Miinkay Yu joined The Grand as a coach in September 2021. After trying a few different career paths, including being an engineer at Dow Chemical, Miinkay Yu quit to study bodywork and how the body heals. She now has a private practice to help people address chronic pain and recently became a death midwife. After going through so many professional transitions alone, Miinkay's wish as a Grand coach is to support anyone that needs help navigating career changes.
As told to Claire Zhang
What have you been up to? I poked around on your website and you've added death...
Death midwife, yeah!
Yeah, I have a client who is dying from a disease. She's around 70 now, and she's had this disease since she was 50. So, she's known for a long time that it's going to be the reason that she dies, and now she's close to the end. She inspired me to get some training on how to work with people who are dying. I wanted to learn how to support her through her process, because it's hard and it can be lonely and the people who have already gone before you are dead. So you can't ask them: what was it like for you? How do you do this?
I found this certification called Death Doula or Death Midwife, and I did that. That's been really enlightening.
It taught me how to see life differently, because when you think about your death, you think about your life, and you live life a little more fully.
So are you working with this one client, or do you have more? Tell me more.
Since getting the certification, I'm still working with the one client. With death work, you don't have space for more than one, maybe two clients, because you want to be with them, fully present with them, and they need a lot of time and energy. So, I'm with her, and I'm going to be with her until the end, I'm sure. Then, I do have other clients who are not that close to dying, but they're 90 or they're 85, and it's on their mind, so we talk about it. I ask them: what do you think about dying? How do you feel about death? What do you believe happens to you after you die? We just have these conversations so that, one—they can have them, because I don't think they are having them, but it's on their mind. And two—so that they can start to feel comfortable and accepting of the end.
What you just said really struck me: when we think about death, we think about life. How has that been manifesting in this work?
It's made me more present, realizing the impermanence of time, and watching people go through it. Of course, the clients that I have have lived a long time too, so I get to see their perspective of “I’ve done so many things with my life,” or “I'm really proud of this thing that I did.” Just hearing them reflect on their life has given me perspective on my own.
It teaches me that the little things don't really matter. The bickering that I have with people doesn't matter in the end. You have to learn to let things go, because those things will get in the way of you enjoying your life.
Is that a lot of the work that you do with these clients when they come to you? What does it feel like they're seeking out of working with you?
It feels like they don't know what they want or what they need, but they're uncomfortable.
So, part of my job too is to figure out: What do you need to feel comfortable? Do you need a plan? Do you just need to talk about it? Do you need to have a project, like planning a legacy project or planning what you want leave for your family members? It's talking about it so that they can find what they need.
It's different when you are 90 and you're exercising to maintain the health that you have, but you're also watching it deteriorate at the same time. That's different than when you're 35 and you're working out to get stronger.
So, it's helping these people come to the realization that they're not in that place anymore. And now they have to shift their perspective into a different place of: “I'm staying healthy so that I can keep walking every day,” or “I'm eating right so that I can not have terrible stomach aches.” They're just in a different place in their life, and some of them are still thinking that they're 35 or 40 or 50. But it's helping them arrive to: “I am older. As I get older, my body's going to keep breaking down and there's nothing that I can do about it. So can I accept that?”
At what point do you think the realization starts to percolate for these people, who might think that they're still 35 or 40 but obviously are very far from that, to the point they're coming to you?
It takes time for people to learn where they are. Of course, you have to accept that your body is aging, which sometimes can be very hard. But I think a lot of it comes down to experience, like watching your body break down, but doing all the things like going to the doctor, going to PT, doing everything right—and still having it break down.
I think that's when one of my clients came to the conclusion: “It's not that I’m doing anything wrong, it's not that I'm not doing my exercises, because I am. It's not that I'm not eating right because I am. It's just that I'm getting old.”
Really accepting that and finding peace with that just takes time and experience. It's not really a light switch that you can turn on.
I imagine this connects to a lot of the bodywork that you do and your coaching work. Did you start bodywork before you started coaching, or did they happen similarly?
Yeah, I was a bodyworker before I started coaching.
I realized through bodywork that a lot of my clients were holding stress, and the stress was the source of their tension. I knew that, but they didn't know that. Some of the stress could have been solved with a 15-minute conversation.
When I started talking to my clients about stress, I hit a wall of being able to help them. I knew I needed more training, more tools in my tool belt to help them reduce and relieve the stress that they were under. That's why I started coaching. I bring that into sessions when I see that it can help someone move past a painful thought, something going on in their life, and that brings more relief to them than just the bodywork.
