One-quarter of The Sam Willows, Sandra Riley Tang, is also known these days as a little bit of a fitness beast. Scroll through her Instagram feed (@sandrarileytang) and peppered in between the compulsory OOTDs and behind-the-scenes peeks at her musician life are shots of her doing casual handstands at the beach, practicing her splits at the airport, or just generally killing it.
Little wonder, then, that with fitness so close to her heart, Sandra’s co-founded her own yoga studio, The Yoga Co. (Check it out at theyoco.com.) We caught up with her at the Nike Women Digital Media Conference to talk about her crazy fitness schedule, and why strong is basically the new sexy.
Tell us about your fitness journey. Have you always been active?
In secondary school, I played competitive netball (I was the team captain, yay!) and I was also in the touch rugby team. After which, I was dancing for a little bit, so I did a bit of street and hip-hop, but then I stopped because I started working. I kinda stopped exercising for a while. Then, three years ago, I started exercising again, and that’s when I found CrossFit.
One of my friends went into CrossFit, and he introduced CrossFit to our group of friends. At the same time, I was doing a little bit of the Paleo thing, but I wasn’t so committed. And then I found yoga. Through Groupon!
I had no idea what I was doing AT ALL, but it was fun and then I got really hooked. It was really challenging, and a different kind of competitiveness [from what I was used to]. I was so used to competitive sports, and [to me] if it’s not a competition, then it’s like… what am I playing for? But yoga was so different because it was a competition with myself. Because, the first time I went, I was fit. But I couldn’t even touch my toes. So that was a shock, and it became a quest for me to get back on track.
Since last year, in addition to yoga, I’ve picked up CrossFit more heavily again. Other than that, I’ve also joined a stunt team, so we learn a lot of MMA, and I just started muay thai as well. So I’ve been becoming more and more active. Oh, and I love rock climbing as well.
So what is your weekly fitness schedule like?
I teach a lot of yoga, so I teach two to three times a week. Every morning that I’m available, I also go to a CrossFit gym, CrossFit Statera at Aljunied. After I finish teaching, if I have nothing on, I’ll also see if I can go for a fight class, or I’ll go climbing. And every Saturday evening is the action stunt group training. I guess it’s not really about “working out”, because it’s fun to me.
I also find that climbing and CrossFit is a really good addition to yoga because yoga is very static, especially if you do only basic Hatha stuff. So you’re working only on the slow twitch muscles, but when you climb, you work a lot on your shoulders, deltoids, and your back muscles. So that helps with more advanced things [in your yoga practice]. For example, when you go to Ashtanga, you can do more handstands, arm balances and all that. And CrossFit is just explosive strength.
Is there one activity that you find is best for everything, overall?
That’s so hard! But I’ve come up with a class – or kind of plan – at The Yoga Co., called Triple Threat Bootcamp [a mixture of yoga and calisthenic work to improve technique, followed by a HIIT workout]. I find that all these three things really complement each other, so that’s why I came up with it. It really attacks all areas of fitness, which to me are strength, flexibility and stamina. Most people only have either one, or maximum two. Gymnasts are the closest to being a ninja, probably. Although some of them don’t have stamina, but they are probably the closest to being the perfect athlete.
How do you think the idea of being fit ties into the idea of being beautiful?
Wow, so deep lah, this question. You know, I think being beautiful… we always say it’s in the eye of the beholder. [But] it’s a self-manifestation. It’s how you feel about yourself. And when you feel healthy, you’ll naturally feel more beautiful. And of course, when you exercise, you’ll probably fit into your clothes better. Either way, you’ll either fill it out more – like more butt, or more this or more that – or you look more toned, more fit. So yeah, I think it does tie together.
Also, there’s the science part of it, which is releasing endorphins – you naturally feel more happy, and when you feel happy, you look in the mirror and you somehow look a little bit more beautiful as well. I think when you have more body awareness, you understand beauty on a different level. Not so much of there being a very specific kind of beauty, but when you’re aware of yourself and your body, you look at your body differently. And that’s where the beauty comes from.
You mentioned that you stopped working out for a while. And now that you’re back into it, what are the differences for you?
Well, I was in school, so I was relatively fit, but I was a bit pudgy as well. So I was 55 kg, and when I left school, I became 58 kg. So I was fatter. Then when I stopped working out, that’s when I lost the most weight. I became 52 or 51 kg. And at the time I was like, it’s really great! But when I look at the pictures now, I was a lollipop. Like I was stick thin and my head was bigger than my body. And now I’m back to being 58 kg, but compared to the time before, I look so different. I’m so much fitter, more toned.
Yoga specifically has also improved my body awareness. And I feel that when I’m more flexible, I’m more aware of why I’m hurting here, or aching there, and which muscles I need to work on. It also helps me to be less stressed, when I know what’s wrong with my body.
What’s your favourite piece from the new Nike collection?
I love the sneakers. I love the Nike Dunk Sky Hi, those are my favourite and I wear them every single day and I’d buy them in every colour if I could. Sneakers give you a really edgy look and the Dunk Sky Hi have heels in them, and I’m short, so yay! And I can actually run in them as well.
Wanna win a pair of Nike Free 5.0 TR Fit 5? Instagram a photo of how you keep yourself in shape and hashtag #CLEOBuzz before May 10 to stand a chance to win the pair of trainers. Click here for more deets.
Text: Kit Chua