Searching for meaningful answers to big questions, and promoting changing the world one breath at a time, that’s what powers yoga explorer and founder of ZenMuma and ZenKids, Jackie Heffer-Cooke
Teaches in: Everywhere!
Based in: Deep in the big skies of Norfolk, England
What style of yoga do you teach?
Hatha, Pranayama, Meditation, Prenatal, Antenatal, Children’s, Teens, Family. From a tradition of Raja Yoga, yet happy to hang out in Karma, Bhakti and Jnana yoga too.
What made you take your first yoga class?
Curiosity and need. I was 30 when I entered my first yoga class. I was working as a stressed TV executive and searching for meaningful answers to big questions. I wandered into a class, felt completely out of my comfort zone, wandered back out, and went to the pub. I left the TV job a year later and spent a year traveling mostly around Asia, where I became a mesmerised yoga voyeur, still certain I ‘couldn’t do yoga’, therefore ‘not yet ready to do’ yoga.
It wasn’t until I experienced the all-encompassing, super-human state of childbirth that I began to get it. I felt the supercharged potential of power of what was inside me. Without thought, but in wisdom, I understood there was a level of connection of energy within myself, my body, my mind, that I had little access to, but had experienced a glimpse of, and I wanted to know more!
How has yoga helped you grow?
I was brought up in a ‘Free Church’ — a spiritual space with the narrative of Christianity. For me personally, this was incredible as I was surrounded by (mostly) kind and caring people, had a supportive church community, was taught ethical living through the scriptures, and could access a connection to the divine. But for me the Christian narrative didn’t quite fit (or sit).
Being unlucky enough to be in a place where I was abused by a youth leader, and family who were led by good hearts, but didn’t always seem to be the most ‘Christian’ in their relationships, hypocrisy and loss-of-faith got the better of me and I left the church at the ripe old age of 10.
However, during my childhood I was aware of feeling ‘moved’ by something beyond the world of the senses, I was aware of a feeling of ‘connection’ that was quite beyond me. I was also naturally inquisitive, curious, and always ready to explore. I was on a search for some kind of truth that as yet wasn’t available.
I found myself asking the basic quantum-physics questions of ‘where did the big bang come from’, and ‘what is infinite space’ without finding any sensical answers. Over my childhood years and into my teens and early twenties my quest directed me to a literature and sociology degree and at last a text I could understand ‘The Doors of Perception’ by Aldous Huxley.
This led me into a search of truth in some substances seemingly helpful to the cause, and at the same time down a sticky sidewalk of graduating, finding myself working in entertainment TV, buying into the champagne system, and on a hamster promotion wheel.
Until I broke in 2003 and ended up in Asia. Literally searching for my lost soul. Over the last 15 years of studying yoga, the texts of the sages, I have wholeheartedly become a better version of myself. Kinder to myself, to others, able to unpick unhelpful narratives, healthier in body, clearer in mind, more spacious in potential, and able to serve.
What are you most grateful for?
My kids are my biggest teachers, my relationships too. Travel opens your mind and soul to beautiful otherness, and for me it is the gateway to a deep understanding of connectivity. Music is with me in my daily life every single step of the way.
I am grateful for all the inspirational teachers, whether in person, or in carefully handed down literature and text, and I thank all my students for showing me how to share and hold space. Yoga holds my soul from the outside in.
How do you stay motivated?
Easy, I can’t function without yoga practice. Yoga has been there for me through the birth of my second child, being a mum, parenting a child with ASC, losing my own parent, and has held my hand through all the difficulties of daily life and provided a deep comfort I didn’t know existed until I started to practice and learn.
In 2008 I began to develop yoga classes in my local area for pregnant, birthing and new mums who needed the connection and community of yoga as much as me. ZenMuma was born.
Soon the babies got older, they grew into children and needed kids’ yoga in their lives, ZenKids grew. Now the children are teenagers and need it more than ever! My work of taking yoga and mindfulness into teenage lives, and into their schools, continues with more meaning. The ZenTeens programme shares tools and techniques of wellbeing and selfcare in order to empower teenagers with the ability to self-calm and promote physiological, neurological, and psychological reassurance at will.
As for the mums I taught, well their yoga practice deepened along with mine, and as I learnt, I shared. We have enjoyed many journeys in trainings and retreats together. I am now honoured to teach the 200-hour foundation to all and take people around the world to inspirational retreat locations, as a way of navigating their way back home.
How do you practice off the mat?
You can practice yoga beautifully and meaningfully on the mat, but the truth of yoga for me is ‘off the mat’.
What’s next for you?
ZenMuma gently shares yoga around the nation as we teach courses in pregnancy yoga, hypnobirthing and baby yoga. The trainees are learning about health and wellbeing for this special group of people, but also about holding space for their local communities, just as my aim was to hold space for mine.
ZenKids trains parents and teachers in bodywork, breathwork and mindfulness in creative and imaginative ways, in the hope that as they learn about themselves and how they can master their own bodies and minds, then they can teach our children.
ZenTeens is the big project at the moment in this ‘Age of Anxiety’ – teaching high schools and delivering media to support the wellbeing of our next generation and promoting education in the human condition and the biology of stress. For me, a big question is why are our kids not being taught this on the curriculum? And why are they not being taught skills to help?
That’s the mission. The social enterprise is open, and we are looking for funding in this great work. We are also hoping to support the children in the areas where we hold retreats, in Zambia for example. Me, I’m after policy change for effective wellbeing in schools and in our maternity services, so it’s back to education and an application in an MA in Social Development.
Of course, you can often find me filling my soul on sailing and safari retreats, both of which are on offer this year with our Freedom Yoga and Retreats.
As the quest for truth continues, internally in my own practice, externally in our social and cultural climate, I look not only to Britain in its examination and exploration of health and wellbeing, but I look to learn and get inspiration from the global stage. This global arena is where we can really listen, hear, and develop potential positive change, ethically and with intention. We listen to the wisdom, ideas passed to us by the wisdom keepers, yogic sages among them, and we must learn and respond. A yoke of global understanding, interaction and compassion has never been so important, so relevant, and so needed.