I’m picking up on a connection between bodywork and death work. Death is an experience of your body, as you described with some previous clients — the signal for them is that they realize their bodies are deteriorating no matter what they do…
The whole dying experience is everything: body, mind, spirit. It really makes you sit and contemplate and reflect on your life. You are going through whatever your body's going through. If you don't have any disease and you're dying of old age, that's an experience. If you have a disease, if you have cancer, that's an experience. It's everything. All the layers together.
That's the whole essence of my practice too: teaching people that bodywork isn't just about the body. It's every layer of mind, body, spirit. Because it's all connected and each layer is important.
This is fascinating, because I finally got into meditation recently, and a lot of the lessons remind you that you're not your mind. This is something I intuitively knew, because I dance, and what I love about dance and all the other physical activities I do is that it connects me to my body. Dance reminds me that mind and body are connected very intimately. Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about how I am not my mind—not just my mind—I am also my body, and I am all those things, thinking about how they are all connected.
Don't forget about the subconscious mind. That is really the key that's connecting you to your body.
We have a lot of brain. The mind that we see in here is usually in the forefront, but we have a subconscious and that's working all the time too. That's influencing and guiding us and affecting the way that we move and all those things. It's part of instinct, the instinctual part of ourselves.
That is helpful, because something I toy with a lot in my head is: ”Wait, what is that connection? What is that thing in between my body and mind?”
It's like the gut, it's like a guttural thing, or like a movement before you can even think about it because it's coming from within, but it's like everything together moving at the same time.
It sounds like a lot of the death work that you do with your clients is not just about the loss of your body then, though that's the most physical manifestation of the experience of death. It’s also about working with the loss of that subconscious, the sense of self, all of that.
Yeah, it really turns you on to the “who am I now and what happens after death?” questions.
When you ask people what they think happens, what are some of the answers, how diverse are the answers?
A lot of people say, “Well, I don't know, but I have this thought…” or “I don't know, but I want to believe…” A lot of people aren't sure, because our society has a lot of conjecture around death and nobody feels sure, because in order to be sure, you have to go there and come back.
I think that belief, your belief is enough, whether it's true or not. If you believe you're going to go to heaven, then that's what's going to happen. If you believe that there's nothing on the other side, then that's what's gonna happen. I think that you create your own reality, so whether it's true or not doesn't really matter.
A lot of people say: “I don't know if this is true, but I think I'm going see my family, or I hope I'll meet the people that have passed—my husband that passed away, or my sister that died 10 years ago.” A lot of people go back to that comforting feeling, which I think is really beautiful.
That is beautiful. I'm curious about your first client, who was diagnosed with a disease at 50 and is now 70. What struck me was that, when I think about a terminal disease, sometimes I don't expect the number 70 to even come up. Did they expect to live that long? What brought them to you after so many years since being diagnosed?
Yeah, so she was diagnosed when she was 50 and I’ve been with her probably five years. Her life expectancy was projected to be 65, because a lot of people that have this disease die around their sixties. So, she's outlived that unexpectedly.
She sees me because she has a lot of pain. The kind of disease she has is muscular degeneration kind of disease, so she goes through muscle spasms because of it. She has a lot of discomfort because of it. When I work with her, it's really to alleviate the pain and help her feel comfortable..
Wow, my mind is racing with so many things — I'm thinking about pain alleviation, maybe I'll start there. Something you mentioned earlier that strikes a chord with me: you mentioned a client saying, “Oh, I realize I am eating healthy, I'm doing all the right things. But the thought comes to me that there's actually nothing I can do, because I am just aging and my body is just going to do the natural thing that happens to bodies as time goes on.”
But this kind of experience I think is not exclusively related to dying. There’s say, chronic illness. And, I'm also making this connection to the fear that's coming up, even in my age group. We laugh and joke: “Oh no, we turned 30, we're getting old.” And we’ll joke about all these issues with our body starting to come up. But you know, people will be like: “You're 30, just stop.”
Anyway, I think in general, this kind of work is helpful outside of death experiences, it’s helpful for any experience when we can't control things that are happening to us.
So, maybe my actual question, when it comes down to it, is: what are the parallels that you see between bodywork, coaching in a less specific context, and death specific coaching. Maybe that's where my curiosity actually is.
I think the main similarity I see between coaching and bodywork is that the healing starts from within. When you're in front of an obstacle and you can't figure it out, you feel stuck. Usually the obstacle is inside, not external to you. It's the same with body work and healing. A lot of pain and discomfort stems from anxiety, stress, worry. Maybe you do have something that's going on with your body, but those things that come from inside of you exacerbate it or make it worse.
