Nina Jarnum: “Discomfort is necessary for evolution”

Discomfort is necessary for evolution. One of the most important things I’ve learned on the yoga mat is sitting with discomfort. Think about it: how many things in life do you not do, simply because of fear of discomfort? Whether its asking that cute guy on a date, starting a new business or opening your […]

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Discomfort is necessary for evolution. One of the most important things I’ve learned on the yoga mat is sitting with discomfort. Think about it: how many things in life do you not do, simply because of fear of discomfort? Whether its asking that cute guy on a date, starting a new business or opening your heart to someone… its all really just fear of discomfort. Letting go of that fear and instead choosing to sit with it is incredibly powerful.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nina Jarnum, a 42-year-old yoga teacher and mother of two. Born and raised in Denmark, she now lives in northern California and teaches yoga all over the world as well as working closely with magazines and apparel brands. She is known for her intelligent, mobility focused vinyasa style with a side of refreshing authenticity and salty humor.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I was born and raised in Denmark. Low self-worth landed me in a very unhealthy and eventually violent relationship in my teenage years; lucky I got out, and at age 20, I moved to England and started studying law. It was during my time at University, I discovered yoga. Yoga entered my life at a time I was stressed, anxious and on my way out of (another) dysfunctional relationship and it gave me an immediate relief, hence the instant love for the practice. At 28 I moved to California and had two kids. I knew I did not want to practice law, and eventually, after a decade of yoga practice, I did my first teacher training, not really sure if I wanted to be a yoga teacher, but as I found my voice, I realized I had something to say and share. Becoming a yoga teacher has been a journey of moving away from other people’s expectations and has led me on a path of authenticity and appreciation of who I am.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

When I started out as a yoga teacher, I had an idea of how each pose should look, what muscles should engage and how to teach this to people. One day this middle aged man walked into my class and what, I later found out was his first ever yoga class. He also happened to be a former NFL player with a seriously messed up body. I think this was the first time I truly saw a student’s body. I didn’t look at him with the eyes of my teachers, thinking how I would get him into alignment; I looked at him,.. how his body worked.. alignment wasn’t important. I instinctively knew not to put my hands on him, I knew his body needed to be completely out of alignment so as to not injure himself. I watched him come to my classes 3 times a week, only giving him gentle verbal cues, and slowly his body started to open, until one day I walked by him and I knew; today I could physically correct him.. help him into alignment if you will. The experience leveled me up as a teacher. It taught me to not only see students better, but also to trust my instinct. There is no definitive right and wrong in yoga; everybody is unique, and a good teacher can see that.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My biggest mistake starting out as a teacher was thinking I had to stay the same to keep my students. I felt I had somehow categorized myself into a box and that’s where I had to stay. The truth is of course, that we all are on a constant journey of evolvement and what’s important is that you teach authentically and from the heart. When I let go of the idea that I wasn’t a one trick pony, who had to stay in my box, I realized that yes, some students will drop off along the way (which is a reality no matter what) but actually, most people are on a journey with you because of YOU as person, your way of delivering your teaching and your overall knowledge. Whether you are teaching handstands or hip-openers is less important.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The owner of the first studio I ever taught at (and still do) Deacon Carpenter, owner of Well Sonoma and The Yoga Van. He always saw something in me as a teacher, even when I didn’t. He not only gave me classes as a completely green teacher (not something he ever did) but he also stuck with me as I slowly built up my community, even though I was teaching classes with two or three people attending when I started. He always said “people just need to go to your classes, then they will come back”. To have a cheerleader like that, who are not just cheering you on, but also willing to invest his own business in you, has been so special.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

Apart from the obvious benefits of teaching people movement and breath through yoga, I aim to make people see themselves; look beyond the drama of their ego and monkey brain and just observe themselves. Once you realize that you can “witness” yourself so to speak, you also realize that you can absolutely change your instinctual patterns and reactions — that understanding is life-changingly powerful!

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

  1. Finish every shower with cold water. Focus on long deep breaths and stop your body from shivering. Start with 30 seconds and build up to 3 minutes. Its great for your body, your immune system and your mind. .. and believe it or not you will feel fantastic afterwards!
  2. Breathe into your belly! As you inhale expand your belly, as you exhale gently contract. The movement of your belly as you breathe stimulates your Vagus Nerve, sending signals to to your brain to make you relax and distress; its basically the easiest yet most powerful mind/body hack.
  3. Prioritize loving yourself and your body instead, being skinny/fit/healthy. After my first pregnancy, I felt pretty bad about my weight gain and my post-pregnancy body. I was getting out of the shower one day and caught a glimpse of my body in the mirror and actually felt shame.. and that’s when I had what Oprah would call a light bulb moment; hating your body is not an option; whether I got fit or stayed as it was.. I had to love myself. The interesting thing is, that once I consciously chose to love my body, I also started treating my body as something worthy of a healthy life. My weight loss and muscle build was a mere side-effect of choosing to love my body!
  4. Always aim for balance! In my experience, extremes never work long term. Eat healthy, but enjoy a glass (or two) of wine, eat that cookie sometimes but not every day. Quality over quantity in everything you do!
  5. Be grateful — every damn day! No matter how shitty your day is, you can think of something to be grateful of (I woke up this morning, the sun is shining). When you live with a mindset of gratefulness, you can simply overcome bigger obstacles.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Start every day with 5 minutes of mediation and breathing followed by thinking of 3 things to be grateful for. Imagine if every human started their day like that?

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Who you are as a teacher will evolve and change forever; don’t fight it, embrace it. You staying true to yourself and your journey will make you a better teacher.
  2. Community is everything and it takes time, sweat and tears to build — invest in it!
  3. Perfection is a concept only existing in the human mind, so stop striving for it. This idea that if I can just achieve A, B and C, then my life is perfect and I will be happy, is the biggest lie we can tell ourselves! Let it go and instead own the imperfection.
  4. Not everybody will like you…. And that’s ok! I think we often end up striving for everyone to like us.. and in the end, we end up being some washed up version of ourselves and nobody really knows or sees us. Be kind, be generous, love open heartedly… but be you all the way. That way you end up with an actual tribe, not just people who know your name.
  5. Discomfort is necessary for evolution. One of the most important things I’ve learned on the yoga mat is sitting with discomfort. Think about it: how many things in life do you not do, simply because of fear of discomfort? Whether its asking that cute guy on a date, starting a new business or opening your heart to someone… its all really just fear of discomfort. Letting go of that fear and instead choosing to sit with it is incredibly powerful.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why? I actually think all of these are interconnected, but being a mother of two, sustainability and environmental changes are high on my priorities. I try to find balance and teach my kids that we don’t need to live in a cave in the forest to be sustainable, but living on this earth is a responsibility. Traveling and showing my kids the world is of great importance to me, even though its not exactly good for the environment to fly all over the place. I therefore try to go away for longer, explore more countries in the region we go to, so as to minimize the long flights. We as a household then choose to be extra green in other areas; we try to limit our food waste as much as possible, we compost, our house runs on green energy, we prioritize experiences instead of materialism; less is truly more, and we eat very few animal products (as I like to put it; we are 80% vegan 20% circumstantial). I am trying to teach my children that there is a balance to be held, and if you want to do one thing, you most likely have to cut back on something else. The concept of “you can do everything” is just outdated, unhealthy and unrealistic; instead I want to teach my kids to prioritize the important things .… which of course connects with mental health!

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Instagram @ninajarnumyoga or go to my website and sign up for my weekly newsletter

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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