We had the good fortune of connecting with Jenny Sheffer Stevens and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jenny, why did you pursue a creative career?
As far back as I can remember, I had two dreams: to be some kind of artist…and a great athlete. But early on, I proved myself talent-free in the sports department. I was such an offbeat kid—gawky and uncoordinated, always lost in daydreams, highly imaginative, but also very high-strung. I vibrated with an energy I didn’t know how to channel; it was always squishing out at the seams in embarrassing ways. I know now it was creative energy! But I also came from a conservative religious tradition that distrusted the body—especially an expressive body, especially the female body. So although I’d spent my whole life making things—writing, doing plays, etc.—by the time I was a 20-something actor in NYC, I was artistically inhibited by a creative disconnect from my body. In my early 30s, I began practicing vinyasa yoga, which rapidly, almost miraculously, unlocked a profound body-imagination connection. Freeing my body freed my creativity, and my imagination likewise gained a responsive body—flow was reciprocal. This not only enriched my various artistic practices but gave me a passion for sharing this experience with others, which eventually became its own creative field for me: Yoga for the Creative Life. Ironically, it’s athletic too!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
By training/trade, I’m a writer, actor, yoga instructor, and teaching artist. (I’m also a wife, and mother of two rascally, delightful adolescents. And I spend a lot of time trying to sort out my very unruly hair.)
At any given time I’m juggling a few of these things and letting the rest go.
But they’re really all one thing. Because at the heart of all my work is the relationship between body and imagination. That’s the common thread that ties the various career tracks together, and it became my “business”—Yoga for the Creative Life.
Under that umbrella, I offer a wide variety of classes, workshops, and events for adults and children, artists and others.
Unlocking the body-imagination connection changed my life. It expanded the way I move, breathe, make stuff, and feed my spirit. But I traveled a long, lonesome road to discover it. And that’s exactly why I began teaching almost 18 years ago: to nurture others on the path. To help them learn to really live in their bodies, to stretch and strengthen physically and creatively, find new pathways into the imagination, and build community in the process. (As a side note: I don’t typically photograph the events in action, because participants need to feel fully uninhibited!)
During the pandemic, I’ve moved my workshops and classes for kids and adults online. It’s rewarding to be able to stay creative and connected in that way. But I can’t wait to gather again.
I’m especially excited to resume my Get Flowing! Gatherings, which I launched for the first time in LA just before lockdown began. They’re like mini-retreats—with lots of movement, deep relaxation, imagination inspiration, food, camaraderie, and meaningful conversation.
I’m also looking forward to running my programs for children in person again! I offer several Yoga for the Creative Life classes for kids, including Lotus Girls (ages 6-12), Beanstalk (early childhood and primary years), and Stargazers (tweens & teens); over the years I’ve done lots of this work in NYC public schools as well.
I’m passionate about empowering kids to step confidently into their innate creativity and move joyously in their bodies, because the story of how I came to this work truly goes back to my own childhood.
My mom is an artist, and many of my earliest memories are of making things as a family. We drew, painted, collaged, and did macramé, made wind chimes and our own play-dough.
She’s a painter, and always collecting charmingly chipped pottery and gorgeously frayed and moth-eaten textiles “to put in a still life.” She taught me a lesson that is in many ways the foundation of my work today: things are always more beautiful when they’re a little imperfect.
By nature, I’m a total control freak. I think “perfectionist” is an icky double-edged word-sword, but let’s say I tend to hold things a bit tightly.
True story: when I was a sophomore in college—studying literature, doing plays, writing poetry—I took one of those quasi Myers-Briggs tests that are supposed to help you discover something profound about yourself, like What To Do With Your Life. Or at least what major to choose.
I was certain the test would confirm a promising career somewhere between Bohemian Goddess and Poet Laureate.
But when the points were tallied and the verdict in, my “best” career match was… Air Traffic Controller.
Oh my gosh, that cracks me up. But I think it points to something that a lot of creative people hold in tension: the free-spiritedness that it takes to create wildly, and the obsession with doing our best, which can clamp down really hard.