It's only when people find acceptance in things that they land in a place where they feel like home. It's the same in body work. It's the same in death work.
I have a client who has a chronic pain, like fibromyalgia, which is a word in medicine that doctors use to describe pain that they can't isolate or locate or figure out where it comes from. When we started working on her stress, she was able to manage the pain much better and find acceptance: “Maybe I'm not going to fix this pain, but I can do things to make it better and to manage it, and not let it ruin my life, not let it be a forefront or the huge obstacle as I was making it before.”
It's the same with death. When people are fighting death, not accepting it, deciding that it's a bad thing, deciding that it's gonna ruin their life, deciding that it’s going to cause stress and anxiety for them, then it does.
But it's not until they find acceptance that death is a part of life— “I'm going to die, everybody dies. I can meet it with grace and calm and peace, or I can meet it with anger and frustration and fear.” When they find acceptance in those moments, they really are able to heal from within and give themselves what they wanted in the first place, which is peace.
I'm connecting this to something you said earlier—a lot of times, it just takes time to find that acceptance and to make that breakthrough. I’ve found that to be true in my personal experience. For example, with meditation, it just wasn't clicking as a practice for me until it did. I think I have a hard time squaring that: where what I know from experience is that sometimes change and growth just happen over time, randomly when I don't expect it, and I'm not trying to push it. But at the same time, I think I did have to push and try at various things to get there.
So, for me, something I struggle with a lot is balancing between: how much do I need to push to get to that point? And how much do I let it go? I’m guessing this is something that comes up in coaching a lot. I'm curious for your thoughts on, as a coach, how you help people to that acceptance point in this work, but also understanding that it sometimes it will just take an unknown amount of time to help them.
What helps me as a coach is to know that their journey is beautiful, no matter how much suffering or stress they go through. Of course I don't like to see people in stress, or uncomfortable, but also I've learned to honor it. To not see suffering as a bad thing.
To not see fighting or not accepting something or having fear as a bad thing.
I don't see any of those things as obstacles for my clients. I see them as part of the path. They have to go through that fear to get to the acceptance they have, to go through the suffering to get to the acceptance. You can't jump over any of those things because those are part of what teach you acceptance.
And how do you fit into that path?
I think mostly being a witness and teaching them where they're going too far into the fear or too far into the emotion—that they've left the path. Because there is a path that you have to go through: this fear, emotion, suffering.
But, sometimes you get stuck in the fear and then you stay in it and you circle around and you look at every angle of it and you fester in it. My job is to help people not stay so long in that space, but to come out, reflect on it, see it from the bigger picture, see it from a different perspective, so that they can then find resolution in their emotion and move on to the next thing that's part of the acceptance.
Yeah, this is something I'm working on personally. I think when I see someone that I care about suffering, I'm trying to try to question my impulse to always want to help fix it. This is something we obviously talk a lot about The Grand, but I want to see them not suffer because I care about them and I'll start saying, “You should just do this and this.” I'm learning to feel more comfortable, more okay, with the fact that I can't fix it immediately and that's not what I have to do to be a good friend or person.
Yeah, and that's not what you should do, because that's not what would actually help them. They need to experience the suffering to grow. If you divert it or take them away from it, they're not going to grow as much as if they went through the suffering.
Something that helped that someone once said to me was: the reason I want to fix, in some way, is actually selfish, because it is causing me discomfort to see someone in discomfort. So in trying to fix them, I am actually trying to just fix the situation so that I personally don't feel uncomfortable about their discomfort.
Very wise. That's a very wise realization.
I wanted to be reminded a little bit about how you came to this path for yourself, because you have a great story and you've told it to me in my Council, but I think our community would love a refresher.
By education, I'm an engineer. I studied engineering in college, and I didn't know what else to study. I just knew I was good at math and science, and I didn't know much about the world, as you do when you're 18. So I picked a major and that's what I picked, and I committed to it and I got my degree. But when I came out of it, I did some internships, and I realized that it wasn't really a fit for what I wanted in my life.
So I went on this eight year journey of trying to figure out what I actually wanted in my life. I had a degree that I wasn't sure how to use. I jumped from consulting job to another job to another job until I finally decided that I couldn't figure out who I was by working a job.
So I quit working and dedicated an unforeseen amount of time to figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. That would've been a really wonderful place to have The Grand or have some coaching, but I didn't. It was really me just trying to jump around and figure it out and try a lot of new things.
I was talking to a friend who also does bodywork, and I was just curious about her work. She told me about it, and she said: “I think you'd be really good at it. You should give some classes a try.”
