If you’re a yoga enthusiast and also a vegan, love to stroll on Instagram, you’d have definitely come across Nancy Chalmers aka Jungle Shakti. Her feed is not just colourful, but her posts are meaningful and generates a lot of positivity. Although her day job is as a graphic designer for Acalia Digital (she does branding, photography, and social media content creation) her “passion” is, of course, the healing arts – yoga, plant-based cuisine and transformational health retreats.
After over a decade working in a 9-5 office job in the Melbourne city, Nancy spent some time at a Raw Vegan Healing Retreat in Bali which completely transformed her health and inspired her to study Holistic Nutrition. She then became a health coach, and a vegan, and published a series of cookbooks and launched her personal blog under the name Jungle Shakti.
When she met her husband, a photographer and hospitality consultant from Kandy – Nancy admits she knew it was time to move to paradise. “As soon as we arrived in Sri Lanka, I knew I was ‘home, – and it has been magical and serendipitous ever since! I studied my 200 hr yoga teacher training and now run retreats at Rukgala, nestled in the hillside near Victoria Lake”.
Why Jungle Shakti?
Shakti is the primordial cosmic energy that flows through the entire universe – sometimes referred to as ‘The Great Divine Mother’. I feel that it is present in the plant foods and medicines that we eat, in sunlight, in the fresh clean air, in waterfalls, in butterflies dancing past, in the light of the full moon – all around us! And we can tap into this energy whenever we connect with mother nature. My goal is to help people connect with this energy, transform their lives and their health.
What made you decide to become a yoga instructor and also a vegan?
Yoga and meditation really helps me tap into this ‘Shakti’ magic I mentioned above. For me, it is a form of daily devotion to the ‘source’. A way of thanking it for another precious day on the planet, in this miracle, in this physical form. It is incredibly powerful for transforming body, mind and spirit and – keeping you youthful and full of energy and creativity! It’s a way of creating and attracting deep magic into your life – not just touching your toes.
My reasons for becoming a vegan are so many, but first of all it was for my health. Meat has been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a stage 1 carcinogen; the same category as cigarettes. For many years I was unexplainably ill – I had the worst immune system, I couldn’t control my weight or my moods. Plants are medicine. As soon as I turned vegan I noticed major improvements, my skin was glowing, my eyes were bright, I never got sick anymore and I had an abundance of energy. Every year, it keeps getting better. I’m about to turn 37 and I have never felt better!
Also, I am vegan for the animals and for the planet. As a Bhakti Yogi, I follow ‘Ahimsa’ which means, “do no harm”. Meat and dairy are extremely cruel industries that I cannot support with a clear conscience. I feel it is out of respect to Shakti, our mother earth, to protect these innocent animals.
What are the challenges you’ve experienced as an instructor?
No real challenges actually – I have had an amazing time teaching so far and every class is different… perhaps only the challenge of taking it slow on my own body and not expecting progress too quickly or pushing myself beyond my limits. Need to remember I am 37 and not attempt handstands without warming up properly, for example! It is in my nature to fly and jump and be free, so I just need to learn to slow it down sometimes and stay grounded and patient.
How do you build relationships with students?
Each student is unique and has their own set of needs – I guess I have a nurturing/loving nature and I just want to see my students smiling blissfully during and after class. My favourite part is seeing the “A-Ha” moment and knowing I have played a small part in changing their lives! In the Bhakti tradition, yoga is a way of connecting to the divine and “feeling the love”. It is a very nurturing, accepting form of yoga and sees us all as brothers and sisters – one big family. So I guess I build a relationship with my students by making them feel like family!
What is your greatest weakness and what are you doing to improve it?
Ahh… As a business-woman too, I need to balance my time on social media and marketing with taking time out to connect with myself. It’s hard to find a balance between the real world and the virtual one in this day and age. In the morning, instead of reaching for my phone to check emails and messages, I need to meditate and sit quietly with the sunrise – that doesn’t happen enough! I am trying to set aside time for these daily rituals wherever possible – must practice what I preach!
What made you decide to come to Sri Lanka?
I grew up in a tropical part of Australia – far north Queensland. The climate and plants and animals and way of life is very similar to Sri Lanka. I moved to the big, cold city for university and to start my career but left a piece of my heart in the tropics. I had dreamed of island life for many years but had never managed to leave the city… and then I met my husband, what luck that he was Sri Lankan! Haha! A few months later we moved and have never looked back. Although, I do miss Australia and my family!
You host retreats; what is a retreat all about and why do you do it?
Retreats are really the best way to create lasting transformation and begin an energy shift that can carry with you back to your every day life. It’s great to get students away from their day-to-day experience to meet other like-minded spirits and really immerse themselves in the experience. On retreats we learn so much “off the mat” – meditation, beauty rituals, connecting with nature, creative visualisation, healthy cooking classes and have time to relax in the pool and get to know each other. Also, blissful sleep without thinking about work for a few days is so important!
How important is meditation in yoga?
Yoga IS meditation! Moving your body and focusing the ‘monkey mind’ is a form of meditation in itself. No matter how you access it, or how little you practice – even just a short guided meditation or those 10 minutes in Savasana at the end of practice – if you can just practice calming the mind once a day, you will see big changes in your world and in your body.
You also create vegan dishes. How did you get into this and why?
As I mentioned above, it all started at the raw vegan healing retreat in Bali where I learned about this incredible way of cooking. So nutritious and full of enzymes and hydration to keep you youthful and radiant. Veganism really is the fountain of youth! I learnt to make ‘compassionate cuisine’ through several workshops in Bali and my holistic nutrition training.
Whats your favourite dish to make?
Raw vegan cakes! Vegan cheese! Smoothie bowls! Zoodles! Guacamole and anything with Mexican flavours! Oh, and nowadays… super hot Sri Lankan curries with gotu kola mallum!
What is the most positive result of being a vegan?
I am so much happier. Plants have a profound effect on your brain chemicals and prevents depression and anxiety. And I hardly ever get sick! Oh, and knowing that I am not contributing to the harm of sweet, innocent baby animals like chicks, lambs and calves means I can sleep peacefully at night with a clear conscience!