When our team decided to journey up to Wanderlust Yoga Festival at Mont Tremblant, to experience what has been coined as a “epic” retreat, we discovered more than an A list getaway.
Los Angeles based yogi Briohny Kate Smyth’s bio captured my attention upon first look. Smyth, famously known for her Equinox Fitness video that went viral, is strikingly beautiful, with a substantial following from all over the world. But with this fame comes a crippling past that includes a popstar youth, battles with eating disorders, substance abuse and two failed marriages. With a life story that reads like many child star stories that end in tragedy, this one appeared to differ with a happy ending. We needed to hear her story.
When we snuck into Smyth’s class there was barely room to squeeze ourselves into a corner at the back. We were in the wide open outdoor square at the top of the of the lift to the ski village, neatly roped off for Wanderlust. The first thing I noticed about her was how wide her smile was and that it was wiped across her face throughout the class and how often she spoke about finding your happy spot and to smile as you practice.
Speaking at length with Smyth, I found a radiant, grounded-to-earth, open, confident woman, mother and yogini, with a very warm and engaging energy. Smyth is clearly a strong and empowered women, but she did not reach that place without an immense amount of personal growth and struggle. Smyth’s years of struggle with Bulimia, Anorexia, and substance use now well behind her – she clearly has become a strong and powerful soul, completely at ease in her mind, body and spirit.
Charlotte Carson: So you live in LA, and you teach at a studio in LA? Do you have a studio in LA of your own? I ask because we see you go to festivals all over the world.
Briohny Kate Smyth: My ex husband and I used to have a studio. We just recently sold our shares in it. It’s a great studio. It’s been around a really long time, but it’s hard, when you are travelling, you know. It’s kind of unfair to have a class or anything like that. So, when I’m in LA, I’m just a mom.
CC: We are discovering that a lot of yogis are doing that, which is quite interesting. You have a home base but your teaching work is based in retreats. Is that correct?
BKS: Well, I actually don’t do any retreats, I do teacher trainings.
CC: So you have a class. People pay to go online to do a class with you.
BKS: Yes. We also do a lot of social media, utilizing Youtube Facebook , Instagram. So, I guess you could say, that gives us the opportunity to reach an audience around the world, connect and build a global community while not physically in front of them. It frees up time for the day-to-day, to nurture my kids, family and myself in unison. It really became a great option as a single mom still wanting to figure out how to reach my goals and a wider audience. From there, I grew it into teacher training, so we teach a lot of teacher trainings, as well as workshops and immersions throughout the year, in various places. You know, we have our place in Thailand, where we have our retreat centre and we also travel around and partner with studios.
CC: That’s a very detailed mindset, to set up something like that. Do you have a business background?
BKS: I do. I have a masters in business. It’s hard pressed to find an Asian woman without a masters. It’s all the tiger moms out there! I went to LSE, London School of Economics.
CC: Oh, come on. So you are on the Forbes list for yoga, or on your way? So, married twice, times two kids. How old the kids are?
BKS: My daughter is 13 and my son is 5. And my whole travel and work schedule revolves around my custody schedule.
CC: Cool! So you have super mom down to a science. So what led you to Wanderlust?
BKS: I would say it’s business and passion, but mainly it business that led me here because I was a pop star in Asia from the age of 11-21, and so when I left music, I needed a new path.
CC: In Asia, where specifically?
BKS: I was based in Thailand which was at the time, and still now, the music industry for all of the surrounding countries. So Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, all of the Southeast Asian countries. So I travelled and toured around there for 10 years, including all of Japan and had my daughter at 21, which gave me a different purpose. With touring and music comes drugs and alcohol. You know, you are young. At 21, I just felt like I needed to change my life, for my daughter. So I moved to Texas with her Dad, my first husband, who was based in Houston and started a fashion company, which he grew to 460 stores worldwide.
CC: A fashion company?
BKS: Yes, it’s called Charming Charlie. It’s mostly in the south and around the world.
CC: Wow you have a real range of life experiences. From music to fashion to Wanderlust.
BKS: I’ve always had a business mindset and wanted somehow to bring together my past and my present. Teaching yoga is my calling and I enjoy it so much, I feel so at home, and happy with knowing that this is a lifelong thing. But I never could see how I was going to bring my past with music into teaching yoga.
CC: In terms of stage presentation?
BKS: Yes, and collaborating with artists as well, navigating music with teaching. I met Claudine and Hanza of YogaBeyond and they had bought the license for Wanderlust in Australia, New Zealand and SE Asia. This was 3 years ago. I decided immediately that was what we were going to do. So we bought shares in Wanderlust Australia, New Zealand and Asia.
BKS: And so that’s why I say it was business. It is business and passion at the same time. So we produced all of the Australia, New Zealand and South East Asian festivals.
CC: There’s a lot for you going on here. How I am I going to keep up with a power mama like you! So you bought shares in Wanderlust. I didn’t even know they were franchised.
BKS: Yes, they are licensed. Even the Canadian ones are. I think the Canadian ones are. The European ones are licensed. The South America one, we owned that region over there.
CC: Do you still?
BKS: No, we had a little debacle and it folded. At the time, we did it for four years, and it was just the most incredible experience ever. I had never actually wanted to do Wanderlust in America in the past because I was so busy with my family, and it’s in the summer, when I do most of my trainings. But when we took the time to go and teach at these, it was like this magical bubble of connection. It truly is everything Wanderlust claims. It is incredible. You are not able to achieve that anywhere else. Through that business connection, I met Jeff Krasno, Schuyler Grant and Sean Hoess, the founders and they asked me if I wanted to do the tour, so I did.
