When you imagine someone in the field of forensic science, you’d probably think of a nerd buried in books, or you might picture Horatio Caine from CSI Miami. Lina Ooi fits neither criteria. She’s beautiful, with tumbling hair down her back and large eyes. I’ve known her since I was a child of nine, and back then I always thought she would end up a model or an actress. Instead, Lina decided to pursue forensic science, a field that’s a pretty uncommon choice, especially in Malaysia. Why’d she pick it?
“When I was 11 years old, two men broke into our home with knives stolen from our kitchen. It began with a knock on the door which I answered nonchalantly. I was greeted with a knife pointed directly at my face. The man behind the door said, “Don’t make a sound or I will hurt you.” We were all tied up in a little room – my mom, my sister, little brother, grandma and myself. They were very aggressive with their words, taunting us to be quiet. If we didn’t listen, they repeatedly reminded us that they would harm us.”
I can’t imagine being in such a scary situation, especially as a child. I would have been terrified out of my wits! Lina, however, was far from frightened.
“Growing up, I enjoyed reading crime fiction novels, so it was pretty exciting for me to be honest. I remember feeling calm, observing their movements and taking note of things like the fact that they weren’t wearing gloves and the places they had contact with and the physical appearance of the knives they were using. One of them had a cut on his arm and was bleeding. I asked him what had happened, and he told me he’d cut himself while jumping over the fence into my home. I was showing him some kindness to remind him that we were all human. After that, they were much nicer to us.
After they left, the cops came, and I remember feeling really excited about it. I started going around looking for evidence. I found the knife they were using and gave it to the policemen. I told them that the burglars were not wearing gloves, so it might be a good idea to check for prints. I also told them that one of them had cut himself on the fence, so i suggested to test for DNA evidence. The cops were puzzled at this 11-year-old girl helping them with the case. Since then, I developed an interest to become a forensic scientist. I’d always thought that the robbery incident was a blessing in disguise.”
Now, the only vague idea I had of what a forensic scientist must be like was what I’ve seen on TV. What was it like in real life?
“I studied Biochemistry with Forensic Science which includes DNA profiling, illicit drug analysis and crime scene investigation. When I started working, I specialized in illicit drugs, so it wasn’t CSI. It’s also really not like CSI. As a start, cases take much longer to be solved, and sometimes they turn into cold cases that never get solved. There are also many technologies used on TV that don’t exist. We also don’t wear sunglasses and remove them as we step out of our vehicles in slow motion and say cheesy one liners. Nevertheless, it’s still an entertaining show!”
While forensic science had been a longterm passion for Lina , she recently decided to take the big leap of quitting her job and becoming a yoga teacher. What spurred her to make such a drastic change?
“I didn’t plan to be a yoga teacher when I quit my job. I’d always wanted to go on an adventure and travel long-term. During my travels, one of the places I visited was Rishikesh in India. That was the moment I found a new connection to yoga. Before that, yoga was more like exercise, but then, it became so much more than that. I found a spiritual connection to yoga. Thoughts of being a yoga teacher started to bubble up, but I was still very attached to being a scientist, which had been my passion since I was 11. I went back to India several months later. I experienced the yoga teacher’s training course, where I had the full ashram experience at Sivananda Kutir, with some of the best teachers. There, we learnt about asana, yoga anatomy, yoga philosophy and spiritual aspects of yoga and meditation. It was located in the foothills of the Himalayan mountain by the Ganges river. I especially enjoyed the early morning meditation walks by the Himalayas. It’s such a beautiful and peaceful place. During my travels, I also stayed at a Buddhist monastery to practise meditation for a month, and then travelled to Myanmar for a meditation retreat. I thought I would only teach yoga part-time, but when I started my yoga teacher journey, I began to see myself doing this full-time. Being able to be your own boss and escape the system felt really good and it had been something that I’d dreamed about. I also realized that starting your own thing takes a lot of effort, and I wanted to do this full heartedly. At time went by, I began to see myself as a yoga teacher. Of course, I miss science but I soon discovered that there was a lot of science in yoga, and that made me feel like I hadn’t given up on science entirely. In India, someone told me, “Science has prepared you for yoga.” Looking back, I must say I totally agree with her. In my classes, I always incorporate some science in yoga. You can’t possibly separate the two.”
Yoga has become a huge staple in today’s life – think Lululemon pants, anyone? What were the common misconceptions about yoga?
