Gianna Purcell is an international yoga teacher, she travels around the world leading workshops, trainings, retreats, and classes. She is a USA National Yoga Asana Champion, a Bikram Yoga Certified teacher, an Ashtanga/Vinyasa E-RYT 500 hour certified teacher, and continuing education provider. Gianna is passionate about training and discovering different modalities and techniques to help achieve deeper shapes and perspectives.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Chicago as the second of four children. My dad came from a big Irish Catholic family and my mom from a strict Italian Roman Catholic family. Religion and ritual were always part of my life. While there were useful aspects to being exposed to faith from a young age, there was not much tolerance or support for me as a queer kid with a dying mom. There was quite a bit of spiritual bypassing and denial of science.
One of the things, though, that I think about often is how constant the awareness of death was in my family. My mom, her siblings, and her dad all had Huntington’s. I grew up visiting my grandfather in the hospital and going to funerals on a regular basis. I had to start my journey towards understanding impermanence at a very young age. With all things, pets, family members, neighbors passing, I had to reconcile the fact that, not only was my mom going to die but so was I.
This seems really sad and maybe unfair but I watched my dad no miss a day of enjoying his time with his family and his wife while he had it. He worked constantly but was never too tired to take in the life he created.
I have a million stories of the two of them, everything from my dad dancing with my mom in a wheelchair to the two of them sitting on the couch together, side by side before the both of them passed. Their relationship and their lives taught me a lot.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I realized that relationships are not easy and what often makes them hard is our inability to look at ourselves deeply and to change.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Bad advice in health and wellness runs deep. In yoga, though, the bad advice that gets thrown around often is based around health looking a certain way and yoga being fitness rather than a source of introspection and transformation. Many practices have been turned into a way for people to work out and have been drained of self-acceptance, self-interest, and self-evolution. More is just more. You can not stretch all your problems away. There has to be complimentary work on mental flexibility.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
The darkest period in my life spans a course of two years. My dad died of ALS, I was in a motorcycle accident with my wife at the time, and then we got divorced. I thought all of it was part of what I had been preparing for this whole time. Turns out, I wasn’t ready for any of it. My dad was the glue that kept our family together. The motorcycle accident really stole from the ability of my family to heal as a whole, and the divorce was really the cherry on top. I had been with her for ten years, she would be the last person I’d ever be with to know my whole family when they were well, and I needed her more than I thought I did.
With a lot of therapy and a lot of friends, I was able to see the value in what I had come out of. It is still a process, but I could not have done it with just a yoga practice. I needed my therapists, my friends, and time in the desert alone to put back together with a definition of who I am and what I want going forward.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I study hard! I am content with myself, with who I am, and who I know I am becoming but I am constantly seeking. I need to be learning, be it a different language or information directly related to my craft, study is a must. It is why people can study with me forever and things will always feel or appear fresh because my mind is always being molded.
What is your morning routine?
I get up no later than six. I sit for my morning meditation, I teach a class at seven, and then I make celery juice, have a coffee, do my studies and proceed with work, meetings, playing music, or hiking. Things change as the seasons change. Being up with the sun is a must!
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Meditation has definitely improved my life. If my patience starts to go or my ability to be present waivers, it’s because I have not been meditating.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Taking breaks! I am useless if I do not get up and go for a walk or even just change the scenery that I have been working in. It allows me to put together better material and feel fuel from my work instead of feeling depleted.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The books that have influenced me most are ever-changing. As a yoga student and teacher, I eat up the books by the Bihar School, including Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. They give brilliant explanations as to what is going on within and beyond the body and what can be done with that information.
I also find the Tao Te Ching to be a useful and relevant text to open every day and simply sit with and dissect one quote or section at a time. Our lives are so complex! Ancient tools are a great help.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“Everyone is enlightened but me” is a quote I have still not found the original speaker of. It is something that keeps me out of road rage, anger, reaction, and mistrust. If everyone around me is simply testing me on my path to wholeness, then how could I get mad or play the poor me card? We are always being asked to step up and show up as our best selves.