Jillian Pransky has been a prominent yoga and meditation teacher for more than two decades—teaching at the Omega Institute, YogaWorks, the Kripalu Center, and more.
But when her son was born with a life-threatening wheat allergy, his experience convinced her that taking small steps on a regular basis has profound implications for the inner peace she had been teaching about and striving for personally. William was enrolled in a clinical trial that over two years had him eat increasing amounts of the forbidden grain, starting with microscopic levels. By the study’s end, he was able to eat a slice of bread.
“We can all change our lives this way—gently and in tiny increments,” Pransky writes in her new book, Deep Listening.
Intrigued, I recently chatted with her about her program that slowly but surely leads the way to inner calm and a more open heart. Here is an edited excerpt:
Meryl: You call your book Deep Listening. What do you mean by that phrase?
Jillian: I think deep listening is the way we’re bringing our attention to ourselves, to our bodies, and to others in the present moment. It involves listening or perceiving with curiosity and kindness, and without judgment.
Meryl: Why curiosity? I’ve heard about bringing kindness and non-judgment before, but curiosity is new to me.
Jillian: It’s a way of not knowing what we’re going to see or hear. Rather than saying, “I know what he’s going to say,” or “It’s clear what I’m going to find,” it allows us to wonder, and to be in a more receptive state. That way we make fresh decisions that are appropriate for that present moment, instead of from a place of habit or control.
Meryl: So if a person is doing a yoga pose, for example, how do they bring deep listening to that?
Jillian: I would ask them to pay attention as they’re doing the pose—to the ground that is supporting them and to the footprints of their feet on the floor...—to see where they are efforting too hard and perhaps could back off a bit. And to notice their breathing; not to purposefully “inhale” and “exhale,” but rather to be aware of the breath coming to them and then leaving the body. It’s not about looking outside yourself for how to do the pose; it’s more about co-creating it naturally from the inside.
Meryl: Are any parts of the body especially important to pay attention to, whether during yoga or throughout your day?
Jillian: Yes. It’s great to notice if you’re holding tension in your eye muscles—are you furrowing your brow or squeezing your eye sockets?—your jaw, and your shoulders. When I teach a class, I might return to that over and over, because then you can start paying attention to those three things during the rest of your day. When you
release the tension there, your breath moves deeper, which calms you. Unfortunately, the tension often creeps back in after you release it—even to me, after 25 years of practice—so it’s best to return your focus there often during the day.
Meryl: You also recommend some quick breathing to do anytime for an “instant pause and reset.”
Jillian: I set my smartphone to ring every two hours during the day, and when it goes off, I pause and take three breaths. In my book, I have a variety of imagery you can add to that, like imagining that your body is an elevator and each breath lowers you a “floor,” from your head to your shoulders, then to your abdomen, and finally to your feet. When the elevator door opens at the bottom and you feel really grounded, you can even envision that someone you love is there to greet you.
Meryl: And by doing some of the processes you advocate—the breathing, restorative yoga, and also journaling—a small amount each day, we’ll have more inner peace?
Jillian: Yes. Anything you can do is great. In my own classes, if someone comes in at the end just for savasana, I’m okay with that, because I know the small things add up. And the benefits go beyond feeling good. When we calm the body and clear the mind, we can soften around the things and people that used to close us down. All those deeper things in our lives that we are all hungry for—to be happy, to feel safe, to be loved—need a foundation. Just as my son needed a foundation to eat more wheat little by little, these practices, a little at a time, help open our heart.
LEARN MORE ABOUT Jillian Pransky’s classes, retreats, teacher training, and writings at Jillianpransky.com.
Meryl Davids Landau is the author of Enlightened Parenting: A Mom Reflects on Living Spiritually With Kids. Her previous book is the award-winning novel Downward Dog, Upward Fog (she is currently writing the sequel). She’s also been published in numerous magazines and websites, including O: The Oprah Magazine, Parents, Vice.com, Glamour, Redbook, and more.
Watch Meryl’s 2 minute YouTube slideshow, “5 Tips for Being a More Enlightened Parent.”