World-renowned restorative yoga teacher Jillian Pransky came to the practice of yoga to heal herself. For much of her life, she subscribed to a relentless work hard/play hard mentality, burying parts of herself beneath the pursuit of busy-ness and accomplishment. It wasn’t until a devastating personal loss and health crisis thrust her into suffocating anxiety that she stopped racing around. As she began to pause and examine her actions and emotions, she found herself able to unlock deeply seated tension in her mind and body. Since then, Pransky has been devoted to studying and teaching mindfulness practices, deep relaxation, and compassionate listening.
In Deep Listening, Pransky presents her signature Calm Body, Clear Mind, Open Heart program—a 10-step journey of self-exploration that she’s taught around the world. Derived from the techniques that healed her, the practice of Deep Listening invites you to pay close attention to your body, mind, and heart. You’re taught how to tune inward and relax into a state of openness, ease, and clarity. This is the new frontier in integrative wellness—mindfulness designed for healing.
Pransky doesn’t ask you to “be your best self,” or “do more!” She asks you to “be here” and “do less.” She guides you gently through the stages of Deep Listening, from being present and noticing your tension to welcoming what you discover with softness and compassion. She integrates tools like guided meditations, journaling prompts, and restorative yoga poses to help you regard yourself with kindness and curiosity. Immersing yourself in the practice of Deep Listening will allow you to nurture your own well-being.
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About the Author
Jessica Wolf is a writer and editor of creative nonfiction. She writes humor and essays on health, wellness, and parenting. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Huffington Post, and various blogs and literary magazines. She is also the editor of the cooking memoir Sweet Survival: Tales of Cooking and Coping by Laura Zinn Fromm.
Read an Excerpt
When we feel welcomed, we show up more.
MY FIRST PANIC ATTACK
I'd been teaching yoga for almost 6 years when I had my first panic attack. My 34-year-old sister-in-law, Lisa, had died recently, and I'd gone to Maryland to help pack up her things. On the drive home to Hoboken, New Jersey, my arms went numb. I became dizzy and short of breath, my vision blurred, and my muscles were shaky and weak. I was sure I was having a heart attack. When I showed up at the hospital and the ER doctors diagnosed me with an anxiety attack, I argued with them. How could I be having an anxiety attack? I'm a yoga teacher. When Lisa was 30 years old, she was diagnosed with asbestos-induced lung cancer. She was my oldest brother's wife, and even more significant than our closeness was that she was like me. This marked the first time someone I loved who was also my own age became seriously ill. We were both young, active professional women at the beginning of our careers, eagerly stepping into adulthood. She was a step or two ahead of me, with a husband and a baby, but otherwise her circumstances could have been mine. Like Lisa, I had an abundance of spirit and ambition-and, I assumed, plenty of time to grow into a successful life. These realizations began as small thoughts when she was diagnosed, bouncing around inside me for all the years of her illness. In boxing up Lisa's things-her well-worn cowboy boots, her Levi's jean jacket, her Mickey Mouse sweatshirt-a major truth began taking root inside me: We are not really in control of our life. I had been no stranger to family illness. My father was in the hospital regularly throughout my life with heart disease, cancers, and kidney disease. But as a family, we focused our attention on doctor appointments and home care. We never talked about how we felt or how his illness was affecting us inside. If I cried about my father, it was alone in my room. Initially, I dealt with Lisa's illness and death the same way: muscling through and pushing away my emotions. But my anxiety attack cracked my protective armor and revealed layers of vulnerability I had never experienced before. Suddenly, I could no longer muscle my way through anything. I felt afraid most of the time, and because I was in a constant state of anxiety, I began to see the world through a lens of fear. I was scared to ride the subway, scared to fly in a plane. Daily challenges that I used to conquer enthusiastically now made me shaky. I felt as if I were forever running away from danger. When a major event, transition, or unexpected incident triggers a big shift in perspective, feelings we have buried for years often rise up, seemingly out of nowhere. I now know that my panic attack was simply my first acute response to fears that I'd been living with my whole life but that only began to rise to the surface as I watched my sister-in-law's struggle. Fear about all the ways I was not enough: not strong enough to overcome illness, not talented enough to be successful in my job, not worthy enough to be loved. I had turned to yoga in the past to get through difficult life events, but the fear I experienced around Lisa's death was different. And it launched the beginning of my deepest practice.
