‘I am all about inspiring women to be themselves’ – US yoga teacher and author on her visit to South Africa – News24

Wednesday, 20 July
01 Apr
Fat, not athletic enough, overweight, too this and too that – she has heard it all. Yoga teacher, advocate, podcaster, and author Jessamyn Stanley (34) has been body-shamed, bullied by many and labelled “not fit enough” to be a yoga instructor.
But she has broken all misconceptions around the image of a yogi. Her journey is detailed in her first book Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get On the Mat, Love Your Body which was published in 2017.
In 2021 she published a series of deeply honest, and funny autobiographical essays in the book Yoke where she explores everything from imposter syndrome, health, and cannabis.
She pens down why loving yourself is a full-time job. In the book, she questions the Western world’s take on yoga.
She is also an advocate at ‘We Go High’ a cannabis justice initiative in North Carolina where they believe no one should be jailed for marijuana.  
Jessamyn recently visited South Africa and was one of the leading ladies at the Adidas I’m Possible Festival at St. Stithians College in Sandton, Johannesburg.
The festival and day of fun strictly hosted women over the age of 18 and was aimed at talking all things body positivity while sweating it out with a yoga session and workouts.  
“It is my first time in South Africa, but it reminds me a lot of like home in North Carolina. It feels so good to be here. The weather is perfect, and it was amazing to return to my homeland and where my people are from, and in this opportunity to work with people who are marginalized and be part of a campaign as an entry point to South Africa,” she tells Drum.
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Even though yoga originated in India, the stereotype of most yoga instructors in the West exists. They are all expected to be young, white, and female, but Jessamyn is defying the norm.
“At first, I thought yoga was for thin white women. I tried to once in high school and hated it. The biggest misconception is that what you look like matters. Every posture can be modified to where you are today. Ultimately the only prerequisite for yoga is breathing. If you can breathe, you can practice.  You’re not supposed to practice the postures perfectly. The whole practice is about falling, being unsteady, and doubting yourself and every posture is a vehicle to engage with those emotions. If you’re falling, you’re doing alright. It’s not about what it looks like but it’s about being yourself,” she says. 
A post shared by Jessamyn (@mynameisjessamyn)
“It’s all about being okay with who you are and doing your own thing, no matter what it looks to everyone on the outside. There are so few spaces where we are allowed to be ourselves and we are always trying to fit into boxes and live by somebody else’s standards. “

Many people feel intimidated by the ancient practice, but Jessamyn says for her, every time feels like the first. 
“Everybody goes with a beginner mindset. It really doesn’t matter, and it just needs you to show up as your full self,” she says.
She started doing yoga while at university. 
“I was in graduate school and going through a period of depression. A friend who was doing yoga suggested I join her classes,” she says. 
“Most people who get into yoga are not particularly flexible or really like exercising, but it is usually a spiritual medicine to help deal with something. It offered me so much space to let all my baggage hang out. I still come back to yoga for those same reasons, to have a space.”  
Back then, Jessamyn never thought she would teach yoga. 
“When I started posting my yoga on social media, more people who looked like me could identify. I was free and they would ask me to teach them because they saw someone they identified with. But, I didn’t see the need to go to teach because there we thousands of yoga instructors across the world, and I would recommend to them until I eventually got to a place of realizing that ultimately everyone should teach some form of this practice because we don’t all speak the same language,” she says. 
“My understanding of the practice is not going to resonate with everybody. I offered people something different. I was a black, fat queer woman and I was the opposite of what a yoga body or person is perceived,” she says. 
A post shared by Jessamyn (@mynameisjessamyn)
“I wanted people to move from a place of fear into love. Ultimately, it’s not about what you look like at all. It’s been interesting to me that because I am fat, black, queer and I own all of that makes space for other people to feel they can also be themselves in me,” she says.

“I love how it lets me ride the wave of life and lets me be okay with things as they happen. For me, emotional chaos in my life comes with trying to work with the plan and make everything go right, and when things don’t go right, I stress. There is a need to relax ultimately. Yoga allows that.”
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Jessamyn says humans spend too much time pretending and worrying. 
“Yoga teaches you about letting yourself sit in the sh*t. To not be worried about the smell. There is beauty in being in that muck. If you can let yourself feel that, there are beautiful rewards on the other side,” she says.
“I have never seen anyone doing what I am doing before. It was a great benefit that I was bullied n middle school pretty severely and that gave me a lot of confidence after because it forced me to believe in myself. If people say they don’t like you, you don’t have a choice but to like yourself. That road is scary and lonely, but it has so much power. If you can look at the haters and people who doubt you as inspiration. If they doubt you, they are really speaking to themselves. There is a lot of love to go around, but you have to find it within yourself. I wasn’t always this confident, it took me time, hardships, and introspection,” she says.
“As a child, I was obsessed with reading and it made me prioritize baths and not listening or thinking about what people think. Ask yourself how I do I feel every day and not think about how others see me or think of me. Maybe it’s a good thing to feel fat or ugly. Your body has gotten you to this day and deserves respect and hounour. As black women, we are built this way on purpose. Our bodies can withstand so much. It’s scary to people who are intimidated by it. Representation of people like us in different spaces and visibility is important and we have to be that, and it has to come with each one of us individually,” she says. 
“It’s important to understand that you are a powerful, magnificent creature of purpose. You are necessary. If you don’t shine, none of us can shine.”
A post shared by Jessamyn (@mynameisjessamyn)

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