Meet Jen McNair Wilson: Zimbabwean yogi who volunteered in the Calais Jungle

photo 5 (1)Jen’s refreshingly open to yoga in all its magnificent forms and her practice is wide and varied. Here she shares about her teenage yogi days in Zimbabwe (where we went to school together!), life in the Calais Jungle and how she’s healing her osteopenia diagnosis through food…

How did you get into yoga, Jen?
In my teens at a little library in Harare, I stumbled on a yoga book that changed my life. I can’t remember what it was called or who it was by but it had pictures of asanas in a pretty 70s lay-out and disco font! It explained the ‘how to’ as well as the benefits of the poses and I was captivated. I practiced the same three sequences from that book for quite a few years before I ever set foot in a real yoga class. It served me well and I’ll be forever grateful for that encounter.

How has yoga changed your life?
Yoga introduced me to myself: to the astonishing beauty that is within all of us. Also, of course, to flexibility, but the biggies were self-acceptance and sweet silence. It taught me to breathe. It taught me to be patient. It taught me that I can withstand discomfort, it made me more resilient.

What does your practice look like now?
A pale pretzel with curves and hair. Hee hee! My longer practice (around an hour) happens every two days, alternating with running, after which I do a few asana to stretch and cool down. I meditate every day for between 20mins and an hour.

What’s your favourite asana/meditation/mantra?
Parighasana – gate pose (bound). It unlocks hidden depths in me somehow. It brings me home.
The Sufi Meditation Of The Heart. Because I love love and you bathe in love, and drown every thought in love doing this medi. It lifts your vibration beautifully.
One mantra I hold close is: ‘Om namah shivaya gurave, Sat chit ananda murtaye, Nishprapanjaya shantaya, Niralambaya tejase.’
It means: I bow to the guru, Shiva, (destroyer of the veil of maya, or the ego), Truth, consciousness and bliss manifest, All pervading peace, The light that shines of itself.

JEn McNair Wilson Calais JungleYou volunteered to teach English to the refugees in the Calais Jungle for three months. How did you continue your yoga practice there?
I guess it was mostly karma yoga. I was initially sans yoga mat but the youth hostel floor was certainly stickier than one. I got my hands on a mat after about three weeks (shhh – from the donations. I gave it back when I left though, so stop kissing your teeth). I left the hostel (too expensive) and lived with a lovely French family near the channel tunnel entrance, a good hour’s bus ride from the camp. Every morning I’d help refugees find their way back to the jungle having tried all night in bitter cold to get on a train to the UK… Then I’d spend the day having my heart wrenched open and expanded by the beautiful people that have found themselves stuck through no fault of their own in squalour, cold, muddy, stinky and yuk… but what courage! What kindness! What light! And how much compassion they brought out of me. What a blessing! Yoga happened when it could, but my room was unheated so it had to be a vigorous practice… not my favourite.

You were diagnosed with osteopenia (brittle bones). How are you managing it?
I decided against the bisphosphonate drugs I was prescribed. They ‘increase’ bone density by stopping your body ridding itself of old bone. That can end up horrific after a few years and I’m 40 so chances are I have many more orbits of the sun to come. I did my fair share of reading and understood that the far more appealing alternative was to alkalize my body and to do weight-bearing exercise. So I have become vegan and I run 5- 10k every second day.

What’s your favourite recipe?
The tricky delicious one that only happens once in a while is vegan lasagne… using tahini instead of béchamel and thinly sliced sweet potato for pasta with lots of other veg in there too… that’s heaven! But my soul nourishing comfort food is wholewheat pasta with broccoli, turmeric, black pepper, salt and olive oil.

How has growing up in Zimbabwe influenced who you are today?
So many experiences and so many people there touched my life profoundly, and continue to do so, actually. I wouldn’t know where to begin. All I can say is that I am in love with Zimbabwe and all its pot-holes. Nowhere else I’ve been does my body feel so at home, as if my cells have been programmed to thrive there. Yet here I am; a wanderer, blessed to be able to see beauty, make friends, learn and grow and live a rich life wherever I am.

Jen McNair Wilson

Jen with her partner Lori

Fave quotes? ‘Love says: “I am everything”. Wisdom says: “I am nothing”. Between the two, my life flows.’ Nisargadatta Maharaj
‘With life as short as a half-taken breath, don’t plant anything but love.’ Rumi
Film? Amelie
Book? Whip Of The Wild God by Mira Prabhu (I second that, Jen!)
Cafe? Shanti Cafe in Tiruvannamalai, Chennai, India
Teacher? Mooji for the Self and June Cooper for the body (June is one of South Africa’s veteran Iyengar teachers)
Savasana song? Silence or running water/rain
Breakfast? Hot water and lemon
Beauty essential? Sleep
Self-care routine? I was raised by men… I’m not good at cosmetics and pampering. I’d like to be, so any suggestions would be welcome!
You in a tweet… Experiencing and exploring what it is to be this passing cloud, I am home in my heart.

Find Jen McNair Wilson (@jenmalen) on Twitter and Instagram

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