MY EARLY YOGA
The first time I ever did yoga or meditation I was 9 years old. My mother had my brothers and me learn Transcendental Meditation, and she took me with her to yoga classes at the gym. She considered all of this "family therapy." I was the only one in the family who enjoyed it, but I was passionate about most things. I was a go-getter from the get-go. I became president of every club I joined. I was a dedicated athlete. Over time, I grew into a "you-can- do-it" fitness instructor and an energetic young executive. When Lisa became ill, I had (and taught) a yoga practice that was physical and athletic, like me. I'd built my entire identity around being able to achieve things. I loved how powerful my body felt when I practiced yoga. I loved the sensations of openness and expansiveness when challenging my physical boundaries. I did headstands so I could feel mighty and successful and strong. In the wake of Lisa's death, I suffered from both anxiety and exhaustion. As my health faltered, I realized that the yoga practice I had created to make myself feel solid and secure was not the type of practice I needed to become a more active participant in my own well-being. It seems like someone who is the president of everything would be plenty active already, right? But I discovered that the many things I was actively pursuing all the time often did not support my health. I spent a lot of time doing and very little time being.
WHAT IS WELL-BEING?
Ithink of well-being as the ability to live in a state of contentment. Contentment is a bit different from simply being happy. We usually think of happiness as dependent on a set of circumstances. Contentment, on the other hand, is not dependent on anything. It's a sense of not needing or wanting things to be different in order to feel "okay." When we cultivate a sense of well-being, we are developing a relationship with ourselves that provides exactly the type of strength and security I thought I would find in mastering headstands. Well-being is the ability to stay grounded, relaxed, and open to whatever your circumstances are. It's the freedom to be present with whatever is going on inside or outside of you. It's no longer suffering from the exhaustion or disappointment of trying to make everything "just right." Spiritual teachers refer to this condition as the state of equanimity-being open to things just the way they are. Well-being is available to anyone at any time. But, like headstands, it takes practice.
BE HERE, DO LESS
You don't need to travel to India to find contentment. You don't need to push yourself to "be better" or "do more" to have a sense of well-being. In fact, I invite my students to "be here" and "do less." We cultivate well-being by relaxing into the life that we have right now. The notion that we can live better by striving less may seem like a radical concept in this age of relentless Internet searches and the endless barrage of information that's thrust toward us every day. It's certainly not the type of solution we're used to. Fostering a sense of well-being does not require anything especially difficult. But it does require showing up and spending time with ourselves in a way we may not be accustomed to.
LET'S PAUSE FOR A MOMENT
Showing up starts with a simple action: We pause. Pausing is an activity that's accomplished exactly the way you'd think-we just stop for a bit. It's a small break that we take, on purpose, to gather ourselves. When we pause, we take a moment to be with ourselves, right here, right now, in whatever state we're in. We don't have to do anything. We don't have to feel any particular way. Pausing gives us extra room to take things in. It allows us time to listen to ourselves before responding or reacting. We pause so we can pay attention to ourselves, to others, and to the world around us in a more open and compassionate way. It's one of the main tools we use to release tension in our bodies and in our minds. It's one of the most valuable skills we can develop to change habits that do not serve us. We are going to pause a lot together through this journey. I consider it my go-to tool. Pausing is not only a useful skill for day-today living, but, as we'll discover, it's also an always-available activity that we can use to transform our life.
Every time I practice, the first thing I do is pause and welcome myself. Imagine for a moment what it's like to show up somewhere and feel welcome- really, really welcome. Imagine that moment when you truly sense how delighted someone is that you've arrived. When we feel welcomed, we show up more. There is no more powerful message we can send to ourselves than greeting ourselves with open arms.
In whatever way you're showing up here . . . wherever you may have been . . . gather your whole self up and let yourself know you're welcome here. Whether you're showing up with expectations . . . or with fears . . . whether you're showing up in joy . . . or in sorrow . . . take a moment to greet yourself exactly as you are right now. Gather yourself up and welcome all of you: your mind, your body, your breath. Sit for a moment and welcome yourself along with each breath as it fills you. Welcome your breath into your body. Welcome your mind onto your breath. Welcome your body into the room. Your breath is always welcoming you. Meet your breath with your body. Greet your breath with your body. Take a moment to be with your breath. Take a moment to be with yourself. When we feel welcomed, we show up more.
