Sandra Riley Tang, unplugged

Sandra treads the road less travelled.

Having left school at 18, she quit her full-time job at 22 to form The Sam Willows with friends Narelle Kheng, Benjamin Kheng and Jonathan Chua.

"I stopped studying because my parents couldn't afford it," she says matter-of-factly.

Then, with some pride, she adds, "At my last workplace, I was the youngest manager."

Asked about continuing her studies in future, Sandra replies: "Yes, I plan to. When I do, it will be because I want to, and not because I had to - which I think is what many of my peers feel.

"You don't have to go to music school to become a musician, or drama school to pursue acting. If you really want to do something, there will be a way."

The girl's certainly got guts - and the drive to make good.

At 24, Sandra is the co-founder of The Yoga Collective (Yoco), a new fitness startup branded as Singapore's first homeconcept yoga studio.

Offering small-group yoga classes in a soho apartment, The Yoco also gives members free access to the kitchen, juice bar, living room, shower facilities, and toiletries from brands like Belif and Benefit.

This enterprising young woman also has her fingers in other pies.

Earlier this year, she and the band flew to Sweden to record part of their first album that will be out soon.

Between jams and gigs, Sandra produces The Sam Willows' creative collaterals.

A self-taught designer, she also manages her own DIY art inspiration and e-commerce website,

Just like any self-respecting millennial, Sandra juggles multiple social media accounts as well. They include @rileyartofficial and @sandrarileytang on Instagram (at press time, this one had over 34,000 followers).

She also shares quirky how-to craft videos with over 18,000 subscribers to her Youtube channel, The DIY Project.

On the fitness front, Sandra recently completed her 200-hour yoga instructor training. Shortly afterwards, she started the Yoco with friend and fellow yoga teacher, Pamela Yeo.

How does she manage all of this? With equal parts energy, idealism and pragmatism, it seems.

Shape: We've noticed plenty of #fitspoworthy pictures on your IG feed. Were you always so strong and fit?

Sandra: In secondary school, I played a lot of sports and was captain of the netball team.  But when I left school, I became less active and put on weight. I stayed pudgy for a while.

At 21, I decided I had to do something about it, and that's when I started exercising again - but only sporadically.  That helped me go from 58kg to 55kg, and then I hit the wall.

I started experimenting with all kinds of diets, like paleo, no-carb, cleanses and intermittent fasting, which helped me shed some more weight.

But no matter what I did, I couldn't hit 50kg. At 52kg, I still felt fat.

But 52kg for your height hardly counts as fat…

I guess fat is not the right word. Looking at old pictures, I realise I was actually skinnier then than now.

But I was not proportionate. I was flabby all over and had no shape. All fat and not much muscle…

Are you happy with your body now?

Yes. I'm 58kg, and happier with my body now than at 52kg. I've learnt that it's just a number on the scale. The physique matters more.

Being in the entertainment industry, do you feel pressure to be of a certain body type?

I think it happens to all of us. There were times I thought: If only I was skinnier, taller, fairer, and had a smaller face, so I could fit in the stereotype of 'pretty'. It is a constant battle.

I remind myself that I am unique in my own way, and to be beautiful is to know my own strengths. Of course, I wouldn't mind becoming even leaner. Next up for me is more cardio and strength training.

Do you think you have a sustainable fitness routine now? Tell us more about it.

About two to three times a week, if I have nothing scheduled in the morning, I go to a Crossfit gym and spend two to three hours doing weights.

A compressed session could take an hour. It sounds like a long time, but I work on different things, and rest properly between sets.

At the end, I do a Workout of the Day [note: in Crossfit, this refers to a high-intensity workout routine comprising different sets and repetitions of various exercises.]

I also teach yoga classes three to four times a week. Every day, when I wake up and before I sleep, I do stretching exercises.

You spend a lot of time exercising!

Not really, but perhaps more than the average person. I enjoy it.

Recently I picked up Muay Thai, MMA and rock-climbing, which I alternate between once or twice a week. It's a good mix of different activities.

And I spend every Saturday evening on stunt training.

Stunt training?

Oh yes, it's something I've always wanted to do. I have a bucket list, and one of the items on it is to star in an action movie. I'm not there yet, but I hope to check it off some day.

Stunts are a lot more technical than they look. I love the physicality of it.

And why Crossfit and Yoga?

They are rather different. They appear to be polar opposites, but they actually complement each other.

What Crossfit has, yoga doesn't, and vice versa.

I enjoy the intensity of Crossfit - and going crazy with it - while yoga helps me understand my body, centre myself and find balance. It's a lot about focusing on the breath.

As I like to say, when you combine the two, you become a ninja! [laughs]

What else is on your bucket list?

Oh my gosh, so many things! I want to backpack through the whole of Europe, join a surf camp, live in a village, climb a mountain...

And you're about to release your first album as a band. That must be exciting.

How would you describe the music - in three words?

Fun, relatable… and fresh! I love it.

You have a pretty big social media following too. How do you deal with haters or trolls?

I mostly ignore the comments. Sometimes, I find it quite fun to troll them back.

Like, when some guys leave sleazy, derogative comments, I reply in Malay with "jangan kurang ajar", which means don't be rude.

What kind of messages do you hope to send out as an influencer?

I think of myself as a bit of a champion for the underdog. I'm the only one in the band who didn't go to university, and I'm okay with that. I take pride in it.

There are a lot of girls out there who are just like me. I'm not the tallest or skinniest. And I'm defi nitely not fair. But there is a market for that.

I want to be that person who says "hey guys, it's fine. I'm fine with it and you can be fine with it too. People will love you as long as you love yourself. You work on your strengths, lah!"

Sandra's secret to strong arms

Look up @sandrarileytang on Instagram and you'll be awed by the pictures of her in gravity-defying yoga stances.

To strengthen your body for challenging arm balances, Sandra recommends nailing these four moves first. Do them every day or whenever you can.


Also used in pilates, this move strengthens the core muscles.

- Engaging core muscles, lift legs so body forms a V. Keep chest up and thighs close to belly without rounding spine. Be sure to roll shoulders away from ears.

TIP! If the full Boat pose is difficult, bend knees and keep shins parallel to floor instead of straightening legs. Hold for 10 seconds.

Alternatively, up the challenge by slowly widening the angle between torso and thighs until back and legs are about 2cm to 3cm off floor and return to starting position. Repeat five times.


A preparatory move for the Crane or Crow pose, this helps to activate the abdominal muscles that are required to stay tight in the pose.

- Rounding the back, squeeze yourself into a tight ball, reach out in front of you and stay as compact as possible. Tuck chin between knees. Hold for 10 seconds.


This basic yoga move builds strength in the shoulders and gives the hamstrings a good stretch.

- Pushing away from floor, suck in belly and tilt tailbone to ceiling. Push heels down while pressing belly as close to thighs as possible. Hold for one minute.


Also known as the chaturanga, this move builds core and arm strength required to do arm balances.

Most basic arm balances are done with them bent at a 90-degree angle close to the body.

- Starting from plank position, lean body forward slightly. Keeping core engaged and chest open, lower yourself down while keeping elbows close to sides of body and maintain right angle. Hold for five seconds

SHAPE Singapore is now available in both print and digital formats. Log on to to subscribe!