Jessamyn Stanley Talks To Us About Yoga And Facing Discrimination

We grabbed a few minutes of time with yoga super-star and all-round body positive babe, Jessamyn Stanley. With the release of her new book ‘Every Body Yoga’, we wanted to find out a little bit more about her yoga journey and how she’s kept body positive in the face of discrimination.

How did the book come about, what made you decide to write it?

Jessamyn stanley every body yoga
Photo credit: Christine Hewitt

I’ve had a lot of people over the years message me, asking me how did I start practising yoga, how does anyone start practising. And every time they ask me I was always thinking, why are you asking me? Why don’t you just type that into Google, there are thousands of resources on this topic you could find so much. But then when I would type this into Google I found that it’s so confusing. It’s so confusing and I know what I’m looking at.

I just feel that people were thinking, is this a religion, is it for 5 minutes a day, do I need to move to India? And I was just like, someone should say in layman’s terms, this is what yoga is, and here is how you can start practising today.

And also it’s not just about, what tools should you use, what style should you practice, they’re asking why I started practising, so that’s why the book is also part memoir to have that story as well.

Was that really important, for you to tell your story?

Jessamyn Stanley
Photo credit: Christine Hewitt

You know I have to say, I really don’t care about telling my story. But what was important was for people to understand the importance of the yoga practice, for them to see that you don’t have to be perfect, or you don’t have to even strive for “perfection”.

You don’t have to get to a certain place in your life where you’re pretending that nothing bad has ever happened to you, and you don’t use profanity, and you don’t have substance abuse issues, or things like that, because that’s not the reality.

And I feel like in order to really express what a yoga practice is, it was imperative that I tell my own story, because if I didn’t I would just be another book that’s like “oh my god yoga is so great, it makes you so happy, and here are some moves that you can do”.

And that’s not what it is.

How did you first get into yoga?

I was just going through a really bad period of depression. And I didn’t realise how I was not stepping outside of my boundaries, I was not trying new things. If I thought that I was gonna fail at something I wouldn’t even try. And that kind of mentality is very pervasive, that’s what yoga helps with. The physical benefits of yoga are amazing, I love being really in tune with my body, I love that I’m more flexible, I love that I’m getting stronger, but that’s not really the meat and potatoes of it.

When you first started practising yoga, or later when you were teaching it, did you come across any discrimination or judgements?

Jessamyn Stanley
Photo credit: Christine Hewitt

When I first started practising I was almost always the largest person in the room, I was always very self-conscious. Whenever I would go to new studios I always felt like people were staring at me, that the teacher was paying too much attention to me, or people assuming that I was gonna mess up.

And that’s primarily the reason I started practising at home, because it just made me feel a lot more safe. And even now when I go to studios, I love being able to go to live classes, I love being able to breathe in the space with other people, but people will still look at me.

And with the teacher, there’s two scenarios. Either I go to the studio and everybody knows who I am, and they’re staring at me through the whole class to see how my practice is, or I go and the teacher doesn’t know who I am. And they ask have you done yoga before and they assume that I haven’t done it, so I still experience those.

But as a teacher, I have not really faced discrimination, not that much. It’s because of social media and I didn’t try to make my practice fit with a studio system. But there is rampant discrimination in the yoga community. There are fat bodied teachers who can’t get a job, and there are so many studios that wouldn’t even consider hiring a fat bodied teacher.

Jessamyn Stanley
Photo credit: Zoe Litaker Photography

You can read more about Jessamyn’s personal journey in her new book Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley, published by Workman.

You can purchase ‘Every Body Yoga’ directly from Amazon at £12.99.

Be sure to check out our review of ‘Every Body Yoga’.

And be sure to sign up to our mailing list for a chance to win your very own advanced copy!

Images Extracted from Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley (Workman). Copyright © 2017. Yoga Portrait photographs by Christine Hewitt. Yoga postures by Jonathan Conklin.

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