I’m so excited to share this interview with you! Nina Jarnum is a Danish yoga teacher based in California. She is known for her ability to break down handstand and arm balances. She is one inspiring and amazing yoga teacher! Nina is such an inspiration, cool, and awesome woman. I went to one of her workshops in Denmark back in July and she totally blew my mind! This woman is amazing! She got me hooked on practising upsidedown poses. If you ever have the chance to take one of her classes do it – I promise you she will blow your mind and you will learn so much! Hopefully, you’ll love this interview with her as much as I do.
- Tell us about yourself!
My name is Nina, 39, mother of two and Danish (grew up of the west coast of Denmark near Esbjerg) but have lived in California for the past 10 years. I teach yoga just north of San Francisco in the middle of wine country and also teach workshops around the world, mainly specialized in arm balances and handstands. I love photography and love photographing yoga poses and the human body, which shows on my Instagram account. Haha!
2. What is your ”yoga history”? How did you get into yoga and how have you developed through the years?
I originally got into yoga whilst living in England. I have been a horse rider all my life and that took its toll on my body. I decided to try yoga because I wanted to become more flexible, but like everybody, one thing got me on the mat; but what kept me there was very different. I felt energized and light both mentally and physically after class and I quickly discovered how yoga can work off the mat in your day to day life. I became better at handling stress and accepting instead of fighting things I could not change anyway. When I moved to California I had my first child and gained a ton of weight (approx 35 kg!)… and I obviously didn’t give birth to a 35 kg baby! About a year after my daughter was born I looked myself in the mirror one day and had a lightbulb moment: I had to remove the option of hating my own body! that left 2 choices; be happy with my body as it was or do something about it. I did something about it! instead of doing yoga 1 or 2 times a week I started doing it 5-6 times a week and I started eating right. I did everything from Vinyasa to Kundalini – gorging myself on the yoga smogasbord! I lost the weight and gained strength I had never known before. Eventually I veered towards arm balances and handstands more and more and that is where I found my true power and passion.
3. What does yoga mean to you?
For me yoga is a tool to teach you to be comfortable within discomfort.
Even if you don’t embrace the spiritual side of yoga there is still a “before yoga you” and “yoga you”. Yoga gives me coping skills that will makes me a healthier person outside the yoga studio. It has given me strength, balance and flexibility both physically and mentally.
But it is also meant to be fun! I’m not one to take myself super seriously and I want to have fun with my practice, laugh, swear, take pictures of yoga poses in heels… because why the fuck not?
4. I know you are amazing with upsidedown poses. Why do you love them so much? What is so special about them compared to other yoga poses?
More than anything else they have taught me again and again to let go of expectations of end results and instead surrendering to my practice, to my journey and truly be present.
The satisfaction of putting in the discipline and hard work and then suddenly being able to do a pose you thought impossible is amazing because each time it happens you are humbled with the journey you took to achieve it and a realization that the journey was the point; It’s true self-discovery. It also reminds me every day that the asana journey never ends, you can always delve deeper.
5. Do you have any beginner tips for upside down poses? Whether it be headstand, armstand, or handstand. I would love to hear any tips you might have! Is there some sort of secret to upsidedown poses?
Firstly; Build your strength through the basic poses. As you might remember from my workshops, I cue a basic vinyasa pretty detailed. This is because when you engage your body properly and you are truly mindful of your movements, you can build amazing strength through what is normally considered basic poses (check my YouTube channel Nina Jarnum Yoga for my vinyasa instruction).
Secondly; transformation never happens within your comfort zone. I know yoga is not a competitive sport but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge yourself and push your own boundaries.
Thirdly; accept your own journey! Don’t worry about that person next to you doing amazing things; that person is on her own journey and has her own challenges. Keep focused on your practice.
Fourthly, to quote Pattabhi Jois: Practice and all is coming.
6. When I took your workshop back in July you said never to practice hand- and headstands against a wall. Can you explain why that is?
The wall is initially good for building strength in handstand so by all means start at the wall. But as soon as you can comfortably be in your handstand against the wall, it is time to move away. The reasoning behind my madness is this; by jumping up against the wall you are teaching your brain to aim for the wall instead of your balance point! You can do handstands against the wall from now until the end of days and it will not teach your to balance on your hands. You will have to retrain your brain to find that balance point. It’s like a baby learning to walk; they have to let go, fall, get up again.
