Name: Jessamyn Stanley
Location: Durham, NC Hometown: Jamestown, NC
What led you to the practice of yoga? After a truly dreadful hot yoga experience in my teens, I actively avoided practicing yoga again until I was in my early twenties. While I was in graduate school, one of my classmates encouraged me to purchase an unlimited Groupon pass to our local Bikram yoga studio. Given my previous experience with Bikram, I was deeply skeptical. What I was surprised to discover was that yoga provided an unspeakable level of relief for me- primarily, it was an excellent stress reliever during a confusing and challenging period in my life. It was an opportunity to let my worries and troubles sit idly while I challenged my physical limits. However, it wasn’t until several of my close family members passed away unexpectedly in quick succession that I began utilizing my practice as a complete release from emotional turmoil. My yoga practice gave me a place to find peace and calm amidst a raging river of life chaos, and it’s from that core that I find the desire to continue practicing and sharing my practice with others. If only so I can help another person find a path to help manage the chaos of their own life.
How has yoga contributed to your activism? Does the fact that my body is larger than average directly contradict the common ways that we see yogis depicted in the media? Sure. Am I glad that my practice encourages other people to see their body in a more positive way? Of course. But I think the practice of yoga extends far beyond body positivity activism- it taps into the core flow of humanity, something which will exist far and beyond our society and its stigmas about beauty. I think it’s more important for me to be a stimulus for other people to seek happiness through the destruction of their own personal boundaries. If this serves as body positivity activism, than I’m glad to contribute my yoga practice.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your practice?
The most challenging aspect of my practice has been letting go of preconceived ideas I’ve hatched about my body’s abilities. I think everyone has a mental roster of movements they assume are out of their body’s range- whether it’s due to height, weight class, or lingering childhood trauma. However, breaking down these highly personal boundaries is the most critical part of anyone’s practice and it challenges me on a daily basis. It’s a constant motivator to seek satisfaction by exceeding my own expectations.
What advice can you give someone curious about starting their yoga practice who may not see their image reflected in media sources?
Think of all the people who are not reflected in the media, and then think about how all of those people continue to live extraordinary lives without seeing their choices reflected back at them in print or on a screen. Always remember that we are all the same- small, large, tall, short, and in every color of the rainbow. Ultimately, we are all the same. Even if you can’t find your image reflected in the media, don’t use that as an excuse to short change your desires. There is no greater voice than the one inside you that says “I can do it.” Listen to that voice- it is your true teacher. Who needs a reflection in the media when you can listen to the voice of your true teacher?
Interested in keeping up with Jessamyn?