Lifestyle & Culture

Jessamyn Stanley, the Stereotype-Busting Yoga Teacher

Fighting the gentrification of yoga, Stanley wants people to know yoga is for everyone

21.06.2019 | by Kezia Parkins
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Today on National Yoga 2019, the world is not short of ‘yogis.’ Yoga’s booming industry is no secret, and this can be seen from the influx of yoga studio’s and retreats opening up all over the world. The yoga industry has also boosted sales of active-wear as the nature of the sport entices young, trendy (largely female) millennials who like to bend and flex in style.

While the origins of yoga are inclusive, the way that the world represents it now (especially on social media) is not. It is hard to think of yoga without also conjuring the image of a lythe  v  and slim woman doing the downward dog in tight-fitting hot pants. However, in the US alone 36 million people practice yoga, and Jessamyn Stanley knows they cannot all be a size 2.

Stanley is a stereotype-busting yoga teacher, body positivity advocate, and writer based in Durham, North Carolina who self identifies as a “fat, queer-femme.”

When she first got into yoga in 2011, she noticed that nobody in her classes looked or dressed like her and that wearing scanty workout gear without judgement was a privilege most often reserved for the skinny.

She felt that as a woman of her size, she had to cover up, but now says that by wearing as little as she wants she is dismantling the idea that those carrying more weight should hide their figures.

Being an overweight black woman, Stanley may not look like your everyday yogi, but don’t be fooled. Her high-level of practice allows her to do everything you would expect a yoga teacher to be able to do.

Over the past few years, Stanley has built a substantial and loyal following on Instagram through unashamedly sharing pictures of herself in seemingly impossible to achieve positions. But she does it! She has trained her body to navigate yoga and is helping her fans achieve the same by proving that every body is capable.

Her book Every Body Yoga has been described as a beginner guide to yoga with minglings of a memoir. It has received wide praise from the yoga community and publications such as Elle, Time and the Fast Company who named her one of their 100 most creative people in Business in 2017.

“The message is: You should be aiming for this yoga body. It’s in how people market studios, write books, and how classes are taught. So what I’m doing seems subversive,” she said told Rewire news in 2018.

“Even in body-positive circles, it’s still about having that Marilyn Monroe, perfect-tapered waistline. Are we drinking the coconut oil now? Are you going to heaven to get your eyebrows done? So much about what we like about ourselves is what’s in fashion,” she said.

Stanley is aware that her skin colour, shape, and sexuality subvert the norms of a yoga professional. As a result, a more diverse group of people are getting into yoga.

In April this year, she launched her App Underbelly Yoga which she describes as “the yoga studio for the rest of us” and is taking it on tour as a multi-city conference event.

“If you have ever thought that people who look like you or think like you or live like you don’t do yoga, this is your place to give it a go,” states the apps website homepage.

When the Yoga Journal asked Stanley what she thought about those claiming she is democratising fitness in an interview last month, she said, “Apps, websites, and social media are making an egalitarian space where everyone’s free to say what they want. If you can build it, anyone in the world can find it. That’s powerful for building a message. What yoga can offer is so minimized by what the media is willing to show because of the gentrification of yoga. Lots of people shade yoga because they think it’s for white women. We need to be clear that it’s for everyone.”

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