Yoga instructor Sonya Pepping was never a model child. By the time she was 15, she was already going to nightclubs and taking hard drugs. Living with divorced parents and a mom working two jobs was hard, and Pepping admits, “I had plenty of time to be left alone. I mostly hung out with Asian kids who were in the gang scene. I was insecure about who I was. I had a very strong urge to just be accepted and be a part of something whole.” But what is even more extraordinary is the story of how yoga unintentionally came to be the antidote to her self-destructive habits.

Everyone may feel the need for acceptance once in awhile, but even after graduating from high school and moving to a new city, Pepping still felt that she couldn’t fit in and continued her bad drug habits—ectasy, Xanax, marijuana, you name it.

Amazingly, Pepping kept control of her life. Over the next several years, she worked at HSBC Auto Finance as their youngest employee and at Apple Inc. as the Executive Administrative Assistant for the Education Department, among others, even acquiring an associate degree in science. Pepping shares, “Yes, I was pretty stoned and pilled out through all of it, [but] I always took care of my business and was a hard worker and a great student.”

But after a couple years stuck in the same city, she started feeling jaded. She was tired of “the superficial scene that most Asian kids get sucked into: going out and getting ridiculously dressed up, getting $300 bottle service at some swanky club,” she says. So Pepping decided, “I wanted something new. A change for my soul.”

And boy, was it a welcome change. A good friend who had been practicing yoga for a few years recommended that Pepping sign up for a one-hour yoga class. And as cliché as it might sound, it was love at first stretch. “For once, there was something that I could do that would suck me out of my black hole and that was actually good and healthy for me. Never had I had such peace of mind. I instantly threw the drugs out and started replacing them with yoga classes.”

As strange as it might seem, the benefit she gained from yoga was mostly psychological at first. “The classes offered me a place to escape from my addictions and my past. The studio offered me a place where I could work on myself without any judgment from the outside world.” And eventually, using yoga as her strength, she began to break out of her cycle of drug abuse.

It was the beginning of a new, more productive direction in Pepping’s life. “I started to hang out with more positive individuals that uplifted me. Slowly, the studio became my second home. Two months after my first class, I signed up for teacher training. Two months after that, I was teaching. [My mission as a teacher was] to show them that yoga wasn’t all about chanting mantras and holding your feet behind your head. It’s something much, much more. Yoga is real. It’s the union of your body, mind, and soul.” In January 2011, Pepping opened her own Vinyasa-focused yoga studio with her husband, Padma Yoga in Dallas, Texas.

Amidst the recent Tiger Mom buzz, Pepping confirms that her mom, whom many friends thought of when Amy Chua’s title came out, didn’t understand the extent to which yoga dictated her life at first. “My mother, being a single parent, was very strict,” Pepping says, giggling. “Whenever she thought that I was being bad, there was a quick beating to come with it, Korean-style!” After seeing how many classes Pepping attended, however, Pepping’s mom gave her full support. Pepping shares how her mom even attempted to take a yoga class. “She walked out 15 minutes into it, but at least she tried. It was extremely cute!”

Having lived a very difficult and wild teenage life with heavy parental pressure, Pepping tells an inspiring story of bouncing back and achieving great success, both personally and professionally. Looking back, Pepping confesses, “There was so much pain in me that needed to be repaired.” For her, it was all about personal acceptance: “Yoga offered me self love.” She never expected to find something so profound, and yet it has enriched her life so much since her darker days. You just can’t beat that type of positive change.

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