The Many Lives Of Peloton Instructor And Former Monk Sam Yo

The many lives of Peloton instructor and former monk Sam Yo

In his early 20s, Sam Yo didn’t know who he was or what he wanted to be. He sought clarity in a monastery, and two decades later, he’s a beloved Peloton instructor. During a brief trip to Australia, Yo took us through his inspirational journey, the tenets that govern his mindset, and the power of community.

“THE MIND PUSHES AND THE BODY FOLLOWS” is the meditative mantra you’ll often hear Sam Yo tell his legions of Peloton acolytes if you ever listen in on one of his classes. Compared to the standard, in-your-face intensity that comprises the repertoires of most fitness instructors who bark orders like drill sergeants, Yo’s approach is refreshing, and it appeals to a group of people who prefer his calm, measured approach to motivation. “I always like to say I’m not here to kick your butt, I’m here to make you realise that your butt is capable of going further”, he tells Men’s Health.

As an instructor, Yo doesn’t only stand out because of his supportive style, but because his journey to this point has been one of a kind. The 45-year-old has found his calling in helping others achieve their physical goals, but 20 years ago, he didn’t know where his life would take him. In fact, 20 years ago, the last place Yo expected to be in two decades’ time was in Peloton’s pristine Bondi Junction showroom, awaiting the arrival of a crowd of followers flocking to the store to meet him, which is exactly where we found him.

The night before our interview with Yo, the Peloton veteran, had flown to Sydney from Melbourne, where he was met with a similarly adoring reception. Peloton’s meteoric rise has bestowed an almost cult leader-like status upon its instructors, who all boast unique forms of magnetism, attracting fans like moths to a flame. Like Yo, many Peloton trainers have attracted inexplicably large social media followings – the likes of which we haven’t seen attached to fitness instructors since Olivia Newton John donned a Lycra bodysuit for her iconic ‘Physical’ music video in the ’80s.

Yo never expected his role with Peloton to grant him celebrity status, and he was hardly prepared for it. “Before Peloton, I was never online. I had Instagram, but I was one of those guys who just posted random things like a flower, a nice meal, or the sunset.” Credit where it’s due, Yo is not one to be easily overwhelmed and has risen to the occasion, becoming accustomed to the heightened attention. “I went from being in my own little bubble to being exposed to thousands of people in a class, which was strange at first, but the power of community and connection is the foundation of what we do at Peloton.”


Sam Yo


INSIDE A PELOTON STUDIO, Yo is in his element. Whether he’s straddling an exercise bike or pulling off a complicated Pilates pose with ease, he’s fuelled by the energy drawn from thousands of onlookers. You might assume that due to his past as a monk, fitness hasn’t always been an area of interest for Yo. But around Yo, you’ll quickly learn never to assume anything.

“Growing up I was always into self-expression and I was fascinated by what we can do with the body. My first initial introduction to fitness was playing football, because my dad was a football coach,” Yo says, before remembering what we call the round-ball game in Australia and correcting himself by slowly pronouncing soccer – a word that visibly challenges his London-raised tongue. “From there I studied Taekwondo, Thai boxing and went into ballet and contemporary dance. Then it evolved into what eventually became Peloton.”

Despite his interest in fitness, when he was in his early 20s, Yo’s career path was anything but set. He graduated from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in 1999 and sought out a life in theatre, appearing in productions of The King & I, Aladdin, Mulan and Anything Goes, but he wasn’t sold on the lifestyle. It was around this time that a desire to reconnect with his roots began to grow within Yo. “In your early 20s, that’s when you start to discover yourself as an individual, and I had no idea who I was,” he says. “I think a lot of that stemmed from being out of touch with who I was as a first-generation Thai-Chinese person.”

Yo’s interest in his heritage was sparked in his childhood, when he attended Thai lessons taught by monks. “I’d gone to Sunday school in the temple as a child and I’d been taught by monks. For me, monks always represented a sense of wisdom. They’ve always had this amazing aura of self-awareness, and these were elements that I thought were missing within me,” Yo says. “I didn’t know how else to fill that space.”

At the age of 23, in a bid to rediscover his culture and discover himself, Yo left his life in theatre and became an ordained Buddhist monk at a monastery in Thailand. The decision came a shock to those who knew him intimately, including his mother. “I remember telling my mum that I was going into the monastery. She thought I was joking because I’d never expressed any desire to do it,” he says.

Not long after leaving England, Yo was inaugurated into his monastery, had adopted the traditional garb of saffron robes, and became wholeheartedly devoted to his new lifestyle. It was during his time as a monk that Yo was able to find fulfilment. After ten months, he returned home with a renewed outlook on life. “Joining the monastery was for purely personal reasons, but it evolved into something that has allowed me to help others,” he says.


Sam Yo


YO’S TIME IN THE MONASTERY was transformative. Although, even in that serene setting, he stood out from the crowd. Not too many monks have a tattoo of the superman logo on their right bicep, which Yo says he received on a whim for his 18th birthday. Yo believes his time as a monk is something he had to go through to get to where he is today, teaching him values that have aided in both his personal and fitness journeys, while enhancing his abilities as a Peloton instructor.

“Joining the monastery had a rippling effect,” Yo says. “What I learned has resonated with what I do with Peloton because in the monastery it was all about service. It was about how I can be of service to myself and how I can be of service to others. But before you can take care of others, you need to know how to take care of yourself. My time with the monastery is when I learned how to do that.”

When Yo says he wants to be of service to others, you’d better believe him, because he’s as authentic as they come. Throughout the course of our interview, this writer has to repeatedly steer the conversation away from himself and back towards the man he’s there to meet – Yo. If I ask Yo to describe an aspect of his mentality when approaching fitness, he enquires about my own mindset, compares our answers, and offers advice on how I can get the most out of my workouts. Yo’s authenticity is a quality that immediately endears him to me, and it’s not difficult to imagine how it could benefit someone in need of support on their fitness journey.

On the topic of fitness journeys, if the typical high-intensity and often adversarial approach of most fitness trainers doesn’t appeal to you, Yo’s classes are likely to be the answer you’ve been searching for. Yo doesn’t approach training like most instructors, he sees exercise as a form of meditation. “When you’re exercising on a treadmill or bike, repetitive movement patterns put you into a flow state,” he says. “When you’re intentionally aware of being in the present moment and have a neutral perspective, that’s meditation, and that’s what exercising is.

“They call me the silent assassin because I’m not in your face,” Yo says when describing his style as a Peloton instructor, which was moulded by his time as a monk. “I’ve taken an element of the monastery experience and use it in my classes. I like to create what I call a force field of focus where nothing gets in and nothing gets out and you can have a calm state of mind.”

For now, Yo’s path seems set, as he’s found his calling with Peloton. Pressed for a final word of advice for our readers, “I’m a disciple of a better me” is what Yo lands on. “You’re always learning. When you have a goal, every step towards it is part of a learning experience. Every time you work out, whether or not you’ve reached your goal, you’ve learnt something new about what you’re capable of, and that’s an important step,” he explains. But why restrict that mantra to fitness? Every step in life is a learning experience that contributes to who we are today, and Yo’s journey proves it.


Sam Yo



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By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

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