Practices for Welcoming Ourselves
We are learning to welcome our breath into our body. We are learning to welcome our mind onto our breath. We are learning to create a safe space for ourselves, so we can show up more.
Imagine being greeted by someone who would welcome you with great warmth. This could be a friend, family member, mentor, a spiritual teacher, or even a pet-anyone who you can imagine welcoming you wholeheartedly. If you had a video of this reception, what do you look like? What would your posture be like? What would the expression on your face be as you were greeted? What does it feel like to be you, when you feel safe and welcomed?
MEDITATION EXPERIENCE: ELEVATOR TO A WELCOMING ARRIVAL
This simple technique uses visualization to help you feel more welcomed and safe. .Sit in a comfortable position on the ground or in a chair. Close your eyes, if you wish. Take a few long exhales. Notice where your body meets support. .Envision your body as a three-story building. Now imagine an elevator inside this building. The third floor is from your crown to your shoulders. The second floor is from your shoulders to your belly. The first floor is from your belly to where your seat meets support. .Now imagine the elevator lowering down through the center of you one flight at a time. .Begin at the crown of your head. .Exhale: Envision the elevator lowering from crown to shoulders. Inhale: Imagine the doors of the elevator opening, fresh air and light coming in. .Exhale: Let your weight drain down another flight, from shoulders to belly. Feel your inhale freshen you. .Exhale: Continue to the ground floor. Allow your body weight to lower completely into your seat and legs. The elevator doors open on your inhale, filling you with reviving breath. .Repeat this lowering process one to three more times. .On your last elevator exhale, allow yourself to land completely on the ground. And when the elevator doors open, imagine a dear one is there to greet you sweetly. .Let this imagery fade and place one hand on your heart and one on your belly. Feel your breath under your hands. Stay with the feeling of your breath in your hands for a moment. Welcome your breath with your hands. Welcome your breath into your body. Welcome your mind onto your breath, into your body. Welcome yourself here, now, as you are. .Sit for a few minutes longer, feeling yourself grounded, as you continually welcome your breath and yourself. .To close, welcome yourself again into your seat, on the ground. Set an intention to stay with yourself as you transition out of the meditation. You will repeatedly be pulled away from your breath by thoughts, sensations, or sounds. This is not a problem but a chance to welcome yourself back, to return to greet your breath, over and over again, into the moment.
YOGA EXPERIENCE: HERO POSE
PROPS: Two yoga blocks stacked. If needed, stack three blocks or sit on a chair and begin with the second bulleted step. .Kneel, with your seat resting on your stacked blocks. Your inner thighs a few inches apart. The tops of your feet face-down along the sides of your block. .With your hands, draw the muscular part of your back thighs out to the sides to more easily feel your sit bones on the support. .Imagine the way an elevator lowers, one flight at a time, and gently lengthen your next three exhales as the elevator lowers from your head down to your shoulders, from your shoulders down to belly, and from your belly down to your seat and legs. .Sit for 5 to 10 breaths, as you allow your blocks to hold you up completely. .For the last few breaths, place your hands on your belly; feel your breath move under your hands. Welcome your breath into your hands. Welcome yourself onto the ground. .Mindfully transition out of the pose when you are ready. When you allow the ground to hold you, you can release resistance, you can release the tension that would limit the flow of the breath. When you feel more welcomed on the ground, your breath is more welcome in you.
RESTORATIVE YOGA EXPERIENCE: CONSTRUCTIVE REST
PROPS: Two long rectangle-folded blankets, stacked.
Lie down on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor, arms resting alongside your body. Bring your feet a few inches from your seat and a little wider apart than your hips. Let your knees fall together to hold each other up. .Place your stack of blankets over your knees with the long ends draping down the sides of your legs. This will help you release all muscular effort in your legs. .As you explore being in your yoga poses and restoratives, feel free to readjust with any micro movements that help you feel more comfortable, grounded, and at ease.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Welcome 10
Chapter 2 Let Yourself Land 27
Chapter 3 Being Here 49
Chapter 4 How We Hold 75
Chapter 5 Making Space 102
Chapter 6 Listening Softly 128
Chapter 7 Listening Deeply 152
Chapter 8 Listening Bravely 180
Chapter 9 Listening Again and Again and Again 208
Chapter 10 A Deep Listening Practice: Putting It All Together 232
How to Prepare for Your Practice 263