A fitness guru who started XYZ Studio as a way to motivate Hong Kong people physically and spiritually, our That Mama this month Belinda Koo is a beauty inside and out. She’s truly an inspiring mamapreneur… juggling a full-time banking job, starting her own business and raising three kids – phew! Through it all, she’s managed to keep an upbeat spirit and positive outlook on life. Her secret? Waking up at the crack of dawn and never turning down a challenge, no matter how hard it seems!
Can you tell us a bit about your background? What brought you to Hong Kong?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong and then educated in Toronto. I moved back to Hong Kong after graduation.
What got you into health and fitness? Have you always been a big gym junkie?
I have been very active since I was a kid and was very involved in ballet, track and field and basketball before going to Toronto. When I returned from my studies, I was very into golf. I could play 36 holes in a day and still feel like I never got enough of it. I started yoga and gym at the same time but never became a junkie until 10 years ago when I started working for UBS.
What was the inspiration behind XYZ Studio?
The demands of my role as a private banker and mother of three meant life was never short of battles, I needed to seek effective ways to release and recharge. It was through exercise – particularly cardio exercise – where I discovered a great sense of challenge, and satisfaction from embracing and overcoming each challenge. This inspired me to rethink how to use exercise as a platform for building strength and character with a completely fresh angle.
How did XYZ go from a dream to reality? Tell us about the process of starting your own business.
I have always wanted to start a small business. Something that I am passionate about. When I was in Istanbul listening to Shawn Achor’s talk about his book and research “Happiness Advantage” he mentioned happiness is not from reaching your goal. It’s from how much control you have over your decision making. Then everything made sense to me at that moment and explained to me why success doesn’t exactly relate to happiness. And why many successful people are not happy. From there the rest was really simple – I realised that using cardio exercise to build strength in the mind would be a real solution for many people here in HK.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the challenge as an agent of change. Whether be it in my banking career or when I am connecting with XYZ staff and riders.
What do you dislike most about your job?
I have to overcome the mind set of Hong Kong on how they define health and beauty. In western countries, women are encouraged to exercise, they are not afraid of building muscles, or sweating. How we define beauty in here is quite different, and it’s not good for our health.
Where do you find most inspiring about running a fitness studio?
I think seeing over the past two years a group of staff who believed in XYZ’s vision and have developed their own will power and identity in order to make XYZ happen.
What’s your personal workout routine?
I will normally do some cardio exercise every morning plus a session of pilates, yoga or weight training in the afternoon.
What are your top tips for keeping healthy in HK’s crazy lifestyle?
It is all about how you prioritise your time. I would like to think of keeping myself strong and sane before I can contribute to family and loved ones. Therefore, I take good care of myself.
Can you talk us through your career pre and post babies? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
The first time is not easy at all. I became very determined to breast feed Adrian for a year as well as home schooling using the Doman method. I have attended Doman’s parenting course and graduate course in Philadelphia, and hence wanted to give Adrian the best that I could. I was pregnant again when Adrian was 8 months old and having to juggle my second pregnancy, home schooling with a full stimulation programme, as well as a full time banking job was tough. I slept for only 2-5 hours a day and woke up at 5am to make sure everything was ready before everyone woke up.
I did that until my second son was 2 years old and I almost collapsed with chest pains in 2005. That’s when I realised I’d sacrificed my health while trying to maintain everything. I was trying too hard to have it all. After that reality check, I started to do more exercise and reduce working hours. I am now more willing to delegate and measure bonding time with kids using quality rather than quantity.
How has having kids changed the way you define work?
Having kids is a sacred journey. It is about change, growth, discovery, transformation, continually expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, and taking on courageous challenges at every step along the way. I have become a more loving, agile and adaptable person in my personal as well as work life.
Favourite activity with the kids in Hong Kong?
I love hiking with the kids and our dog muffin. It’s bonding, exercise, and chatting all in one. Indoors, we love going for classes at SPRING Learning. The environment, their programmes and the teaching faculty all work together to facilitate learning for both children and parents. Whenever Mason is there he never wants to leave!
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Hong Kong?
They love pizza and a nice piece of steak with potatoes on the side. 208 in Hollywood Road is one of our favourite restaurants.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Koh Samui, Bali and Phuket. Anywhere with beach, golf courses, massages and sun is a great holiday to us!
Activity that I do not love to do but do it anyway because my kids love it…
Anything with cars and trains.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and working other mamas in Hong Kong?
Never be afraid to bring your kids to work or to wait for you in the work place after a day. They love hanging out and waiting, watching you being so focused. It will also test your skills on how to keep a kid quiet and calm while waiting.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
“A child needs both to be hugged and unhugged. The hug lets her know she is valuable. The unhug lets her know that she is viable. If you’re always shoving your child away, they will cling to you for love. If you’re always holding them closer, they will cling to you for fear.” ~ Polly Berrien Berends
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Cooking. I never have the time or put this on my priority list. My youngest son Mason is already doing cooking classes which he loves, so my hopes are for him to be the future culinary expert in the house!
My most humbling mama moment was…
One morning I found my 12-year-old son standing in front of my room door waiting for me to wake up. He was being scolded for something he hadn’t done. He didn’t talk back or cry because he wanted to protect me. I cried and cried holding him because of his courage and manhood to protect someone.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
I love going for a movie together on the weekends. We usually do it once every two weeks. It’s the only time we allow sodas and ice tea!
Bedtime is always smoother when…
I take the time to unwind by turning off the phone and stretch or roll out my tight body after a busy day.
Even when my child has a family of his/her own, I’ll still…
Try to chat with them before they sleep once in while. It’s nice to wrap up the day with some genuine loving care. I have learnt that to become a good mother, you need to be a good listener.
One thing I won’t sacrifice as a mama is…
My career. My mother has always told me I can have both. My kids will not love me less because I am doing something I like.
My favourite moment of the day is…
Very early in the morning when everyone is still asleep. When I step out of the house, the birds are still singing and the world is very quiet and peaceful. I love to start the day this way. There’s a great sense of accomplishment by just waking up early.