Jennifer Pastiloff has been leading these workshops for six years

By Grace Gavilanes
March 08, 2016 04:34 PM
Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Pastiloff

When you get to the end of your life, and ponder, “What have I done?” — what will your answer be?

While many of us may not have given this prompt much thought in the past, Jennifer Pastiloff, 41, already knows how she wants to be remembered. “Let my answer be: I have done love,” she tells a group of 70+ women at a Pure Yoga studio in N.Y.C. on Saturday, reciting the quote she considers her mission statement.

Pastiloff is a pro at making people feel safe. She admitted this to the room of women taking one of her frequently sold-out workshops, which she leads across the United States (including an annual retreat in Italy), aptly named The Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human.

“I started doing these workshops shortly after I became a yoga teacher,” Pastiloff tells PEOPLE. “When I started sharing very openly and honestly who I was in my personal essays and online through social media, I began to develop a very loyal following. I saw the power in being vulnerable and telling the truth in who I was and realized I could cultivate that same community and connection in real life.”

The yoga teacher-turned-retreat leader created these workshops six years ago to promote the importance and need for human connection, which she successfully takes on by providing participants (mostly women, though Pastiloff says a handful of men have attended in the past) with writing prompts, sharing sessions and an epic dance party — with classic yoga moves trickled throughout “to open up and connect with our bodies.” Singing along to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” is highly encouraged.

The inclusion of karaoke yoga, according to the expectant first-time mother, helps people become more in-tune with their bodies and also serves as a much-needed break from the heavy admissions these women bravely offer up during the three-hour event.

“I don’t care if you’ve never done yoga,” she says to the group of women, a slew of whom raised their hands moments before when asked by Pastiloff if they were nervous. “The point is to get us connected.”

Pastiloff’s Saturday workshop, much like her past ones, was comprised of a diverse group of women whose ages ranged from 16 to mid-50s. Despite more than 70 people gathered in the studio, the experience remained intimate.

The day, which promptly started at 1pm and ran a little after 4pm, began with sun salutations to warm up the body but quickly turned into a writing workshop. Pastiloff — who has struggled with significant hearing loss and has also openly spoken and written about her years-long battle with depression — delivered prompts that elicited emotional and heartbreaking responses from those in attendance. The women addressed their insecurities, their hopes and fears for the future and why they think they’re worthy of giving and receiving love, through their writing, which they then shared out loud.

“Despite my hearing loss, I say my job is ‘listening,'” Pastiloff tells PEOPLE. “I was afraid at first that if I opened up about my own depression that it would affect what I had created with my career, but quite the opposite happened. People showed up in droves. I realized that people were yearning for someone who they felt gave them permission to share their own truths.”

Even Lena Dunham is a fan of Pastiloff’s work. Back in November, the Girls star enlisted the soon-to-be published author to speak at The Ally Coalition’s Talent Show, which benefited homeless LGBT youth.

“I don’t think there is any area of my life that my workshops have not impacted,” she says. “Each time I listen to someone’s story — I am changed. I love inspiring people to create something that doesn’t fit inside a box. My workshop surely doesn’t.”