Jennifer Niles is the author of My Yoga Transformation and Eating Vegan – On a Budget! Here is a link to Jennifer’s Website:
Q: What inspired you to write My Yoga Transformation?
A: Over the course of the past five years, due to my regular yoga practice and vegetarian (then eventually vegan) diet, I have lost over 85 pounds by ridding myself of several unhealthy habits and channeling my energy into something positive. By implementing these two healing practices into my life, I have completely transformed on all levels: mind, body, and soul.
Of course like everyone else, I will always be a work in progress, but I cannot deny how far I have come on this journey. Over the course of my life, I have been through many difficult experiences and now feel that it is my calling to share my tumultuous story with others. By putting myself out there, I hope to help those who may be struggling with similar issues such as weight loss, poor health, anxiety attacks, depression, and substance abuse.
Q: Why yoga?
A: Quite simply, my yoga practice changed my life. I originally started yoga because I was 85 pounds overweight and desperately wanted to shed the pounds and live a healthy life. Also, at the time I was your stereotypical stressed-out East Coast professional who did not know how to relax. Yoga seemed like a one stop shop for all of my problems and so I tried it out. My first yoga class was an utter disgrace considering that I almost passed out from dehydration, but I didn’t give up and continued to practice. I was hooked on the post yoga high. Within months of beginning a practice, I realized that yoga was surprisingly providing the much needed balance that was missing from my life. Prior to beginning my yoga practice, my idea of relaxation included binge drinking, bar hopping, and stuffing my face with pizza and fast food on a daily basis.
Q: Why did you decide to go vegan?
A: After moving overseas to a small island in the middle of the South Pacific three years ago, I was delighted to learn that pigs and chickens are free to roam around the streets here. Naturally, my boyfriend and I found ourselves with numerous pet pigs and chickens that decided to wander off the street and move into our yard. After bonding with these amazing, smart, personable, and loving animals, I could no longer continue to consume animal products in good consciousness. An egg omelet was just not the same after witnessing a frantic hen loudly crying and searching for her missing eggs that a person had stolen. Cheese quickly lost its appeal after remembering the starving, sickly looking cow down the road, with all of her ribs sticking out, who was forced to live her life tied to a tree by a rope, with very little access to water. Things drastically changed for me after I was confronted with these horrible visuals day in and day out.
I also decided to go vegan because I had gained 30 pounds back after moving overseas, due to reverting back to the drinking lifestyle (which seems to be the expats favorite hobby on an island) and eating in restaurants all the time. Within three months of going vegan, I lost the 30 pounds once again, plus 15 more, and am still continuing to lose weight, slowly now that I am down to my last 10 pounds, but it’s still coming off.
Q: What is the biggest mistake you see new vegans make?
A: The biggest mistake that I see new vegans make is eating too much flour. Being a healthy vegan means consuming mostly all-natural and unprocessed foods. Even though yes, flour is technically vegan, it is highly processed, and bleached in the case of white flour. It has been proven to slowly poison your body over the course of time. Not to mention that consuming flour also negatively impacts any weight loss efforts.
On the other hand, a huge mistake that I constantly see new vegetarians make is replacing meat with cheese. I made this extremely common cheese-replacement mistake for many years, as did my boyfriend, in the beginning of our separate vegetarian journeys. Literally, all I did was eat vegetarian pizza, cheese fries, and anything else that included massive amounts of cheese. During my first two years while masquerading around as a vegetarian yogi, I remember feeling so confused about why I wasn’t losing any weight. It was because I was consuming boat loads of cheese and binge drinking five nights a week, which prevented the weight loss that would have taken place due to the yoga, if it were not for my bad habits. The key to lasting weight loss is a healthy diet and exercise.
Q: You have a book called Eating Vegan – On a Budget! Do you think veganism tends to be something that is more often practiced among the upper classes?
A: This is a very common misconception. Most people believe that vegan food is too expensive and that they cannot afford it. This misunderstanding is the exact reason why I created my cookbook, Eating Vegan – On a Budget! So many people briefly consider going vegan, but quickly decide against it because they think they cannot afford healthy food, or because they cannot imagine giving up bacon.
As my cookbook demonstrates, this is simply not true. You can eat healthy, cruelty-free food without breaking the bank. My boyfriend and I have actually cut our grocery bills in half since eliminating cheese, milk, eggs and all other animal products. A good tip is to make sure to purchase all your fruits and veggies at a farmers market, not from a grocery store. You will always save money this way as grocery stores jack up their fresh produce prices.
Q: How do you feel about meat substitutes?
A: Meat substitutes are like flour to me. They are fine on occasion. Even though meat substitutes taste good, they are not all-natural and therefore are highly processed and include unhealthy chemicals, preservatives and fillers that the body does not need or process well. In order to reap the potent health benefits from your vegan lifestyle, your diet must consist of a vast majority of all-natural, whole foods. Sure, meat substitutes have their place in certain meals, like vegan chili, but my advice would be to limit anything processed and man-made, which includes meat substitutes.
Q: What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about yoga?
A: The most misunderstood thing about yoga is that people believe that it doesn’t require strength or help with weight loss. I have lost over 85 pounds as a result of my regular yoga practice and developed strength and endurance – no other exercise required. The last time I stepped foot in a gym was years prior to starting yoga and losing the weight.
Of course the weight loss potential is determined by which type of yoga you practice. I tend to gravitate toward Power Yoga and Vinyasa Flow, which enables you to burn anywhere from 400-600 calories per hour. This is equivalent to one hour of busting your butt in the gym. In my mind, if I know that I have to spend one hour exercising to burn 400-600 calories, I would rather invest that hour into a healing practice like yoga, that has been proven to restore the body vs. create more wear and tear like many other exercises do.
Q: What kind of day job do you have and how does yoga help you deal with it?
A: My day job in my old life, prior to moving to the South Pacific and becoming an author, was as a headhunter in NJ/NYC. For 10 hours a day (or more), I spent my time negotiating on the phone with countless clients and candidates, writing and formatting resumes, emailing, coaching people through the interview process, making offers and closing deals. When you live on the East Coast, time is money and things are expected to be done yesterday. Needless to say, it was a very stressful 10 years of my life.
Yoga helped me learn how to find a balance by lowering my constant anxiety and stress levels. My practice helped me to learn how to calm down, live in the moment, and not stress about the past and future as much. After enough years of yoga, it is no wonder that I retired from corporate America to teach yoga, which is what ultimately led me to move overseas. I became way too calm to be part of the rat race anymore. And for this I am forever grateful.
Q: What is the most advanced yoga pose that you can do?
A: This is a very difficult question to answer because there are so many advanced yoga poses, and they are all challenging. Considering that I started yoga when I was 85 pounds overweight, nothing about the practice came easy to me. Everything was a struggle. The arm balances took me forever to learn, headstand took me several months to master, and the deep backbends were simply torturous in the beginning of my journey. Yoga poses are different for everyone, as it all depends on your body, your strengths and your weaknesses, and your current level of fitness. The answer to this question would truly be different for every yogi. But, I would have to say that I am rather proud of my Side Crow.
Q: What have you done to promote your books?
A: I have been channeling my energy into a ton of marketing and networking, which I have learned is just as important and time consuming as writing the actual books. A common misconception about publishing a book is that once you publish, everyone will immediately buy it. First off, people need to know that the book exists in order for them to even be interested in it!
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.