Suzi Feay: On the rocky road to enlightenment

Page Turner
Sunday 22 February 2009 01:00 GMT

“I’ll be coming straight from the airport, so I hope you don’t mind if I have my luggage with me,” says Jacqueline Koay. I’ve arranged to meet the ebullient yoga entrepreneur and author of Live Patanjali!, who is flying back from New York on the red eye. I assume luggage means a giant wheely bag, but standing outside a Malaysian restaurant in Soho is a petite figure nonchalantly toting a rucksack. She’s dressed in painfully cool Lululemon yoga gear (“This? I was given it”) and has even been to class since touching down at 8am.

The portly and impassive owner can’t believe his eyes as we go in. “Are you Malaysian? You are very beautiful,” he gushes and Koay gives a merry laugh. “Would you believe I have five children?” She finally shuts him up by giving him a free copy of the book and he wanders off uncertainly. Clearly yoga proselytising isn’t what he expects from pretty ladies.

Live Patanjali! (available from is Koay’s utterly charming, very personal and quirky guide to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an enigmatic collection of aphorisms dating back 3,000 years. The original Sanskrit is bafflingly cryptic, and the sutras resemble lecture notes rather than complete sentences. It would take whole books of commentary merely to exhaust the opening, famous, sutra: yogah citta vritti nirodhah. It can be translated “Yoga stills the vacillations of the mind.” (Koay has “Yoga stops your mind from going round and round.”) She really lives her yoga. The book came about as a result of her applying Patanjali’s lessons to all the aspects of her life. She also has some unconventional advice: make friends with a rock to build your concentration, and make love to experience samadhi, |or bliss. This, she says, raised eyebrows.

Koay has certainly packed a lot in; she’s lived in Kuala Lumpur, New York and London, studied at Oxford and been a successful city businesswoman with a closet full of shoes, before following the path of international yoga jetsetter. But it’s impossible to pin her life story down to a firm timescale. She seems politely impatient with ordinary journalistic where and whens. “The details aren’t important,” she chides, radiating empowerment and calm.

The next I hear from her, she’s in Rishikesh, India; I really ought to come and study, she says. Now she’s scaring me: I’m not ready to give everything up to be a yoga nomad. But I am impressed.

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