Jessamyn Stanley – Plus Size Yoga Instructor

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Up Close & Personal with Jessamyn Stanley

Photography by Joseph Bradley
Editorial by Sarah Karhukangas

Yogi & FabUplus Cover Girl

FabUplus Magazine had the pleasure of sitting down with Jessamyn Stanley, a yoga instructor, body positive advocate and writer in Durham, North Carolina.

What made you decide to try yoga and begin practicing yoga and what were some of the obstacles that you faced as you began your practice?    

I was quite depressed and felt out of touch with everything. When I was about 16, a classmate and my aunt suggested I try hot yoga. I hated everything about it – the heat, the way the poses were performed etc. I said I would never do it again. In grad school I wasn’t in a good place, so a friend suggested I try yoga again. Everything I hated at first was perfect this time. I loved the challenge and it helped pull me out of depression. I was the fattest person in the class but I loved how it made me feel. I couldn’t afford classes, so I began practicing at home; going online and posting photo’s to make sure that I had the correct form. I originally did yoga just to get my life together, but I came to realize that it means so much more to me now.

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Photo: Joseph Bradley

I have heard you talk about how, when you first began practicing yoga, the instructors did not know how to teach you with a larger body. So with that said, how was your experience?

The obstacles are more with my mind than my body. People think that only a small person can do yoga. I had to get over the mental hurdle of what society thinks of when they think of the type of person that does yoga. Yoga is for all bodies. Too many people are hung up on the mental boundaries. Even though I’m fat, I can still do the poses; they just have to be done differently.

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Photo: Joseph Bradley

Can you share with my readers about your own personal journey to self-love and body acceptance?

My journey is pretty much the same as the average experience for a fat bodied western woman. I was always told that my body wasn’t ok and I believed it and became extremely depressed. In high school I was a self-mutilator. I couldn’t accept myself for who I was. In college I became obsessed with losing weight. I watched “Biggest Loser” and went to Weight Watchers. By the time I got into yoga I was getting into a healthier state and wasn’t so concerned with my weight. I just wanted something to help me chill out. When I was at the yoga studio I was the fattest person there. I had to ask myself why I was so concerned with the other people there. I feel that it’s more important to not care what others think; they are just projecting their insecurities from their own body issues. I don’t pretend to be a master at this; it’s a constant journey.

What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just beginning their body positive journey?

Stop worrying about what others think of you. That is a worthless journey, the source of all unhappiness. Sometimes the people you love are the ones that make you feel bad about yourself. Acknowledge the role that that has in your own happiness. The happiest people don’t care what others think of them. The media are the ones who want us to change.

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Photo: Joseph Bradley

What would you say to someone who wants to give yoga a try, but fears that their body is too large, or not flexible enough and an obstacle in getting started with Yoga?

Your body is not the obstacle to practicing yoga, your mind is. Don’t wait for the future to do something – do it now. Make things happen. You never know about tomorrow. What if today was your last day? Don’t just sit and wait for things to happen to you.

Do you practice and teach yoga full-time?

I originally had no intention of teaching. I used to get emails from people asking where I taught so they could join my classes. A friend kept telling me that I needed to do this but I didn’t have money to do the training. My dad, who was previously uninterested, found out about my popularity and he said he would give me the money. I didn’t understand at first that the training would crack open my soul. It became apparent to me that this is what I was meant to do for the world to be of service to them. I teach locally in the Durham area. I also do international online teaching as it reaches a lot of people at one time. The way I teach yoga is the way I live my life. 5 years ago I wouldn’t have believed that this is what I would be doing now.

What is some feedback you have been getting from students?

My classes are very different. I teach the vinyasa style of yoga (fast paced), but I teach it differently because of the fat body issues. I don’t try to make people feel bad to get to the poses. Too many teachers focus on how the poses look. I tell students to focus on how they feel not how they look. Worrying about how they look takes away their focus. Even if they only achieve a child pose all day, that’s still ok.

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Photo: Joseph Bradley

What is next on the agenda for Jess, can you share what is coming up in the future for you?

My book is the biggest thing and it will be out in March 2017. This will involve a tour and a retreat in California. I am also working on Yoga Journal Live. My main overall goal is to reach every single person that I possibly can. When I hear a fat person say they can’t do things because they are fat, I tell them to check online and see all of the different athletic people there. I tell them that if they can do it, so can you. I used to be the person who said I couldn’t do certain things because I was fat, and now look at all of the things that my body can do. You don’t have to be a size 10 to do things, you can do it now in the body you have.

To find out more about Jessamyn visit http://jessamynstanley.com/ or follow her on Instagram at @mynameisjessamyn

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