“Self-care is about giving myself permission” - Yoga Instructor Gayle Nerva
Gayle Nerva was a self-taught singer song-writer who started writing songs at the age of 13. At 16, Gayle competed in the second season of Singapore Idol and made it to the coveted top 12 finalists. Following Singapore Idol, she performed for two consecutive years on the national stage for the Singapore National Day Parade, and also represented Singapore in Germany, Mexico City and Korea for the Youth Olympic Tour in 2010. Gayle released several titles, including her debut single ‘Pretend’ in 2015.
Gayle went on to host and act in several television programs that aired internationally. She played ‘Gayle’ in the television series The Kitchen Musical, which aired in over 19 countries as well as her most recognisable role as ‘Suzanne’ in the Singaporean television series ‘Tanglin’.
Gayle made a switch to yoga at the end of her last season of filming the TV show Tanglin. She decided to immerse herself in yoga, and eventually completed her training to become a yoga teacher. She presently finds immense satisfaction in helping people discover more about themselves through movement, meditation and the teachings of yoga.
Growing up, I was led to believe that women with muscles were considered too masculine and ‘ugly’. Women would say things like “if you do weights, your arms are going to get bigger and bulky, you’ll look so masculine” stuff like that. I don’t wanna say it, but my mother would say stuff like that sometimes. Her views have definitely shifted over the years, but 20 years ago I think women were pressured to look slender, or even skinny.
In my 20s, I dated a crossfitter who introduced me to the world of olympic weightlifting and strongman/woman competitions. I found it fun and exhilarating to know that I could deadlift weights, flip tires, climb ropes, and jump walls - being able to do all these things with my mind and body. All the crossfit women around me flaunted their thick strong thighs and strong solid arms in short shorts and sports bras. They didn’t care what size they were and nobody cared as well. Everyone was just pushing each other to be their best strong determined self. It definitely made an impact on me.
The experience made me see that the strength and muscles that I put on were strong and beautiful. We have to rewrite the story - that we are beautiful no matter the size, shape, color, ethnic background, etc.
On becoming a vegan: I’ve always found it strange how we love and care for some non-human animals like dogs and cats, and would NEVER want to see them abused (let alone eaten), and yet we see some non-human animals only as food; chickens, fish, cows, pigs, sheep to name a few. Why is it then okay to eat a cow, but not okay to eat a dog? All animals feel pain, feel happiness, and are equally frightened when threatened. Don’t cows and dogs alike want to live and not be killed for food?
Just because society makes eating animals normal, does it mean it is morally just? Am I a murderer for causing these animals to die because I want to eat them and enjoy the taste of chicken or fish? Just because I don’t see them being slaughtered, does it make it ok? It didn’t make any sense to me, and I saw myself as a hypocrite.
These questions troubled me through my late teens, and I turned vegetarian in my 20s (still consuming dairy products and eggs). I have turned full vegan since Jan 2020. Being vegan means to live a life that seeks to exclude the cruelty and exploitation of all animals for food, clothing, entertainment or any other purpose.
Going vegan was trickier 10 years back when I started as there weren’t a lot of places offering vegan options. So I ate mostly fries at a lot of parties - Haha! The transition was made easier as I consumed eggs and dairy at the start. Today, there are many amazing vegan options everywhere such as plant-based meats. You can even 'veganise' anything when you're out - I order caifan (local economy rice) with vegetables, tofu and mushrooms. With anything that you first start, it’ll take some time to find a groove, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature.
To me, self-care is about giving myself permission to rest, to simply stop, lie down, be quiet, and listen to my own needs.
Practising yoga also helped me to find focus and clarity. It taught me how to deal with discomfort as well as unhealthy expectations I had on myself. It inspires me to be better not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.
We need to learn to let go of the unhealthy messages we may say to ourselves and each other about our weight, size, external appearance. These unhealthy messages include:
- I’ll be happy when I lose X amount of weight
- I’ll be happy when I have (this job/X amt of money, etc)
- I ate too much, I’d better go on X diet/starve myself, etc
- I’m not good enough for this (person/position) I’m going to give up
Instead, the messages should be of self-love, like:
- I listen to myself with patience and kindness, I let go of unhealthy thoughts I may have on myself or self worth
- I am grateful for the little things in life and I focus on what is working
- I trust my intuition and honor the transformation and journey in my life
- It is safe to say no
- My self worth is not quantified by my weight, dress size, color, age, gender, race.
- It is ok to slow down and/or stop and take a break
- I am brave to speak my truth
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photos c/o Sabrina Wee, Photo Editing by Faye Chan
This series is part of our International Women's Day piece where we catch up with amazing GOYA women to share about their career stories, challenges and advice for anyone developing their careers.