“Yoga is the medicine I didn’t know I needed…
Now I can’t live without it.”
“It’s like I’ve found within myself this instrument. It was always here. It’s been covered up by blood and guts but I’m cleaning it off and learning to play. And while I’m playing, people hear the music and realize ‘I have this unique instrument within myself and can learn to play it too.’”
If you follow Jessamyn Stanley on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat (@mynameisjessamyn) or Facebook, you have witnessed her sincerity. She comes through the screen, frank as can be, exposing her strengths and vulnerabilities shamelessly. Unsurprisingly, she is the same in person. Twisting and settling into yoga poses with a deep sigh, eyes closed, the self-proclaimed “Fat Femme” opened up about receiving her 200 RYT here at AYC in 2015, what it means to be a body-positive role model and how social media has catapulted her into celebrity.
After years of staring depression and body-shame in the face, Jessamyn turned to yoga. Inspired by the body positive movement and yoga practitioners like Valerie Sagun (@BigGalYoga), she began to photograph her asanas in her apartment. While there were big women doing yoga, there was no one who was “unapologetically fat” photographing an advanced asana practice. Social media became Jessamyn’s means of both tracking her alignment and contributing to the body positive movement- gaining her press notoriety and a strong following. “It’s important for other people to see someone else having the experience of struggling with depression and body image issues. It says to young girls, ‘you are not alone.’” She makes it clear that her practice hasn’t been the sole reason for the change in her perspective but notes that it certainly had an influence.
A few years after establishing her social media presence, Jessamyn started to receive requests from yogis across the country asking her to teach classes in their cities. She was dragging her feet on finding the funds to pursue a Teacher Training certification but with the encouragement of friends and family she finally caved. She chose Asheville Yoga Center’s 200 Hour RYT program even before deciding to become an instructor. In researching certification programs in the South East, she recognized that a large number of them required students to read Stephanie Keach’s The Yoga Handbook. When she realized AYC was in North Carolina, it seemed an obvious choice to do her training in Asheville.
Jessamyn looks at her practice as before Teacher Training and after. “I came to AYC and got my heart cracked wide open. It opened my eyes to why there needed to be so many yoga teachers in the world. Everybody has their perspective that is unique to them,” she says. She feels that her students and social media followers can choose to walk their own path with courage and acceptance because they are inspired by these yoga instructors who have their own take on life. “Before AYC, I had never met yoga teachers who were straight up with who they were. Kimberley and Michael changed my life because they were just so upfront about who they are, the shit they had been through and just that they are human beings… It blew my mind.”
Since graduating from our TT program, she has been steadily making her way down the list of teaching requests rather than teaching in one studio. “I wouldn’t have [taken the TT] if it weren’t for them calling me to become an instructor.” While still based out of Durham, she travels across the country and abroad to host classes and workshops. She has been featured in Newsweek (pictured left), Huffington Post, the New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Shape and many more publications, is hosting a live Yoga Journal event ‘Get Out of Your Body and On to Your Yoga Mat,’ has written for Gaia, Mind Body Green and a number of other publications and has been featured on a host of national media outlets including Good Morning America. This woman is on fire. She represents a yoga instructor who all body types can relate to. While we all may not have experienced body shaming over weight, our society has a spotlight on appearance, which has a negative impact on women and men alike. Her body positive yoga approach allows students to simply be present in their practice, asking themselves how their body feels sinking into the poses rather than worrying about the way they look.
Jessamyn isn’t always comfortable with the newfound celebrity of her career. “Whenever you are comfortable enough with yourself to be wearing little clothing on the internet, everyone assumes, ‘Well damn, she must have it all the way together’ (because it’s such a socially unacceptable thing to do). I definitely still have fluctuations in how I feel about my body. I think all people do.” Putting herself out on display to the public still causes her to feel uneasy. It was never her aim to gain a massive following or even become a yoga instructor. Luckily (for all of us), getting to do her yoga practice and wear yoga pants every day makes the exposure worth it. Along with those sweet perks, she does it for her students and social media followers who need to see someone living authentically. “There’s a very specific idea of what it means to be fit in this country. So much of that is just sketchy. I can see how some people might not want to get caught up in using [social media] as a marketing tool but I think the positives outweigh the negatives.”
Her practice is about more than just the poses. “It’s not just this routine you do on certain days of the week. We live in a fitness-obsessed society. For anyone who wants to try yoga but is skeptical about it, know that there is no one that doesn’t need this practice. There is no one it can’t help. It is for every body, because everyone can benefit from a practice.” When talking about fame, she laughs, sinking into a split, and sarcastically says “It’s all about me,” clearly indicating that all of this- her message and this movement- is about so much more. Head to Jessamyn’s website for more information about her classes, tour, blog and background. If you are interested in learning more about AYC’s 200 Hour Teacher Training program, you can find it at youryoga.com.