I always say the secret to handstanding is step away from the wall and learn how to fall. If you are not comfortable with falling out of a handstand your brain will try to sabotage you with fear. You are much better off with an experienced spotter (of course I realise that is not necessarily available). One way to use the wall constructively is handstanding stomach to wall, i.e. you stand about an arms length away from the wall, crawl up the wall with your feet, stomach facing the wall. Keep one foot on the wall and slowly move your hips over your shoulders. when comfortable start playing with letting go of the wall with your foot, finding your balance.
With headstands it is a different story; headstanding against the wall encourages a jump into headstand instead of lifting; something that puts a lot of compression on the neck and should never be done. Also when you lean against the wall in headstand, beyond your point of balance, there is a tendency for neck compression. Most people think that headstand is “the easy” or “gateway” inversion, but there is a reason it is called the King of Poses; it is difficult to do a healthy headstand and it takes a lot of strength. if you don’t have the strength to do it right don’t do it! You are much more likely to injure yourself in headstand than in handstand.
7. You told me at workshop I had the strength to do all upsidedown poses (which I guess most people actually do have?). However, I still seem to be unable to actually do them. Honestly, I think it’s fear that’s holding me back. The fear of falling and the fear of getting hurt. Do you have any tips/ thoughts on how to get over my fears? I seem to be much more comfortable against a wall – but I know that’s not going to help me at all in the long run! So I would love it if you could share any tips you might have on how to get over my fears.
Haha.. I don’t think everybody has the strength, but definitely most people have the ability to develop the strength. Firstly, think about your exit plan; demystify the prospect of falling/exiting. For example handstand: Do you have flexible shoulders and can fall into wheel? or do you windmill to the side? If yes, which side?
Also, don’t be afraid to put pillows down or a blanket if that gives you comfort. But at the end of the day, it is about a journey outside your comfort zone.
I remember when I first started attending classes with my teacher Cogen Bohanec who taught me to handstand. I was comfortable handstanding against the wall but I was not comfortable with falling. When he first instructed us to handstand I walked over to the wall and he told me to move away from the fucking wall!(exact words). He then walked over, spotted me a couple of times and then walked away. I was just standing there thinking what do I do now. I spent the next month frustrated, jumping up but never hitting my balance point because fear stopped me, and angry that he refused to babysit me through this, but gradually I got braver, I learned to fall and eventually to balance.
Now, I obviously learned the hard way and that is obviously not the only way to learn. I recommend getting comfortable in your bakasana, move on to forearmstand (it is much easier and less scary to fall out of forearmstand) and keep jumping up into handstands; you will slowly get more confident and your jumps will get higher and higher. But in the long run there is no magic pill; chances are you have to go outside your comfort zone
8. Why do you practice yoga?
If I am having a shitty day, I’ll get on the mat and an hour later I will be sweaty but accepting of what is. Yoga has taught me self-love and acceptance; something I never thought I would have. Yoga has given me physical strength I couldn’t even imagine but it is also given me an empathetic softness; I see people clearer and I am getting better at letting go of judgement.
9. What does your yoga practice looks like?
Hmmm.. good question! I’m very intuitive in my own practice as I always listen intensely to what my body needs. But an average practice for me would be 30-45 minutes and flow or strength based poses to create heat in the body, always pretty core-strength based. Then I move into 30-45 minutes of more yin-based stretching. I’m pretty inflexible so my personal practice includes a lot of flexibility work, in particular shoulders, back and psoas. I usually end my practice with handstands. I always have a little handstand mediation where I tuck my chin and close my eyes. It’s a very intense experience; when you are balancing on your hands with your eyes closed you are present! The only thing in your mind is your breath and the feeling of balancing in your fingers.
10. What does being healthy mean to you?
Balance! Everything in moderation; Exercise; but know when to rest. Eat healthy; but don’t deprive yourself of all that is delicious. I do live pretty clean; I eat organic, don’t eat fastfood or drink soda. I think it’s also important to figure out what your specific body needs, as it differs from person to person. For example, I have noticed that when I eat dairy my body takes on a lot of water weight, I therefore tend to stay away from that. But I love a good glass of wine and chocolate cake and I don’t deny myself that – I just don’t have it every day.
I think the healthiest thing you can do is to not expect perfection from yourself. I think we are so good at judging ourselves, comparing ourselves to everybody else; letting go of that will make you a healthier person inside out.
Anything you would like to add or say you haven’t had a chance to say?
Don’t let your inner badass intimidate you – let her fly! oh and check my website for upcoming workshops; www.ninajarnumyoga.com – see you on the mat!