Last year, a writer at XOJane caused quite a commotion when she wrote about feeling uncomfortable, as a thin white woman, when a plus-size black woman joined one of her yoga classes. The essay, while insulting and paternalistic, also sparked a dialogue about the general “whiteness” of yoga in America.
Jessamyn Stanley is a 27-year-old certified yoga instructor and body positive advocate who is using social media to change perceptions of what a skilled yoga enthusiast should look like. Stanley blogs about her experiences as a plus-size yogi, and shares beginner-friendly tutorial videos on her YouTube channel. She also posts beautiful photos, along with tips and inspiring statements to her over 60,000 followers on Instagram.
Today I finally tried @cbquality's #splits program on @trainersvault and, as one would expect from the high priestess of thick fit #yoga girls, it left my hips and hamstrings VERY happy. I'm really excited to keep practicing her sequence and feeling my body open even more- it's very simple but extremely deep delicious stretches. I've had a lot of new developments in my life and my hips are holding all of the associated stress- It was a gift to open into them and release some unnecessary tension. Also, @thechalkboardmag mentioned me in a yoga roundup along with the likes of @gigiyogini, @tarastiles, @mackenzieyoga, and my boo @nolatrees- click the link in the @thechalkboardmag instagram header to check it out! Leggings- @mymanifesta
Stanley’s first experience with yoga was when a friend “dragged” her to a Bikram yoga class when she was still in high school. She admitted she hated the class and was even staunchly “anti-yoga” for years after that experience. When she was in graduate school, Jessamyn decided to give yoga a second try at the urging of a close friend. This time around, her experience was markedly different.
I realized that many of my original problems with the practice originated from unadulterated teen angst, I decided to give it a second chance. Even though my first few classes were extremely intense (i.e.- inconsistent breathing, drinking excessive water, premature exhaustion), I was intrigued by how self-satisfying the practice could be. Unlike other physical activities, yoga awakened my spiritual curiosity even when I was pressed against the boundary of physical exhaustion.
When Jessamyn moved back home to North Carolina after finishing school, financial hardship slowed her yoga practice. Eventually, she was able to set up a home studio, and had this bit of advice to offer and beginner yogi,
Don’t just go with the first studio throwing around free guest passes- look for a studio whose teachers are recognized for being encouraging and positive. The outlook of a yoga teacher has just as much of an effect on your practice as the clothes you wear or the amount of water you drink. Once you find a studio, give yourself at least one week of classes, consisting of at least three classes before determining if you want to continue. If you’ve never tried yoga, your first class might be a little more intense than you’re expecting which might lead you to set fire to your yoga mat and curse the whole practice to hell.
Since then, Jessamyn’s story has been helping aspiring yogi’s all over the country. She’s even booked television appearances and will be going on tour with Dana Falsetti, a fellow body-positive yoga enthusiast. For tour dates and more info visit www.jessamynstanley.com.