I fell in love with yoga in my twenties after a friend introduced me to the practice as a way to deal with a high-stress sales position. Seduced by the positive vibes, relaxation, and the promise of a beautifully sculpted yoga booty, I floated across New York City in a blissed-out bubble.
But after a class at one Manhattan yoga studio, I decided to put my practice on pause. The instructor called me out by name for an ill-aligned tree pose. Although he thought he was being helpful, the damage had already been done. I left the studio with a bruised ego and a desire to understand why I’d been busting my ass to stand on my head in the first place.
I began to develop my own at-home practice and scoured the Internet for teachers who would support my journey. And when my search led me to yoga teacher, author, and body positivity advocate Jessamyn Stanley, I got more than I bargained for.
Though she’s only been practicing yoga herself since 2011, Jessamyn is already making a name for herself. In a field that’s traditionally dominated by size 2 women trying to outdo each other’s arm balances, she’s carved out her own lane and made the practice of yoga more accessible and inclusive.
As a self-described “Fat Femme”, Stanley is everything yoga hasn’t been – curvy, Black, and creative. Yet the 30-year-old North Carolina native is everything yoga is supposed to be – reassuring, self-reflective, and beautifully authentic. She started her practice with upcycled props, including blocks she made by joining old cell phone boxes together with packing tape. She is unapologetically herself, and with over 368,000 Instagram followers, Jessamyn’s message of body positivity is proving to be a breath of fresh air in the yoga community.
During each of her online classes, Stanley creates a supportive environment in her living room studio. She encourages her students to use props when necessary and modify poses in a way that puts less emphasis on how they look and more on how they feel.
Her blog, ‘My Name is Jessamyn,’ is a deeply personal extension of her yoga practice, beautifully curated with photos that will leave you with serious Instagram envy. She allows her followers to watch her doing everything from modeling her favorite outfits to cleaning her cat’s litter box in her underwear. She shares her struggles with her own body image, and how the #MeToo movement has been both inspiring and painful, triggering her own memories of personal trauma.
In an entry on her blog, Stanley shared the story of finding a downward dog modification to accommodate her stomach. And while the result may not look like a perfect yoga postcard, her adjustments helped make her morning sun salutations a lot more comfortable. She wrote,
“Instead of working on picture perfect alignment, I’m getting to a place of comfort with finding ‘alignment that feels picture perfect in MY body.”
She may not have set out to inspire curvy girls to get on their mats, but by sharing her personal challenges and triumphs, Jessamyn Stanley is proving that yoga is truly for every body.
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Photo: Jessamyn Stanley / Instagram