The body holds onto feelings, experiences, memories, neuroses—and they’re some of our richest creative resources—but we can’t access them if we’re locked in our heads, especially if we’re held prisoner by an internal critic, telling us we have to do it “right” and be perfect.
I was a tall, awkward, clumsy kid who wore my body like a spacesuit 3 sizes too large. I let insecurity rob me of a lot of joy—not because there was actually anything wrong with my body or how I moved, but because I was so afraid of being bad at something, of looking foolish or falling on my face, that I pulled away from vibrant physical things like sports and dance. That had a big impact on me as an artist for a long time. For example, as a young actor, those physical inhibitions prevented me from fully inhabiting a character.
I had so much arts training, including an MFA in acting, but it was beginning a vinyasa yoga practice, at almost 30, that finally began to synthesize my imagination and my physical life. Becoming physically free helped me embody my creativity, and disarm that harsh, inhibiting inner editor. For the first time, I experienced a sense of integration and flow.
So now, in addition to keeping up my own artistic practices, I try to smooth the way for others. Whether it’s in ongoing classes, workshops, or special events—I love gathering people to move, breathe, sweat, imagine, and find flow together. Also to eat some good simple food, sip something delicious, and connect with kindred spirits.
My classes and workshops help quiet the little voice that tells you you’re not enough. The work is about finding an authentic way to move that opens channels between body and imagination; experiencing a feeling of freedom and integration; moving and imagining without fear of doing it wrong; finding a practice you can just let go into; leaning into your realness to discover a beauty and creative flow that’s all your own. I want people to feel that the way they move is sacred, their story matters, their life is art.
I think I connect with people through this work because I’m very honest about my own journey. I’m not a yoga model or master, or some Creativity Jedi who has it all figured out. I’m a 49-year-old woman, mother, artist, and teacher taking it day by day. I’m easily distracted and derailed by fear and frustration, so I teach from a place of deep understanding of the necessity and effectiveness of these practices for getting out of that rut and back into Flow. It’s an ongoing process! I could never choose a path other than the creative one I’m on—messy and maddening as it can be, it’s absolutely my joy.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’m still new to LA! After 24 years in New York City we moved here in the summer of 2019—just 7 months before lockdown began. But I’d spent quite a bit of time here before, so I already have a few favorite things.
I can’t get enough of Topanga’s trails. Anyone who visits me is going hiking. I love the view from Eagle Rock, and the quiet majesty of certain oak trees on the smaller trails, and a little tucked-away labyrinth of stones I discovered. I love daybreak at Topanga beach and low tides at Broad Beach. Point Dume is magic any time of day or year.
My favorite place to meet a friend or sit and write is on the patio at Topanga Living Café, with a coffee and a bowl of their delicious roasted rainbow carrots.
My husband and I are connoisseurs of classic diners—it was hard to leave our NYC favorite, Chelsea Square—but now we love Bobby’s Coffee Shop in Woodland Hills. It’s where we had breakfast the morning we found our new house!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My husband, Eric Sheffer Stevens reminds me every time I need to be reminded, which is pretty much daily, that creativity doesn’t have to have an end game. Success is in feeding your soul.
My kids, Hutch and Violet are preternaturally self-possessed and often wiser than I am. They laugh at many of my jokes and very few of my outfits, and occasionally take one of my classes and say it was “pretty sick,” (which I think is good?)
My parents, John and Milly Sheffer never pressured me to get a sensible job. Through the many twists, turns, ups, downs, pivots, and diversions my artistic life has taken, they’ve always believed that I was following a worthy path and doing good work. Or they’re very good actors. Same for my wonderful in-laws.
I have wildly creative friends/mentors/collaborators who encourage me relentlessly and call bullshit gently. So do my incredible sisters, Margy Brown and Abby Sheffer.
Kathleen Treat, and Lauren and Joey Borgogna, the amazing team at the Speranza Foundation, awarded me a generous artist’s grant, the Lincoln City Fellowship in 2017. They have championed my work in its many facets and I’m so honored to be serving on their Creative Council this year.