Our Centre Community: Jenny Shanti Collver

Jenny in 1974

Jenny in 1974

It was 1973 when I first experienced yoga. At the time I thought that it was an accidental meeting. That was before I knew about dharma.

I had moved from Winnipeg that winter. I rolled through the frozen Rockies in my 1957 Rambler Classic, bald tires and all. That first year I kept waiting for winter, but it never came. I still love the rain.

I enrolled in the horticulture programme at BCIT in the fall. Students were encouraged to sign up for a physical education class or join a sports team. I had my choice narrowed down to basketball or yoga. Although I was tall, I wasn’t a team player. All I’d heard about yoga were stories about Maharishi’s flying siddhis. That sounded like fun. I chose yoga.

My first yoga class was unforgettable, although we didn’t fly. There were about 30 students in the gym and an instructor. Because yoga mats hadn’t been invented we all stood on towels. We started breathing and moving together through strange shapes with unusual names. I loved it. After an hour the instructor invited us to become very still on our towels like corpses. Although that was a little alarming for a 20 year old, I sank into savassana for the first time and felt my body melt. To become so still after all that intense movement was transcendent. I floated out of the gym and came back week after week.

I found a teacher, Dr.Bina Nelson, in my neighbourhood, and started classes with her once a week. She stood at the front of the room in a gorgeous sari and instructed verbally. She never assumed the postures. She described them and then corrected us. She suggested that I read BKS Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga”. I did. Then I obtained Annie Besant’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita. I still have both volumes.

Life got busier. I started a tiny gardening business, which soon expanded to become a bigger business. I began to install and maintain tropical plants in restaurants and hotels in downtown Vancouver. I got married and my husband Chris worked with me. We were working 70 hours a week. Yoga became a cherished memory.

In 1983 my daughter Arianne was born. I kept working. When her sister Melaina was born a year later I decided to work from home. Dr. Nelson was still teaching and I started attending her classes again. I started getting contracts for weekly fresh flower arrangements in some of the hotels and restaurants. Three times a week, at 5am I attended the Dutch flower auction in Burnaby, often with a baby or toddler in tow. I’d arrange the flowers in my basement workroom with the kids close by, and at night, by myself. Chris delivered them and maintained all the tropical plants.

I was invited to meet some devotees of Swami Chinmayananda in 1984. They met every Saturday morning in one of their homes to study Vedanta together. After a couple of hours of study and meditation we would cook and eat delicious Indian food. Suddenly yoga was back in my life and in the lives of my children who were always welcomed and loved by these wonderful people from New Delhi.

Chris built a meditation room for me and I started to spend a lot of time in there, reading and meditating and doing asana. I still worked too hard, but my focus had changed. I took the kids to meet Swami Chinmayananda at the University of Western Washington in 1985, even though they were tiny. Like Babaji, Swami Chinmayananda loved children and he made efforts to connect with them. As a little girl, Arianne often talked about the way he smiled at her as he threw grapes her way.

Our paths diverged and my marriage to Chris ended. I was determined to get off my work treadmill so I started exploring the Gulf Islands. On the second trip to Salt Spring, Arvid Chalmers sold us a house in the north end. I was able to sell our Vancouver home and the business quickly. I moved the children, myself, our dog Maria, and our cat Fern to Salt Spring Island.

Melaina (front) with a friend, 1990

Melaina (front) with a friend, 1990

Arianne was only 4 but she was reading and longed to go to school. Fernwood school told us to wait a year, but then Arvid sold us on the Salt Spring Centre school. His friend Sid Filkow was the director of the Centre and the principal of the school. He accepted Arianne for Usha’s class, offered me a job as Usha’s helper and said that 3 year old Melaina could come to school to play and hang out. The starting salary was $6.50 an hour with Arianne’s tuition included. Our new life was unfolding. We weren’t striving and harried anymore.

Arianne reading, Centre School 1994

Arianne reading, Centre School 1994

 Melaina reading, Centre School 1994

Melaina reading, Centre School 1994

I decided to start making articulated teddy bears from fur coats to sell at the Saturday market. I researched the mechanics of the very first bears which were made in New York in 1892. They caught on and I sold hundreds in the 15 years that I made them. While Usha taught the kids knitting, I taught them how to make their own animals. When the school produced Midsummer Night’s Dream, Satya and I made the costumes.

 Arianne and Melaina in Centre School production of Romeo and Juliet, 1997

Arianne and Melaina in Centre School production of Romeo and Juliet, 1997

While yoga was becoming a bigger part of my life, as I spent my days at the Centre I was still shy about meeting Babaji. His presence was palpable in the Satsang room where Usha taught before the school building was put up. I would have glimpses of him during summer retreats but it wasn’t yet time for me to connect with him.

The years at the Centre school spun out. We celebrated the holidays of many cultures, like Rosh Hashanah, Advent, May Day, Diwali. We had glorious recesses in the swamp (not allowed anymore) and in the bunny homes under the cedars near Sharada and Sid’s house. The school took family camping trips. It was good, but after 4 years I was ready for a change. I left the school. Arianne stayed until she was ready for grade 10 and Melaina left just before grade 9. I sat on the school board for a couple of years.

I went back to school for a short time and qualified as a medical aid. I juggled on-call shifts for 10 years at Lady Minto Hospital, Greenwoods and the vet clinic. We had a farm on Beddis Road with many farm animals and an organic garden. My yoga practice nosedived as I danced once more on the work treadmill. I approached burnout and ignored the signs. My health crashed in 2002. I couldn’t work at all. It was hard to move. I started to meditate again. Arianne had moved to Vancouver to work and Melaina was at University in Nanaimo.

Some of our animals

Some of our animals

I discovered Restorative yoga. I attended Celeste’s Restorative Yoga classes at Ganges Yoga Studio. I was humbled in my practice. Celeste kept us in long holds while she read from sacred texts. I started attending her sadhana classes. I met Lee Mason (Loknath), a brand new yoga teacher who taught Sunrise Yoga at Ganges Yoga Studio. He was so young that he thought that everyone could have strong healthy bodies like his body. His classes were small and he spent a lot of time coaching me back to an active yoga practice. He challenged me to take yoga teacher training in 2007, at the Salt Spring Centre. That summer I finally met Babaji. It took me over 20 years to seek him out. He gave me the Sanskrit name – Shanti.

I have a huge respect for Restorative yoga. It brought me back to life, and to my practice. I was accepted for Restorative teacher training by Judith Lasater in 2008, in Dallas Texas. I teach a weekly Restorative class at the Centre.

I worked at Ganges Yoga Studio for 4 years, independently for 2 years and I have been teaching at the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga for almost 2 years.

In 2013 I completed one year of Cathy Valentine’s Traditional Yoga Apprenticeship. I have been blessed with inspired yoga teachers.

Jenny Shanti Colver, part of our Centre community

Jenny Shanti Collver, part of our Centre community

My yoga practice, study and teaching are at the centre of my life. I teach mostly in the Satsang room, and so many memories are there. I love to teach Sunrise Yoga, usually after attending Arati with Christine and Raven at the temples on the land. I also wash a lot of dishes at the Centre. It’s all yoga.

I hope to teach yoga until I am very old. It is my best job yet. Om, Shanti