Through years of leading retreats and trainings, Jillian Pransky has become a beloved teacher, known for her gentleness and authenticity. Using slow flow and restorative techniques, she focuses on breath and therapeutic alignment to ease students into feelings of security and Ayruvedic balance.
But sometimes, she mentions her father.
“My dad would cut in line at the grocery store,” Pransky said. “He could behave like a jerk.” Growing up, she said he created a heavy, intense atmosphere that manifested as a driving desire to achieve.
For almost 20 years, she studied Metta meditation, which she describes as an athlete’s pre-game visualization. When she began to feel love for herself, she noted a gradual “chemical change,” from anger to softness, toward the man who stole parking spots and claimed to be behind her success all along. Before Father’s Day, Pransky caught up with YogaCity NYC’s Ann Votaw to discuss difficult parents, her recent TED Talk, and yoga beyond asana.
Ann Votaw: What's your newest teaching obsession?
Jillian Pransky: I recently finished a course through Mass General Hospital with Herbert Benson on the Foundations of Mind-Body Medicine. I love how we can show that mind-body practices can change brain structure in a way that increases our capacity not only to heal, but also to be more mindful and empathetic. In other words, the neurological benefits we gain from our practice actually increase the odds of us continuing to repeat these more thoughtful and nourishing behaviors off the mat—over and over again.
AV: What is the number one issue facing most of your clients?
JP: Maybe the stress of being too busy. Many of my students complain that being overscheduled and having “no time” leaves them feeling exhausted, disconnected, and even unwell.
AV: Would you mind sharing some mistakes you made when you first started teaching?
JP: In my first few years as an excited new teacher, I am sure I taught “the way" to do something. In other words, "The alignment for this pose is...." At this point in my practice, I think there is no finite alignment points for poses. We can guide people “in the direction of,” but it's not like there is a singular route for all of us. Plus, an individual’s best alignment may change from day to day.
AV: Should students stay for savasana?
JP:Maybe not. Not all nervous systems benefit from relaxing in stillness, in this way. They may have a history, one they are not even conscious of, that keeps them from staying to lay themselves out, vulnerably, on the floor with a bunch of strangers. Or maybe they just have to go pick up the kids.
AV: What was your relationship with your father before he died on a Valentine’s Day?
JP:The last 10 years of my father's life were the most fulfilling for me, in my relationship with him. Of course, many who knew him well still knew him as ornery, tough, excessive in his demand for control, and driven to satisfy his personal needs and wants. Unexpectedly, in taking care of myself and learning how to relax with him and not react habitually, I took his behavior less personally. I got better by not “needing” him to be a particular way. As I loosened up my own expectations, everything shifted. I even grew to adore him. He was funny, even silly. And he was so smart. I even began to recognize, that as selfish as he seemed, he got tremendous pleasure in his loved ones’ success and happiness.
AV: How has your May 2014 TED Talk about your father been received?
JP: I have received amazing emails and thoughts from listeners that they could resonate with my story, that they felt inspired that their situation could change, and that they were happy to have tools to help make the shift. I got many emails for people asking for more resources to establish their own Metta practices.
AV: What advice do you have for people who have challenging relationships with their fathers?
JP: Forgiveness really is key in releasing our own anger, hurt, discomfort. If you think of it in terms of your own wellness, it may be easier. It took me years. But eventually, I stopped thinking, "Dad doesn't deserve my forgiveness or love." I stopped thinking about what he deserved and instead just practiced forgiving him, so I could feel more light, loving, open. And somehow, things just began to shift. As I felt more open and loving, I actually wanted to forgive him more and more.
AV: How have yoga principles enhanced your family life with your own son and husband?
JP:Eating dinner together every night is a priority. We try to put time in to sharing what was good about our day. I find that when we intentionally pick our topics and draw our attention to what is nourishing, we also get along better and feel more connected, rather than anxious and tense.