LIVINGSTON, NJ — One of the Livingston area's most popular yoga instructors has seen her career path shaped by events as disparate as 9/11 and a proliferation of unhealthy conditions in one of her former workplaces.
The trajectory that has led Jen Shulman—known to the yoga community as "YogaJen"—to bring many of her longtime clients over to CardioYoga in Livingston has been one fraught with more twists and turns than many yoga positions require.
Shulman, an independent instructor who joined forces with proprietor Chelsea Alban and CardioYoga at the end of 2018, spent the early part of her career in the corporate world. That changed just short of 18 years ago, which was the genesis of her career teaching yoga at a time long before the practice reached the level of mass appeal it now enjoys in 2019.
“I was working in New York in corporate America when 9/11 happened,” said Shulman. “After that day, I began noticing the toll it took emotionally on everyone in New York area. People had fears of another attack and they were uncomfortable with commuting, with being in the city and dealing with the PTSD after 9/11.”
Two years prior to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Shulman attended one of the nation's largest yoga institutes, Kripalu, in Lenox, Mass. It was her teacher there who pulled Shulman aside and said, “You need to teach this one day."
Shulman asked her boss for unemployment insurance to go away for three months with the understanding that if she wasn't successful at teaching yoga, she would come back to work. Since that day, Shulman has never returned to a desk job.
“It was a wonderful gift [my boss] gave me, even though I don't think he was too happy that I never returned there," said Shulman.
Her yoga practice grew quickly, and by 2004, Shulman had gone from teaching yoga 11 hours a week to teaching it 33 hours a week. She also moved from Roseland to Livingston in 2004, and moved into a residence with enough space to have her own yoga studio on site.
"Financially, most yoga teachers I know do not teach it full time," said Shulman. "They do a couple classes a week, and their husbands are the primary breadwinners. I was young enough and strong enough to see if I could handle that.
“When I got my certification, my teacher advised me to go to churches, temples and schools in area to ask them if I could teach a free first class. I went to seven places, and all seven hired me after that."
In addition to a flourishing practice based in her home studio, Shulman also spent a number of years teaching yoga at a local health club. She recently made the decision to leave there and bring her talents—along with many of her students—to CardioYoga, which opened less than a year ago.
At the time, Shulman said she “had become disgusted with the conditions at the club where [she] was working," often coming home sick and eventually being told by allergists that her condition was “the beginning of asthma caused by mold” in the classroom where she taught. When her director at the club did nothing to rectify these issues and Shulman followed her doctor’s recommendation to leave—taking with her about 20 members from her former employer.
"I came to CardioYoga with an agreement with Chelsea to bring as many clients over to her as possible,” said Shulman. “That is my intention. I am also not opposed to bringing my private clients."
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly has caused YogaJen to engender such devoted loyalty among so many of her students, it came as no surprise to her regulars to find that Shulman is such high demand.
"From what I hear, someone shared the CardioYoga post about me teaching there and said, 'You fall in love with Jen the moment you meet her,'” said Shulman. “I try to never be away from my practice for more than four days. People depend on yoga like it's brushing your teeth in the morning. People want it when they expect to have it. I am very approachable, and I try to be as amenable as possible. "
Everyone's first class with Shulman is free at CardioYoga. She teaches Vinyasa-style yoga that is intended to tone the whole body, which Alban refers to as "YogaSculpt."
"I have clients today that started with me in 2002," said Shulman. "If they started with me at 60, they are now 77. I actually have clients who are well into their 80s as well as people my own age. I am lucky to have that loyalty.
“I have worked with a lot of amateur golfers and hockey players, and I am the female yogini for the Synchroettes synchronized skating team at Codey Arena. I have been doing that for almost eight years, a couple times a month."
Shulman radiates positivity, and says she receives plenty of it in return from her vast cross-section of clientele. She said that every class is different, but that each one energizes her in one way or another.
"It really helps your mind,” she said. “It brings all the endorphins in. You look younger, you feel younger.”
Alban said she looks forward to having Shulman on her team because she “really takes the time to build interpersonal relationships to use with each client.”
"She immediately breaks down this barrier and everybody is in it together,” said Alban. “She is not just a teacher; she connects people with her, and from there they share more personal information.”
Alban added that she and Shulman both come from a wellness mindset, with "a philosophy of wanting [clients] to walk out feeling better physically, mentally or emotionally."
"My philosophy and Chelsea's are very similar," said Shulman. "She comes from massage therapy and is now teaching yoga and still massaging there. We both come from holistic point. I teach a little bit of yoga-lates, and have been told I am intuitive to areas of pain. I incorporate a little bit of massage and yoga-lates into what I do."
Shulman, who is also certified to teach children’s yoga, has taught clients from ages two to 100. She noted that she teaches family yoga on weekends as well, which is a huge part of her practice.
Shulman currently teaches two classes a week at CardioYoga, on Wednesdays at 6:45 p.m. and Fridays at 10:30 a.m. Click HERE to learn more about CardioYoga, located at 521 S. Livingston Avenue.