Internet Phenomenon Jessamyn Stanley Shatters Stereotypes About Yoga

In an exclusive interview during South By South West (SXSW), the yoga teacher, who has more than 280K followers on Instagram, gives lessons on self-confidence and body positivity.

Originally published on Lamparinascope.

“I do swear a lot. Hopefully, that’s not gonna be offensive to anyone.” Jessamyn Stanley’s panel started at SXSW with a clear message. “This is also a way to show that yoga isn’t this picture-perfect-everything-is-beautiful thing. It’s a realization of truth.”

Jessamyn is 29 years old and started practicing yoga six years ago. At the time, she had just graduated in non-profit arts management and culinary arts. “I just got to the point of depression in my life. I didn’t feel my life goals and what I was doing had any kind of mission. My relationship was also ending. I was just really sad in general,” she recalls. A friend invited her to go to a yoga class, and she decided to accept the invitation. “Everything about [the class] was so clarifying for me. It helped me see the parts of my life where I was sleepwalking. It helped me to see how many boundaries I set up for myself.”

For her, yoga was never about being fit or be healthy. “It’s beyond exercise. It’s about becoming in communion with my real self.” For every positive comment that she receives on her Instagram, there’re a million others posting the meanest things they can come up with. “I do not let myself down because of it. The practice of Yoga doesn’t have anything to do with other people’s opinion.”

In addition to being famous on social media, Jessamyn recently launched “Every Body Yoga,” a book that teaches yoga technique while also inspiring body acceptance and self-love.

Here’s the full text of our chat after the panel:

L: What do you consider to be the stereotype of the yoga practitioner?

J: The traditional look of a yoga student is probably pretty willowy thin, white, cisgender female. That’s the way people see yoga.  And it goes beyond the physical description. There are those who associate yoga with the clothes that you are wearing, the matt that you are carrying, the studios that you attend. It seems that those who practice it are those who have free time and condition. No one associates it with someone who has multiple children or who works two jobs. Yoga is a way of life in search of our inner truth. It is a practice meant to everyone. This idea gets lost because of the human need to compete and this need to compare.

L: You said you got a lot of negative comments online. Would that be your biggest challenge?

J: No. A lot of us see judgment and social pressure as stopping points at this life, but they are the key to our growth. It’s helpful for me when I get negative feedback, to think: “what’s going on in that person’s lives?” Something is going on for them to feel compelled to say something mean to me. Maybe because I look a way they’ve been told is inappropriate. That shakes them to their core, and they are scared. They feel fear. The only way I can encounter fear is with love. So I feel that if I’m compassioned towards people who are just unhappy themselves, then that will make them happy as well. That’s how we stop the cycle of body shaming.

L: Why did you decide to pursue a career as a yoga teacher?

J:  When I started to have social media and press notoriety, I had people emailing me saying “come teach me.” At first, I didn’t want to do it, because I didn’t understand why I needed to be a yoga teacher. There are thousands of yoga teachers. When I decided to go deeper into practice and do the training, I realized that there was so many different things going on with myself, so many different boundaries. My journey to understand myself could be immediately helpful for another person, who was having the same problems. I still don’t care about making money from teaching yoga. I think that being able to express what it means to see yourself and give this to another person is priceless. I teach yoga because I love this practice. That’s the only reason to do it.

L: During the panel, you asked those who had already felt uncomfortable in a yoga class to raise their hands. Almost the whole audience raised their hands. Why do you think there was such a strong reaction?

J: When we are very young, we are taught that the way the other people perceive us, is how we actually exist. When we see other people having reactions to us, that’s how we start to see ourselves. That turns into body shaming.

L: What tip would you give to those who want to practice yoga, but don’t feel comfortable going to a class?

J: I always liked online classes, because it’s a lot about I can be gentle with myself. “I haven’t done this before; I’m not supposed to be perfect at it today.” Once you start accepting that, you can just go with the flow. Then, before you know, you are working into deeper variations. When you are at home, you don’t have to be perfect. Carry that energy with you. If you can’t practice at home, then I would say to go to class and ignore everyone in the room. Just let the reactions of other people roll off you. It’s not easy. The practice doesn’t have to do with any other people. “I don’t need to be obsessed with what the person next to me is doing. I’m going to do my interpretation of what the movement is.” That’s enough.

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