As a full-figured woman Jessamyn Stanley may not look like your average yoga guru, but that’s exactly her point and why over 287,000 people follow her on Instagram.
When Jessamyn started posting pictures back in 2012, followers, likes and a book deal weren’t even in her consciousness.
“I started simply because I was practising yoga at home and I wanted to get feedback on my alignment from teachers on the app,” she tells us during a phone chat to promote the launch of her new book, Every Body Yoga.
“However, I started getting comments on my pictures saying things like ‘I didn’t know a fat person could do yoga,’ and all I could think of is why not? I knew a lot of bigger women living active lifestyles; but then I realised we had a visibility problem and I felt I needed to do something about that.”
The book is the culmination of those five years of ‘something’. It explores both her personal story and the emotional and physical side of practising yoga as someone who looks different.
It’s raw, it’s honest, it’s decidedly sweary in places – but when you put it down no matter what your age, shape, race or level of bendiness, you’ll think ‘hell yeah, I can do this,’ about hitting up your nearest yoga class.
Or as she puts it: “Damn, if that fat bitch can do it, I bet I can too.”
However, she admits it can take guts to walk into a yoga studio if you are bigger, older, less flexible or just not really sure what exactly a downward dog is let alone how you’re going to get into one.
Jessamyn says the key is to avoid thinking of yoga purely as a fitness routine.
“We live in a society that’s obsessed with how we look and how sexually attractive or acceptable we are – and yoga has been lumped into that – but yoga is not a fitness thing,” she says.
“Yes, it uses your physical body but its deeper point is far more fulfilling. My practise helps me transcend the all-consuming nonsense of daily life. It allows me to step outside of my mundane fears, endless obsessions and senseless anger. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had that feeling from other kinds of exercise.”
When you think about that rather than focusing on how flexible you are or whether your pose looks right you take a lot of pressure off, she adds.
Using props is not cheating: Yoga props like blocks or straps can help you reach poses more easily.
“If you’re busty you’ll know there’s absolutely nothing worse than being choked by your own cleavage while practising but looping a yoga strap across your check above the bust line can help,” says Jessamyn.
“Your arms and legs also won’t magically grow and so using blocks can offer a boost to get you into certain poses. Always look for ways to comfort your body and if using a prop means you’re in the pose fully and enjoying it, what’s wrong with that?
“Ask, ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen?’ So you don’t look or feel like the average yoga goer – just try it anyway.
“The worst thing that can happen is that people look at you – but what’s so bad about that? Saying that though, I still walk into some classes and don’t feel confident, I just don’t go back; there’s no reason to put yourself in places in which you don’t feel comfortable – try another class, or start off practising online at home.”
Still worried? Then just think about the line Jessamyn uses to closes the book, “Whatever your shape, shade, whatever baggage you’re carrying around with you, put it down and get on the mat. Find a place in your life for yoga today.”
See, yoga really is for every body.