Jen Whinnen yogi, teacher, and mother of 2, founded Three Sisters Yoga in 2010, a yoga teacher training school that stands apart - because it doesn’t physically stand anywhere. With a mission to spread the teachings of yoga in an inspiring, nonjudgmental way, Jen designed a program that is well-rounded and portable, not attached to any one studio.
With a scholarship program in the works for people who serve, such as nurses, EMTs, the NYPD and the FDNY, Three Sisters Yoga is working to make a larger impact on the world. Lisa Dawn Angerame sat down with Jen to find out about all of her inspiring enterprises.
Lisa Dawn Angerame: What is the meaning behind the name of your school, Three Sisters Yoga?
Jen Whinnen: I was searching for a name and wanted something that had to do with support, community and interconnectedness and I came across an article about the Native American tradition of growing a three sisters garden. It attracted me because I am one of three sisters and from Washington where the three peaks, Baker, Rainier and Adams, are often called the "Three Sisters." After that I found that the concept of three sisters, separate yet connected, individual yet dependent, is replicated all over the world in various ways, which I thought was pretty cool.
On a personal level, it ties me back to my family and my roots.
As a school “mission statement” it embodies the things I endeavor to create; a community comprised of very different people coming together to make friends, support each other and create vibrant and healthy communities.
LDA: Why did you create your school and what is the price?
JW: I started it because I wanted to try something different and saw a need. I wanted to offer a training that was affordable and accessible. To create something that would bring in people who might otherwise be intimidated by yoga, or who wanted to get their training but couldn’t.
I modeled the idea off the concept of micro loans. A micro loan is small enough that it won’t take all someone’s resources to pay it back, but large enough to get them started. Micro loans basically say “Here you can do it. Now you go out and make it happen.” Since graduating our first class, our students have been building viable businesses in their communities, thus spreading yoga to an ever-widening circle of people. Pricing? Most NYC trainings range in price between $2500 - $8000. Ours is $2050 ($2350 if you miss the early bird deadline which is usually 5 days before the start of class.
LDA:What is the Yoga Collective?
JW: TYC is a “for rent” yoga studio, meaning we don’t offer regular classes. Independent teachers rent from us for privates, group classes and workshops. When I first started, one of my other ideas was to have a space that my students could then use after they’ve completed their training.
That’s how I started teaching way back when. I rented rehearsal space and taught my friends. At the time I thought “wouldn’t it be great if I could just rent a studio?” and that was the seed of it. When Katye Stanzak heard the idea, she liked it and wanted to partner with me. I essentially rent from myself. They are two separate entities, but I do get to schedule my trainings in advance and do cross promotion for both entities.
LDA: What is your core philosophy?
JW: Yoga has been the one constant, uplifting and supportive thing in my life and I was able to access it and commit to it because, at the time, it was affordable. So we’re working to make that a reality for more people.
LDA: How is your program different than other trainings out there?
JW: We’re not connected to a lineage or a specific style of yoga so I think we’re more open-minded in some ways. Our students are required to take class at different studios throughout their training, and they have to do a seva (selfless service) project while they are with us. We take them to kirtans, visit with a Hindu monk and/or a medium, we go to museums. We’re constantly asking them to broaden their perspective. I dearly love yogic philosophy so I don’t shy away from teaching it even though we’d be considered a more “modern” training. In fact, when we started we were one of just a handful of trainings that required our students to read the Gita. I think that’s changed a lot now, but at the time it was different.
LDA: Museums? That is intriguing. Can you elaborate?
JW: Yes we go see collections at various museums - whichever ones I feel have the best exhibit at the time. We go while we’re reading the Gita and tie it back into what we are reading. I think it helps my students see how yoga is part of a whole tradition, a whole way of life and thinking. It enhances their understanding of yoga as having come from somewhere and that somewhere has a rich and beautiful history. Plus, it’s fun!
LDA: How students find their way to your program?
JW: Most of my teachers are former students of mine whom I’ve watched grow and admire. I look for teachers who have a commitment to continuing their study. Studentship has been the most important aspect of my yoga practice so I look for teachers who are also ardent students.
LDA: What do you hope your teachers get out of your programs?
JW: I hope they get out of their training what I continue to get out of mine; to be inspired to continue to study and to stay involved in the TSY community and in their own “home” communities. I hope that each of them finds a way to fit their new skills into their lives in a meaningful and enriching way. I hope it makes them more connected to themselves and others and inspires them to see the world differently, to feel better and to keep practicing, practicing, practicing.