretched. But my favourite “me time” indulgence is having my lashes done at HaToe in Sheung Wan because it doubles up as a 40 minute nap! Win-win.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of parenting?
Comparing myself to other moms and wondering if they’re going through the same thing and if I’m “doing it right?”. I have one network of “wise moms” with older kids who have been supportive and my life-line formed out of the Annerley Midwives Clinic. We met during our pregnancy and have stayed friends since sharing in ALL the things they don’t prepare you for in class. I think as a mom, it’s important to have at least that one friend who’s wiser and another friend going through the same thing. The understanding and humour is what gets you through the tough times.
What is the most rewarding part of parenting?
Coming home to a kid who literally screams with excitement to see you walk in the door and kisses you every morning when she wakes up! There is nothing like it and I was reminded to give them more too, to my own mom and dad while they’ve been visiting us.
What are 3 things you find yourself repeating to your daughter all the time?
No, Thank You (when she takes half eaten food from her mouth to share with me)
Love, Love (to which she then puts her head on you and hugs you)
Be happy, you’re loved, you make the world a better place (whenever she falls asleep)
Name your funniest and/or most memorable parenting moment.
While I was technically still in confinement, my mom went on a day trip with my dad during Father’s Day weekend. While they were out, we took the opportunity to jailbreak and attend a poolside BBQ. We knew Mya loved the water and decided to take her into the pool for a dip. Little did we know that babies can’t self regulate their body temperatures. When we got home that evening, she couldn’t stop crying and screaming and we couldn’t figure out why. When my mom came back, I confessed what we’d done. She rubbed ginger on Mya’s belly to relieve any wind and it worked! It was one of the first instances that we felt helpless as new parents. Needless to say, I stayed confined to the rules of confinement until my mother went back to Canada!
Favourite family holiday destination and why.
As she’s only one, visiting our families in the first year have been the best holiday. To be with people who love us, want to take care of us and spending time with Mya’s cousins were the highlights. I traveled to Ishigaki, Okinawa in March as a tourism ambassador. I can vouch that at only a 1.5 plane ride away, it’s absolutely family-friendly and perfect if you miss driving! There’s lots of green space, beaches and delicious food and great for small kids to ride bikes, scooters or swim in the crystal clear blue waters.
What are your favourite spots to eat at with your family in Hong Kong?
Posto Pubblico and Linguini Fini! That’s where I told my husband, Ciaran I was pregnant and where we held Mya’s first birthday party. They have fresh farm-to-table vegetables, homemade pastas and pizzas and some of the kindest staff in town.
What’s the best advice you’ve received as a parent?
Don’t give guilt any power.
Nothing worth sharing here as I think people offer advice genuinely sharing their own experience and wanting to be helpful.
Something that you wish someone had told you about motherhood?
Those dark 100 days postpartum were rough. I wish someone had told me how to navigate back into who I was and who I wanted to be beyond “mommy”. It can get really dark and I wish I knew more beforehand how to better prepare myself. That’s why I am offering it in my Pregnancy Reset Retreat Weekend this 7 – 9 July. It consists of 3 yoga classes and a guided journaling experience to connect to baby but also to help you prepare for the fourth trimester.
What has been your most humbling moment as a mum?
When I started teaching yoga again post-birth, there were a lot of new moms and their babies in my class. Having gone through it, I was able to empathise more deeply and hold space for other new moms to share openly about what they were going through. It made me appreciate the journey a lot more and to be more gentle and kinder to myself.
How did you meet your husband? Did you have an “a-ha” moment when you realised he was “the one”?
In 2008, my Irish, salt-and-pepper man was the General Manager at Solas (now Halcyon). I was running a fundraising event there and he put on “The Good Times” by Modest Mouse which was my soundtrack while living in Vancouver. That’s sort of how it started and here we are 9 years later with one rescued dog and one little human! I’d like to think that Solas was the dating hub of the decade as so many of our friends met there or at least ended the night there most nights out. Love is possible in Hong Kong!
How do you keep the romance between you and your husband alive with such a busy work and family life?
It’s not easy. We have to keep coming back to each other and sometimes that means voicing that our needs aren’t being met. Once a month (through his initiative!), he plans a date for us – I just need to show up for whatever it is. On a week to week basis, we go to a class together or do something alone, just the two of us. It’s been great having my mom with us, it means we’ve had more opportunities to slip out together before bedtime.
Favourite date night restaurant with your partner.
We are creatures of habit (we love take out from BEP and staying in) but we are committed to going somewhere new every date night and to have more experiences together. On my birthday, we went to TokyoLima and it was one of my favourite experiences! Did you know their kitchen is open until midnight?!
As a mama, I wish I were better at…
Knowing which schools I’m supposed to have us registered into already… But seriously, she’s one! I’ll also take any advice here!
Read more: Sassy Mama’s School’s Guide
I wake up in the middle of night thinking about…
How did she get so big already? What will she be like in 10 years?
Bedtime is always smoother when…
She hasn’t had an explosive diaper right after her bath! Yes, this happens quite frequently.
My favourite moment of the day is…
Waking up to Mya wanting to be lifted into our bed and having her first bottle there. She gives the most kisses and cuddles in the morning and I am reminded that life is perfect in those moments when we are together.
Ed note: If you know a great Mum who’d be perfect for our next That Mama feature, please email us at: [email protected] for more information.