“The top common misconception about yoga is that it’s just an exercise. Some people may have an idea that it’s more than that, but have not had the chance to experience it. To me, yoga is a spiritual journey, one where we learn about humility, courage and kindness. The word ‘yoga’ is the Sanskrit word for ‘union’. It’s a union of the individual consciousness (soul) with the universal consciousness (spirit). It’s said that everything is interconnected. The goal of yoga is to realize the truth that is “We are all one”. If you begin to peel back the layers, removing your material possessions, the things you identify with, like your name, race, gender, job or talents, the physical body organs like organs, cells or breath, and the mind, like your thoughts, senses, intellect or ego, what is left? Who are you? Essentially, we are all the same, undifferentiated, beyond time and space.”
“Many don’t realize that what you learn on the mat helps you in your daily life. For a start, learning how to breathe slow, steady and rhythmic breaths in difficult postures allows you to breathe calmly during difficult times in your life. When you can’t do a certain posture, it teaches you to be humble and you learn humility, patience and perseverance. Sometimes, knowing and accepting our limitations brings humility on and off the mat. All of this can’t be achieved without conscious intention when practicing yoga. The first step is awareness. To me, this is much more important than being able to touch your toes. Many people think that flexibility is the goal of yoga, when in fact it’s just a side effect. This is what I teach and inspire in my classes.”
Lina’s now sharing her passion of yoga with others, by having just designed her very first yoga workshop called ‘An Introduction to Yoga’.
“It’s a series of 8 classes that build upon each other, and gives us a solid foundation in yoga. It’s perfect for beginners and also intermediate practitioners who want to refresh their foundation in yoga. You will learn about fundamentals of yoga, which is something I feel is missing in many yoga studios. Many students enter a class and are expected to know everything, from the right way to breathe, the importance of alignment, body awareness and how to practise with the right state of mind. In this workshop, we take the time to learn all of this so we can absorb the maximum benefits of yoga and at the same time prevent any injuries from happening. In one of the classes, Meditative Yoga, we practice everything we have learnt and focus on the present moment, using the breathe to guide us into a state of flow. On the last day, we have a mandala making session where we sit in a circle and make mandala together using things from nature. The design of my workshop is inspired by the things I have learnt during my travels, from my yoga experience in India, tips and tricks from yogis all over the world and my background as a scientist. Yoga will be practised in a new light.”
“Many yogis follow their teachers blindly, mimicking poses without a conscious awareness of how to do them properly, and more importantly, why they are doing it. To me, the ‘why’ is the spiritual aspect of yoga. The meaning of spirituality has evolved and has various meaning, but they share a few key elements which are a journey of self discovery, evolution and realizing your highest potential and humanity’s highest potential as a whole, and also a sense of unity that we are all interconnected. Many people tend to shy away when they hear the word ‘spiritual’, so I feel it’s important to make this distinction.
If you like, you can take yoga as a spiritual practise for you too. Take it as a practise to have a quiet moment to reconnect with yourself. To me, it’s like plugging out the cable connected to the outer world for a moment, to reconnect it to yourself because everything starts from here. Give it a try! Who knows, you might just discover something that changes your life for the better, like the way it has for me.”
How has yoga affected her life for the better?
“Yoga is my source of inspiration. I would say that yoga has made me a better person. It has kept me strong, positive and grateful for everything. I see things differently now, from reserving judgments about others, to understanding people on a deeper level and connecting with them on a whole new level. The walls I’ve built from being in this capitalistic world have started to crumble. It didn’t take long at all, it came very quickly. It was almost like it was something I had deep inside but had forgotten. Yoga was the little whisper in my ear that I needed to wake up. It’s nice to finally have a practise that I can truly connect with and grow in mind, body and spirit.”
“Physically, there are many benefits I’ve experienced. I feel really good in my body, it feels light and spacious which also creates space in my mind. The mind and body are intricately connected and they affect one another. I used to suffer a lot from menstrual cramps- to the point of almost passing out, and now, the pain has subsided. I also have a good sense of body image and have learnt to appreciate and respect my body.
Yoga and meditation have helped me deal with my emotions. When I’m feeling down, I lay my mat open and do some heart opening exercises which release all the tension that has built up from the emotions I am feeling. It allows me to face it and it’s a reminder that emotions are just waves of tension in the body, something to detach from, something to observe and learn from. When you learn to detach and understand you have the power to do so, you stop taking things too personally. I’ve recently designed sequences for one of my students who was going through some emotions.”
I wanted to know if this also gave her a heightened perception of the environment. Was yoga something that was actually friendly and sustainable to the environment?
