When Jessamyn Stanley, 30, first started practicing yoga in 2011, she was preoccupied with the physical appearance of her poses. Once she started moving based on how she felt, she fell in love with the practice and learned to embrace her own body. Stanley’s inclusive approach challenges preconceived notions of what a yogi ought to look like — because yoga is for every body.
Stanley has since become a yoga teacher and authored the book Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get On the Mat, Love Your Body. We caught up with her to learn more about her practice and how it’s reshaping the course of her life.
Experience Life | What inspired you to begin your yoga practice?
Jessamyn Stanley | Like (seemingly) most people, I began practicing yoga during a very difficult point in my life. I was 24, and thus completely consumed in the elementary dramatics of being that age. I was studying in a graduate program that didn’t quite fit with my ever-evolving goals, as well as coping with the end of a long-term relationship.
In 2011, one of my classmates encouraged me to purchase an unlimited pass to our local Bikram yoga studio. I had actually tried Bikram once before, when I was in my teens, and my experience was so overwhelmingly negative that I almost didn’t heed my friend’s advice. However, I found a great comfort in the Bikram yoga practice when I gave it a second chance — the combination of heat, repetitive sequencing, and long holds was a complete release from the stress of my daily life.
I began to look forward to class in a way that I didn’t really look forward to anything else: It made me feel powerful and self-assured at a time when I couldn’t summon those emotions on my own. I began documenting my home practice on my Instagram account simply so I could track my progress and improve my alignment, but it’s ultimately proved to be a consistent source of invigorating energy to my practice. I go into much more detail about this story and other experiences that kick-started my yoga practice in my new book, Every Body Yoga.
EL | How do you think yoga is different from other fitness activities?
JS | It’s very ironic that yoga is categorized as a fitness activity because, honestly, it’s not a fitness activity — it’s a spiritual life path and lifestyle. Yes, the asana (poses) are excellent physical exercise, but the lessons and inner growth that they offer in matters both on and off the yoga mat far transcend even the best benefits of a dedicated fitness regimen.
EL | What advice do you have for someone who wants to start practicing yoga?
JS | Don’t feel like you need to make excuses for your body or who you are — yoga is here for you, regardless of what’s going on in your physical body or whatever anyone else wants you to think or feel about yourself. Yoga will help you understand the magnitude of your power and beauty outside of the trappings of our daily life.
EL | Did you encounter any barriers in beginning your home practice, and in what ways has that practice differed from your studio experience?
JS | I think the main barrier when beginning a home yoga practice is prioritizing it, even when you don’t want to get on your yoga mat. Plus, you don’t have a teacher in the room, verbally pushing you though the tough spots. I always try to remind myself that I’ve never regretted a yoga practice, and that I always feel better after I take the time to get on my mat. Sometimes I’ll just leave my mat rolled out after practice, even if I’m staying in tiny hotel rooms where I have to step on the mat any time I want to use the bathroom. Since the mat is already rolled out, it’s like forcing the issue — why not practice; your mat’s taking up half the room! In a lot of ways, I prefer a home practice over studio practice, and studios can encourage a competitive and body-negative atmosphere, unintentionally or otherwise. I hate that energy, and a home practice offers an opportunity to practice yoga without that energy.
EL | You provide a body-positive approach to yoga in your classes. What role do you believe self-acceptance plays in a yoga practice?
JS | When you fully devote yourself to a yoga practice, self-acceptance is basically inevitable as it’s the ultimate goal of true self-reflection.
Learn more about Stanley at www.jessamynstanley.com and on Instagram @mynameisjessamyn.