Life’s a Journey and Practice, Practice, Practice: Interview with Yoga Instructor Jen Whinnen
Yoga Instructor Jen Whinnen takes the concept of life as a journey somewhat literally, a perspective that has enhanced her life in myriad ways. The proprietor at Three Sisters Yoga, Jen has crisscrossed the United States numerous times. Born and raised in Spokane, Washington, Whinnen then surprised her parents by heading to New York City for college at Marymount Manhattan College. She got on a plane for the first time she could remember to pursue a fascination with “the city,” as denizens of NYC call it. Then it was back to the West Coast - Portland, Oregon - for a bit, and then back to New York.
It was in Portland that Jen discovered yoga. She was working at Nike and started taking the classes offered in the company gym. Originally, she was looking to be a bit alternative, but eventually, she discovered that yoga was a healing influence on a knee injury she was nursing, and in addition, the class was just her speed, with a great teacher and a notable lack of esoteric language.
Then it was back to New York, which was a mecca of yoga even in the mid 1990s, when she was developing her relationship with it. She explored the styles of kundalini, ashtanga, and vinyasa, settling on the latter due to her love of its vigorous physical and flowing aspects. For Jen, yoga was a grounding influence as she tried to figure out who she was in her twenties, and it also supported her in transitioning back to East Coast life.
Jen’s interest led her to complete the teacher training at her yoga studio, and from there she started teaching yoga, eventually shifting to teacher training herself. For Jen, teaching people to be yoga teachers turned out to be an effective way for her to have a yoga practice in her life in a meaningful way, through childbirth and another move across the country (to California). She gave thought to the best ways to make this training even without permanent studio space.
Back in New York, she started offering teacher training, structuring it so that even people who weren’t necessarily interested in teaching yoga could justify pursuing the study of the history and philosophy of the practice. She provided them with a fuller understanding of what yoga is, as well different ways it could fit into their lives.
This is analogous to the experience Jen had completing a two-year program in Meisner acting techniques. She didn’t go on to be an actor, but the program taught her much about herself and how to communicate, introduced her to good friends, and otherwise provided her with benefits above and beyond the acting technique she learned. Practitioners who complete her teacher training program can then go on to teach, or simply to enhance their lives with what they learn about how to manage their life experiences and the ways they interact with others.
Jen stresses the idea that yoga is a practice, that it’s something, like life, to work at every day. She finds time between parenting, teaching, and administrative tasks to focus on her own practice, both yoga and meditation. Her children enjoy their own practice of yoga, though it’s more playful at this point, as she does not force them to participate.
Like everyone’s life journey, Jen’s is taking hers into older age. A recent blog post she wrote stressed how we all can embrace the inevitable with a few simple actions: remembering we are physical beings that want to move, enjoying our food in a healthy way (don’t over or under-eat), read (but not fashion magazines), find older people who inspire you, give of yourself, stay present.
Jen truly embraces the idea of staying present, taking as much as she can on a day-to-day basis. She loves what she does, she loves her students, and she’s grateful for the opportunities she has to do what she loves. And it wasn’t always this way. Raised very poor, Jen had to work at overcoming doubts about herself, and the way she did this was to practice. She stresses the importance of being effortful, of finding something to enjoy and then working at it.
Jen’s her focus at the moment is on being present for her children as they enter the years when they are excited about everything. She continues to work on being the kind of teacher that inspires others, the kind of teacher who has inspired her: strong women who are role models on how to age gracefully and inspire joy. While at the moment Jen’s journey may not take her back across the country, it will continue to take her forward.