CC: Do you have any pictures of you when you were a pop star?
BKS: Oh yes, just put my name in google and they are there.
CC: Are you comfortable with those being seen?
BKS: Yeah, I have been in the limelight since I was 11, even earlier I was in America on the Mickey Mouse show from the age of 5. Then my mom forced me into the pageant circle. I was mis pre-teen California, 1992. And then in 93 I realized I didn’t have to do this, so I stopped.
CC: So, may I ask a tough question. So it’s established you developed an eating disorder and substance abuse issues when you were a popstar. When did you start experiencing anorexia and bulimia. It’s a common thread to get eating disorders with pop stars, models and actresses with all of the unrealistic body expectations.
BKS: Yes, lots of pressure at a young age. I realized in my early 20s that my whole personality as an adult was developed based off of pleasing others and that I had never really learned a solid base for myself. I never really learned how to make myself happy, what made me happy. The past five to six years, it’s been that journey. The thoughts of feeling inadequate started probably 9 or 10. But the actual active anorexia and bulimia, at 12.
CC: And was it pressure from the music industry, feeling that you had to have a certain look?
BKS: Oh my God, in Thailand, image is a really big deal. And I am tiny. But Thai women are way tinier. The greeting there in this industry is, “oh, you look fat” or “oh, you are so skinny”. I don’t think it’s meant to hurt people, but it does.
CC: Like you have to stay a certain shape. That experience, how long did it take you to get through that? And was that what led you to yoga?
BKS: I would say, what helped me connect to my inner voice that needed to be heard was yoga, in that quiet space, and at 15 I swore that yoga would stay in my life.
CC: So what haven’t you done?
BKS: Well I worked my entire teenage years, so that is why I have covered so much.
CC: Did you ever go to regular public school?
BKS: I went to a regular school but I always had tutors with me as I was on the road. I never had friends because I was never there, but I made it through and I am stronger today.
CC: Was the yoga part of the transformation and your healing? Are you close to feeling healed? Where are you at now at this stage?
BKS: Some thoughts, they don’t ever go away. The years of programming are hard to shift. I do feel like now, in the last couple of years I have broken bad habits such as codependency through meditation. Acknowledging how much of that old programming is still controlling my life is essential to working through it.
CC: So you are still working on personal things. Would you consider that part of your teaching, a part of yourself? It seems like, with yoga, there are a certain amount of people that are searching for something. In the breathing classes, you see tears as people discover open wounds.
BKS: I think yoga is a terrific tool if you practice consistently and with an open heart and mind. At 15 I didn’t know yet, what it was, but I clung to it like a lifeline. It made me feel better. I would just go and practice, and my negative feelings would evaporate, for that momentary couple of hours. It became cyclical as well. You go to the mat, you feel better for a short time. It’s like a bandaid. But it’s what happens after practice that allows you to reach true healing, when you take it it into meditation or you take it into pranayama. That’s when yoga actually works to change your life. For me, nothing changed until I had my daughter. Because the pregnancy made me realize that this life, this body, the way that I was thinking, in anorexia and bulimia, was very selfish. You know, when you are pregnant, you can’t be like, “oh I want to be skinny and do all these things”, drugs or pills or whatever. So that stopped my bad cycle and I haven’t been back there since. It’s been 16 years.
CC: There was a girl in the front of the class today. She was standing almost directly in front of you and she was clearly anorexic. Did that trigger you?
BKS: It triggers me in a motherly way, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a trigger. I would say that it awakens in me the reason why I am teaching yoga, because people don’t know what they need. A lot of times, people don’t know what’s going on and my message is typically, “you have everything here, you don’t need to worry about the people around you.“ I interact with a lot of people dealing with eating disorders. Every day, I get at least 10 direct messages on my FB or Instagram. People come to my class because of it. They share about it. It’s so hard to not want to help them. But you can’t really. I can only inspire them to change. Everyone has their own journey.
CC: I thought it was interesting because out of all the classes that we have gone to here, because it was in your bio that you suffered from anorexia, I was curious about that. That someone showed up in your class, and showed up in a very strategic position.
BKS: Yes, and she also said hello, and you know, it’s just all you can do is be there and be a light for them.
CC: So she is coming for a reason, to you.
BKS: I would say so.
CC: So what advice would you give someone who is looking for change?
BKS: I would say that the first step to change is observation.
CC: Of self?
BKS: Yes, of self. A lot of times we think self is just here. Self is also the things around you. What you have chosen to surround yourself with, the situations that are constantly on repeat with different people. They are easier to blame. The first step to any kind of change is accountability.
CC: Would you rather be able to fly or breath under water?
BKS: I grew up surfing, but I grew up flying. Fly. Flying.
CC: What is your favourite song?
BKS: It depends on what mood I am in. It’s so hard. I would say the song that always ignites me is Who Run The World (Girls) by Beyonce. Absolutely no meaning except for empowerment.
CC: Got it! I thought you were going to say The Happy Song.
BKS: I do love Pharrell.
CC: Rarely people talk about happy in yoga. You talk about happy.
BKS: I love it
CC: What is on your bucket list?
BKS: Right now it’s individual vacations with my kids. A girls trip with my daughter. An expedition adventure with my son.
CC: So great to chat with you.
BKS: Thank you for listening.