Why Yoga Is a Radical Practice From Body Positive Advocate Jessamyn Stanley
Jessamyn Stanley is more than a Durham, NC-based yoga teacher. She’s more than an author and Instagram influencer. She’s more than a body-positive advocate. What I learned from speaking with Jessamyn is that she’s a thought leader. She’s eloquent and realistic, hopeful and dedicated. And that’s what’s earned her a huge following, a book deal and the opportunity to speak all over the world (including at the W.E.L.L. Summit in November). Here she gives us a peek inside her world, and a few tools for how to accept our bodies, just the way they are.
WI: What are we missing about yoga in the mainstream?
Jessamyn: We often talk about yoga within wellness as exercise or fitness. But that’s not yoga’s roots. Yoga can be a tool for healing—from PTSD, an eating disorder or things less traumatic, for anyone struggling in general. There’s so much more going on with yoga. It teaches you that happiness comes from within yourself. That’s what it’s about. From my perspective, yoga is radical.
What is body positivity in your words and why is it important to yoga?
Body positivity isn’t first linked to yoga in my mind. It’s an antidote to the disease of body negativity, the idea that we have to change ourselves to fit someone else’s idea of what you should be. In body positivity, you’re perfect today. No one needs to change unless you want to evolve to be a better version of yourself. And that’s impossible to do without loving yourself first.
That’s the link to yoga. Yoga is about looking into yourself to see the damage, see what you’ve ignored, missed, misdiagnosed. You can see all of that with compassion and understanding and then reflect the light of your self-acceptance to others in the world.
The modern yoga world is based on emulating others, looking to someone else as your guide. But we need to look at ourselves as our own guides. Many people who go to yoga every week are not actually practicing yoga—it’s just a fitness routine.
Body positivity is a necessary prerequisite to practicing yoga. To bridge that gap between looking to others for guidance and trusting ourselves, we need body positivity.
What is required to practice yoga?
Being able to breathe. That’s all.
It doesn’t matter your physical state. If you can’t move your legs, you can still practice yoga. You just need to breathe and hold focus. Poses only add to that, and they’re not greater or better than sitting and breathing. That’s what my book [Every Body Yoga] is about too. It’s not just “any fat person can do yoga like a thin person.” It’s any body.
In our culture, our ego drives us to make these correlations between seeing results and doing it right. But our physical bodies are such a small representation of who we are. Our bodies are going to change, and we might be unable to do some things, but that doesn’t change the need to look inside ourselves and love ourselves. Unhappiness comes from not doing that.
What’s the biggest obstacle you have experienced when it comes to practicing yoga?
The general assumption of our culture now is that if you’ve been practicing yoga for a long time, you’re “good” at yoga. As a paradigm, that needs to be shifted because it’s not true. Being “good” at yoga is actually living your practice. And it’s nearly impossible to live your practice all the time, in our modern world. All the physical aspects of yoga are easy as f—, compared to the internal pieces.
The most complicated piece (and the most rewarding) is the non-physical. It’s about how we treat others, how we find constant focus, how we find our breath. Being aware of our interactions with ourselves and others and how we treat ourselves and others. The hardest moments are when I need to reflect love but my knee-jerk reaction is hate. That’s when we’re most awake.
What first step can we take today towards body positivity and acceptance?
The most important step—it’s not easy, but it’s the only one worth doing—is to listen to the things you say about yourself and others. Actually hear what you say. If anytime I have my belly out, I have some sh– to say about it, it tells me that I have to watch that, because how does it reverberate? What does it say to others about myself and how I think about them? Why do we feel the need to be our own worst enemies?
You can’t do anything positive until you recognize the negative. You have to actually diagnose the problem before you can find a treatment.
We have such a superficial way we understand our worth, based on how we look, how we communicate. But our worth is as expansive as the sky is blue. It’s not up for debate.
Want more ideas on loving yourself? Try these three tips for self-care.