The practice of yoga is often seen to be one only open to the tall, slim, blonde and tanned twenty-somethings that saturate our Instagram feeds on a daily basis. However, the reality is very different – it’s a form of exercise that can suit every age, body shape, need and desire, but the trick is to find an instructor that can really help you on a positive body journey. As a rather chunky girl myself (we’re talking boobs, bum, tum and thighs that are about as wide as the waists of many other enthusiasts,) that’s taken up yoga this year, I feel passionate about encouraging others to at least try the practice no matter their body shape. I may not be able to get into all the positions and often look like a total loon when I’m trying, but the key thing is that *I’m trying*; after only a couple of months I’m noticing a difference in my flexibility and mental well-being, so I’m a complete advocate of the art. So is Jessamyn Stanley. As a ‘body positive’ yoga instructor she’s really breaking down barriers when it comes to looking or feeling a certain way – and her passion is infectious. In an effort to illustrate that yoga is for everyone, I spent ten minutes getting to know what makes her tick.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF…
I’m a yoga teacher, body positive advocate and writer based in Durham, North Carolina USA. I use high energy vinyasa flow as a way to move past mental and emotional barriers. My classes provide a body positive approach to yoga which celebrates students’ bodies and encourages them to ask “how do I feel?” rather than “how do I look?” when practicing yoga.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR JOB?
I became a teacher in response to the insane wave of people from all over the globe who desperately asked me to come and teach them. If left to my own devices, I may have never become a teacher. It wasn’t until after I underwent training, however, that I began to understand just how important it is to have a wide variety of yoga teachers in order to respond to the endlessly varied lifestyles that exist on the planet. There is no singular yoga teacher who is perfect for everyone, and therefore it’s important to have a large group to draw from.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE A ‘TYPICAL’ DAY?
My days are rarely ‘typical’ – because I’m a yoga teacher AND writer AND blogger, I’m constantly working on different projects and juggling different kinds of tasks. However, there are definitely some things that never change. For example, I always start my day with a glass of water with lemon, and I usually follow that up with espresso (because I’m a caffeine addict, one of my vices.) I usually spend 1-2 hours answering emails and checking in on my various social media channels before jumping into the day’s main activities. This can vary depending on a wide range of factors: I might be writing a freelance piece, or shooting/editing/posting an Instagram campaign, or preparing to teach a class or workshop. Regardless, I always try to sneak in yoga at some point during the day. I don’t keep a set schedule; I get bored easily and I like to make my practice fit my day. I usually try to practice for at least 30 mins, and (if the universe is generous) I can find ways to practice for 2-3hrs. Those days are rare, though; I feel like everyone just has to fit it in where they can. The main thing I’ve also prioritized is sleep. I realize that my body is worthless without rest, and I try to close my eyes before midnight every night so I can at least attempt to get seven hours of sleep.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACE?
I think it’s hard to stand by your values – even when they are unpopular or misunderstood. The more time I spend within the yoga community, the more I realize that it’s crowded with a lot of inauthentic people: narcissism and body shame are totally normalized, and those two elements are the exact opposite of my values. It’s a challenge for me to hold on to who I am and what I really care about because there are constantly people who want me to alter aspects of myself to fit this traditional yoga community. But I think our current yoga community is faulty for a reason, and it’s important to maintain sight of the things which actually matter.
CAN YOU PINPOINT ONE PARTICULAR HIGHLIGHT TO DATE?
The greatest moments for me are when I get to practice with my students. Not on camera. Not with any light on us at all. The moments when I get to see people change their own lives through movement, breath, and internal sight are highlights which could never be overstated. I am so grateful for the ability to interact with other human beings in this way. It’s truly the gift of my life.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT WHAT YOU DO?
I love being able to wake up and do something I love every day. I was raised by people who were not given that luxury, and my life has not always been like this so I really value being able to go to work every day and actually like what I do. It’s a luxury like none other.
WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN?
Take what you need from each experience, but don’t let your job define you. Be fluid, be innovative, and always look to the horizon. The moment you stand and stare in place or start imitating the work of other people, you’re finished.
IF YOU WERE TO GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO ANYONE INTERESTED IN YOUR FIELD, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Don’t imitate other people – spend time looking within yourself and tell that story. That’s the story that’s never been told before. You are unique, you’re not a carbon copy. Don’t build a mold and follow directions, but break the mould. Break the rules. Be your own person.
HOW DO YOU UNWIND AFTER A LONG DAY?
Meditation, THC therapy, and Epsom salt baths. I also like to binge watch soapy Netflix dramas like Revenge.
CAN YOU LET US IN ON YOUR FIVE BEAUTY MUST-HAVES?
I value basic beauty regimens – daily facial cleansing, consumption of water, regular sleep, etc. To that end, I swear by Dr. Bronner’s soap and my spin brush for facial cleansing, plentiful lemons and raw honey for daily internal cleansing, Epsom salts for soaking my sore muscles, and essential oils for balancing my energy.
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