At this point, I had never even received a massage before. That's not something that I had ever done. I thought, “Okay, sure, I'll follow this little spark of inspiration.” It was different than all the other ideas that I had had, because I really felt a little inner pull.
So I took a class and I loved it, and it opened up this whole world to me of medicine—hands-on healing work, all other kinds of healing that are not western medicine. It really touched me to my core and interested me a lot. Since then, I've just been doing a deep dive of learning about the body, learning how it works, learning how it can heal naturally and holistically without medication.
Of course, I do believe in integrating western medicine, but I really want to see medicine come back to holistic work and seeing the body as not just a body, but as a mind, body, and a spirit and healing in all different levels and honoring all those layers of it. That's where my journey really started: becoming a body worker, learning about the body, and then realizing that it has a deep connection to the mind and the spirit and how important it is to heal those things too.
When you say you just quit… I'm curious about what the decision to quit felt like at the time.
Terrifying. So terrifying. The scariest decision I'd ever made, because when I was growing up—my parents are immigrants, right? They really struggled when they came to America. They had nothing. They built their lives up. As an immigrant, you feel like you have to work hard all the time. So, they really impressed on me the security of a job, and me leaving security was a really terrifying thing. It wasn't until maybe a year later that I realized it wasn't really secure. It was a construct in my mind: job equals security, but that's not really true. At the time, I got so much anxiety. I would wake up sweating. I almost tried to get another job right away, because I was so afraid. It was a really hard time in my life.
So, I think a lot of people express this, but don't actually make the final call, take the actual action to quit. I want to tap into that. What gave you the courage to do it? To actually quit?
I was probably at rock bottom, I was depressed. I was very unhappy. I had tried a lot of things to make myself happy or to get out of this work or to change my career. And none of it had worked. It had all failed. So I really was at a rock bottom and I didn't know what else to do.
At this point I thought, why not take a risk? I was playing with this idea of following my intuition because I had just learned that year about intuition.
Intuition is really a feeling sense. It's not a thinking sense. It's not about thinking your way or logically moving into something. I really was trying to harness this intuition, this power of intuition. I came to the conclusion that I had been doing my whole life with my brain and logic until that point. That year I turned 30. So it was 30 years of using my brain only and never using my intuition.
When I learned about intuition, it told me that quitting my job was gonna be a good thing. My brain was telling me, it's going to be a terrible idea. You're not going to have money, you're not going to have a 401k, you're not going to have health insurance, all these things.
But at that point, I was so depressed and at rock bottom that I said, I can't do things the way I was doing them. I have to change how I'm doing them, or else I'm going to go crazy and not going to get anywhere. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. That was really why I came to the conclusion: I just need to follow my intuition and try this, because otherwise nothing's going to change.
Where did you learn about intuition?
A book called Practical Intuition by Laura Day. I love book. What drew me to that was: all my life I've felt this inner drive to help people, be of service and it felt like it wouldn't get satisfied unless I volunteered or did something for out of the goodness of my heart. Just working every day wasn't satisfying that part of me. So I just thought back to: I have this part of me that's always driven me to do that thing, to volunteer, to be of service. So what is it? What is that? And how can I use it to help me? Because I don't know what else to do. That's when I started learning about intuition.
So, I also have immigrant parents, and I’m personally curious, how did you navigate that quitting with your family?
Oh, I didn't tell my parents. To this day, I have never said it to their face. They found out about it through my brothers, but I didn't tell them because I knew they wouldn't approve and they wouldn't be supportive of it. So for me to go and do this for myself and not have extra stress, I didn't tell them, and that's how I navigated that.
Of course, my friends were very supportive, and that was really awesome to have them there for me. But other than that, I just tried to follow my intuition. I tried to use this new tool that I had, to let that guide me because I thought:
“This is gonna guide me better than my brain can, because it leads me to a feeling that feels good. And my brain has only ever led me into things that don't work out for me. So why don't we try this?”
It was a long process of learning how to hear my intuition and practicing that and following that, and then proving to myself that it works.
What do your parents think you do today?
They honestly have no idea. I think they just think that I'm a massage therapist and they know I coach, but they don't know how that integrates into everything. The don't understand the depth of my work.
I relate to this. This sounds like the approach I would've taken, and to some extent also did at various steps. I think I said to someone recently — “I think my parents just gave up trying to understand my decisions at some point, because I just kept saying, I'm doing this now. And they were like, I don't know what that is, but okay.”
Yeah, that's where they're at now. It's seven years past my decision and that's where they're at now.
