Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer, yoga instructor, workshop leader and soon-to-be published author of On Being Human (available for pre-order now, out June 2019). If you’re thinking, “she sounds so L.A.,” we’re here to put those assumptions to rest. While yes, Pastiloff is a proud California resident, the triple threat may be unlike any yoga instructor you’ve ever met. She stands out not only because she’s open about her struggle with depression, but also because, as a woman battling severe hearing loss, she’s proudly made a career out of listening to people.
Pastiloff boasts a devoted following of women who look to her for guidance and authenticity, by way of her always-candid Instagram posts and her many sold-out workshops around the country (and two annual Italy and France retreats), aptly titled The Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human. And did we mention Pink is a fan?
Lively sat down with the mother of one to discuss her career, motherhood, and why “Don’t Be an A–hole” has become her mantra.
Lively: You’ve called it ironic that you’ve made a career out of listening to people when you’re battling hearing loss. Can you share a little about that?
Jennifer Pastiloff: My workshop has morphed into way more than just yoga poses; in fact, sometimes there is hardly any physical yoga at all – it’s more listening and sharing. The fact that I am deaf without my hearing aids, and even with them I struggle to hear, makes it seem improbable that I would have built a career out of listening. And yet, here I am.
I have learned to listen with my heart and with my whole body. And yes, it can be extremely difficult because it’s hard not to hear. I feel like I am constantly missing stuff; it makes me feel stupid; it makes me tired because I work terribly hard to hear. But, I drop into a place of self-compassion and I try not to wallow in my own suckery, as I call it. Because I don’t suck and neither do you.
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L: One of your mantras, “I have done love,” is so special. When did you come up with it? And how has it changed your life?
JP: I had a nervous breakdown where I was waiting tables and started crying to myself, “What have I done? What have I done?” I had been working there for 13.5 years. It was meant to be a summer job. The “I have done love” epiphany came to me after I started leading my workshops and writing again.
I have a scholarship that I created called The Aleksander Fund, named after a reader of mine who had lost her baby, Aleksander. The scholarship is for a woman who has lost a child and since 2016, I have provided many women and one 13-year-old girl with scholarships to my Italy and France retreats. I had seen the power in connection before, but this was a whole other level to me. How this ripple effect could occur and how we can help each other go through even the darkest nights of the soul. Even the death of a child. Could I make it go away? No.
I realized that nothing could undo painful moments, but I could stand with them in their pain. I could listen. I could offer support. I could refuse to say silly platitudes. I could connect them with other women who had gone through similar experiences.
That truly makes me feel like I am doing my work. And that work is love. At the end of my life, when I ask one final, “What have I done?” Let my answer be: I have done love.
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L: Speaking of mantras, “Don’t Be an A–hole” is all over your Instagram. Can you share its origin and what “being an a–hole” means to you?
JP: It is my firm belief that we must laugh at ourselves daily. Calling myself an a–hole was my way of acknowledging that. I remember last spring my friend getting back from a third world country and telling me how the kids in the village where she was staying were so happy. And how they had nothing. They were so grateful, and they had nearly nothing to play with, except themselves. And there I was whining that I needed new sneakers. My book is called On Being Human, after all, so I agree that we are all indeed human. I just love to get myself in check. I use a—hole lovingly.
L: Is there a moment that stands out the most for you from your workshops?
JP: So many. One of the most profound workshops of my life was my GPower You Are Enough workshop in New York City. It was for young women and gender non-conforming young folks and it made me realize how important the message of YOU ARE ENOUGH is and how we must get it earlier in life. G stands for girl, guy, and gender non-conforming. You can follow on Instagram at @GpowerYouAreEnough.
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L: What’s the significance of your No Bulls— Motherhood handle on Instagram? Why did you start it?
JP: After my son was born, when I’d be pushing him in his stroller back and forth (and back and forth and back and forth) in our tiny one-bedroom apartment to get him to stop crying, I started using Instagram as a kind of diary. Mainly because I was lonely, and I had no idea what I was doing. I never thought I was going to have a child. Now I had one and I was old, and I had never changed a diaper and I would eat straight from the pan in my nursing bra and burn my boobs and I just wanted someone to share all this with. Lo and behold, I had a bazillion people on the internet, and whether they wanted to see my burnt boobs or not, I didn’t care because I also decided to use the hashtag #realmotherf—inglife and this was my Real. Motherf—ing. Life. I needed to just get it out that I had no idea what I was doing as a mom and I had probably made a horrendous mistake but oh well, I was stuck with this baby who literally couldn’t pull his mouth away from my nipples and hello, was anyone out there? Help me. I need a community. I put my wine in his cupholder in the stroller and pushed the contraption back and forth with my legs, Netflix in the background, who knows where [husband] Robert was, and I decided I would continue with my commitment to being real and talk about motherhood in my own way. No bulls—.
L: What are you hoping people take away from your book?
JP: I hope people take away the fact that there is no such thing as perfect, that we all have our own path, that there is no such thing as stuck, that it’s okay to talk about depression, that letting yourself be seen is everything. And, that listening will change your life.