Leading Ladies: UT alumna uses her passion for yoga to help heal others

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UT alumna Mardy Chen (middle), founder and co-owner of Pure Bikram Yoga, placed first in the Texas Yoga Asana Championships in Dallas on Nov 8.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mardy Chen | Daily Texan Staff

Mardy Chen had only been living in New York City for two years when the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, rocked the nation. For many people, 9/11 was a frightening event. For Mardy, a UT alumna, it changed her entire career path.

“After graduation, I moved to New York because I’d always wanted to live and work there,” Mardy said. “I was living in the city when 9/11 happened, and it was a big eye-opener. I thought, ‘I need to get back home to my family.’ So I quit my job.”

Mardy, a Texas native, chose to attend UT because it was close to home. At the time, UT had the top accounting program in the nation, and, since she wanted to go into finance, she enrolled and graduated with business honors in 1999.

While in New York, Mardy met her husband, Jeff Chen, who was also working in finance at the time. When the couple decided to move to Austin, his company was flexible enough to allow him to work from Texas. Shortly after making the move, Mardy committed to a nine-week training session to become a yoga instructor. In 2003, she opened her first studio in Westlake, Pure Bikram Yoga, and fell even more in love with the practice.

“With yoga, it’s instant feedback,” Mardy said. “You get to see someone come in for their first class and struggle a little. And, over time, they improve — they get the hang of it. I’m very fortunate [to] get to connect with people through yoga practice. It’s a very personal thing, and to be a part of people’s journeys is a huge gift.”

Robin Hancock, a close friend of Mardy, said Mardy wants to use yoga as a healing mechanism.

“She lives and breathes it,” Hancock said. “She knows how to lead you and guide you because it’s a part of her.”

Over the last 10 years, Pure Bikram Yoga has expanded to more locations across Austin, and, in 2008, Jeff decided to follow in his wife’s footsteps and quit his job to pursue yoga.

“[Mardy] and I were both into yoga,” Jeff said. “I’d always wanted to go to a teacher training, but I needed to find the [nine weeks] to go. It took me a while, but I finally went. It was the best thing I could have done, and I have never looked back.”

Now, Mardy and Jeff co-own Pure Bikram Yoga and have started a nonprofit together called PURE Action.

“The goal is to heal the world with yoga,” Mardy said. “We research the benefits of yoga to find the connection between ancient yoga and modern medicine. The point of yoga isn’t to twist yourself into some crazy posture. Each pose was actually created to heal some system in your body.”

In addition to conducting research, Mardy and Jeff also reach out to members of the local community, specifically those in some form of physical or mental rehabilitation.

“We go to centers where people have been abusive to their bodies in some way,” Mardy said. “Then we introduce them to something self-healing. I want people to live the life they envisioned for themselves.”

Jeff said Mardy’s compassion makes her the best at what she does.

“You see people with all kinds of issues,” Jeff said. “There are so many things that can impact people, and she can relate to every type of person. She senses it. She knows it. She knows how to deal with people, and it’s always with compassion.”