So funny. Okay, two questions again on my mind. One is, you just said, my brain only leads me to things where I feel bad. I was going to ask: now that you've journeyed and found more home in where you are and your work, do you understand where your brain fits in now? Have you started to incorporate all those learnings that you, by training as an engineer had, back into your life?
Yes, because ultimately I didn't want to silence my brain. I wanted to learn how to teach it to listen to my intuition and work together as a team, instead of always fighting each other and disagreeing about what I should be doing.
What really shifted that was starting to come from a place of less fear and more trust. Trust in myself, trust in being guided by myself, trust in the feeling that it works that way. That feeling good is the right way to go, even if you don't understand it or you don't know where your money is coming from, or you don't know what's practical.
The brain wants to know the future and know stability, but it has to be comfortable with uncertainty. Because the heart doesn't work that way. It doesn't deal with certainty. The heart deals with joy and fulfillment and happiness, and those things don't always come in a practical way.
What are the strategies you've found to help brain and heart work better together?
I think for my brain, it’s to really let go of scarcity. Because when you have a lot of scarcity and fear, that's what drives your decisions. But your intuition doesn't live with scarcity and fear. It lives with abundance. It knows that everything's gonna be okay. It knows that if you follow the joy that everything's gonna work out.
But your brain, if it's living in scarcity, is like, “No, that doesn't work that way. Life doesn't work that way.”
So I really had to turn it over into abundance. Because when your brain thinks about life that way, then it thinks like, “Oh yeah, if we do that, everything will work out. If we try this new thing and it's awesome, then the money will follow.” Just expecting good things to happen instead of the opposite. It's sort of like: if you have two people and they just have two very different perspectives, they're never going agree. So you really have to get your brain to agree to the abundance lifestyle.
Yeah, so I guess then your brain starts to help your intuition with logic.
Yeah, because your heart might be like, “Oh yeah, let's go do this amazing thing.” And then your brain's like: “Well, it's on the other side of town, so we're gonna need an hour to get there, and then we need to tell this person… it helps you with the planning and the process and doing it.”
So, I think we have the scarcity mindset because we have backgrounds—we have data from growing up, from our parents that things were scarce for them, right? That was kind of a reality. That's why I personally find it hard to train that mindset. I'm curious how you respond to that when you work with people as a coach. I'm sure people come to you where they're like, “Well, there is no abundance. I literally don't have it.” I’m curious about that, because I think people like my parents, people who have not grown up with traditionally a lot of material abundance, might feel skepticism at this.
I think abundance learning takes time, definitely. Especially if you're used to being in scarcity. But the thing that shifted me the most is meeting people who have nothing, but believe they have a lot. I've been to Africa, and people there live with a lot less than what I had at the time. I think I was 25 and I had an apartment and I had a roommate, but maybe it was 700 square feet. People there live in huts on the dirt floor with five people in 200 square feet. They don't have a lot of money, but they work for food, they barter. What I learned through that experience was that it's all relative. Like, I could go back home to my apartment and think that I don't have a lot, because I don't have a house, because I'm renting—I haven’t made it.
But to them, that's not even a possibility—to rent, to have the space that I have here. But they were happy where they were. They felt like they had everything they needed. That really taught me that abundance really is a mindset. Even if you're in a terrible place, you don't have any food, you don't have shelter, you're on the street, you can be happy.
I had a coworker who would pass a man on the street coming to work every day and he would always bring him coffee because this man was so positive. He would say: “Thank you, I appreciate you.” He would be honest: “I'm on the street, I'm homeless right now, but it's not forever. I'm just in a bad place and I'm really working to get out of it.” He just had a really positive mindset about it. Over time, I'm sure he got out of it because he wasn't in a place of lack.
The final question I will ask that struck me, when that friend told you: I think you would be good at bodywork, did you ask her or did you find out later what made her say that?
I never asked her. But I tell the story all the time because those words changed my perspective. It really opened up the idea that I could do it. Before that, I had never even thought about doing it.
Reflecting on that, reflecting on yourself, everything you've learned, everything you've gone through, what do you think she saw that made her say that?
I think I felt a spark, right? The spark of inspiration or the spark of intuition or the spark of it was a feeling. When I was learning about following the feeling, I thought: “Okay, this is it. Let me try to follow this and see where it goes. If it is right, then I'll know I did the right thing. If it's not, then I'll know, and I have to go back and figure out what is the feeling.” But it was right. So here I am.
So do you think she was trying to be encouraging because she saw that spark in you, or do you think it was more about what she knew about your personality or skills?
I think she knew that I was a kind and gentle person and that the work was similar to my essence, to how I am. But maybe it was her own intuition. I don't know if she would remember that she said that if I told her about it.