“Everything is interconnected, including our environment that we live in. I started seeing the environment as a part of me, and would you harm yourself? No, so why should we harm the environment? Instead, we should learn to coexist in a harmonious way. I have started to reduce the amount of plastic I use in my life, purchasing things more consciously. For example, buying a yoga mat that is made of cork, a fully sustainable material. With the rising popularity of yoga, many yoga mats are made of PVC and other non-recyclable materials that end up in the landfill. PVC can’t be recycled due to the toxins embedded within it, and when it’s incinerated or buried in landfills, it releases dioxin, a known carcinogen. To top it off, not only are we harming the environment, but we’re harming ourselves by breathing in these toxic fumes as we lay in savasana. This goes against the yoga teachings of ‘ahimsa‘ which means ‘non harming’. Even the so-called ‘environmentally friendly’ material TPE takes many years to degrade. Our choices really matter, and we can make a difference. I’ve started a #karmayogatara project to collect old yoga mats so that in the future, I can use them to spread yoga to the orphans, the homeless and underprivileged kids. One day, my dream is to reach out to women in prison. If you have any old yoga mats that you are thinking of tossing out but wish to donate to me, please reach out to me! (If you live in Kuala Lumpur). I would suggest avoiding TPE mats and using cork mats or mats made out of natural rubber. Cork mats are a little less grippy, but I just wipe it with a damp cloth and it becomes the grippiest material. If you don’t, perhaps you could see it as a way to challenge yourself and at the same time to strengthen your core.”
What about eating, though? Is this something she’s strict with?
“I generally try to eat healthier, but sometimes I still enjoy fries and beer. Sometimes, I fast and juice too, but I always have a special breakfast made of fresh fruits, yogurt, coconut oil, wild honey, chia seeds, granola, nuts and dark chocolate. The secret is in the layers. Start with the fruits and then put some cold Greek yogurt and layer on top with coconut oil. This is the most important part. Layer some granola directly on the coconut oil, and what happens is the coconut oil begins to solidify from the cold yogurt, forming a solid layer of crunchy granola infused with coconut. Voila!”
Yoga has obviously tided Lina through some difficult times in her life. What was one of the hardest things she’s ever gone through and how did she overcome it?
“It was probably the moment where I had to tell my father I was going to be a yoga teacher and letting go of my attachment as a forensic scientist. It took me a while to let it go, as forensics was my passion since I was 11 years old. My father has always been my rock. I really look up to him and value his opinion. When I told my father that I wanted to be a yoga teacher, he was disappointed. I’ve always wanted to make my father proud and have studied hard to be a forensic scientist. He’d always been proud of me. The conversation was a difficult one, filled with emotions. I remember feeling inadequate when I broke the news. It made me doubt my decision, but deep down inside I knew I had to listen to my heart, to my inner voice, despite his disappointment. I began to work hard towards my goal and he began to see and accept it very quickly. He’s now fully supportive of me, gives the best advice and even wants to take yoga lessons from me! I knew that it was just a matter of time before he accepted my decision. He will always be my rock. Love you, dad! Thank you for always being there for me.”
It’s always very heartwarming when you hear stories of parents coming around and accepting their children’s dreams, despite them not being totally onboard at the beginning. As a child, I’ve met Lina’s father a few times before, and I can completely see why Lina looks up to him. Intelligent, smart and with an uncanny business sense, it was easy to see how he had become so successful in his career.
Lina wants to realize her highest, truest potential in her lifetime and keep being inspired and doing what she loves. I love this idea, I think all of us want to achieve this and do the same thing, but not many of us actually go out and do it.
“Giving back to the community is high on my list. Teaching yoga to women in prison really calls to me. It’s one of the reasons that led me to being a yoga teacher. It started when I thought about who could benefit from yoga the most, and women in prison came to mind. I know that I can’t even begin to understand how disconnected they truly feel from society. I see the walls in prison creating walls within and around them. I hope to break down these walls and remind them that despite what they’ve done in the past, it’s the present moment we’re living in. I think yoga and meditation would really help, especially as they have all the time in the world to bring this practise into their daily lives. Perhaps this could help ease their suffering a little. Even if I couldn’t achieve that, at least they would know that people still do care about them and they are not forgotten. After all, we are all connected, when we remove the layers. I hope yoga would bring in a ray of hope in their lives and perhaps that’s all they need. Who knows what would come out of it? Sometimes, all you need is a little ray of light. I imagine a peaceful setting in prison where everyone is doing yoga together despite their disagreements and differences. Our breaths are in sync with our movements, united as one.”
I honestly think this is such a brilliant idea, and would be so great if it could be implemented.
To get more of Lina’s thoughts and follow her journey, check out her Instagram and Facebook to stay updated on yoga classes, workshops and events. She has a couple of really cool classes I’d love to go to, like Moonlight Yoga and Sunset Karma Yoga, in addition to her current workshop An Introduction To Yoga. For workshop information, click here. Or, if you have a question and you’re just too shy to reach out on social media, drop her an email at email@example.com.