The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
When it comes to first-time experiences, it wasn’t “love at first lotus pose” for yoga advocate and author Jessamyn Stanley. In , Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get On the Mat, Love Your Body, Stanley shares her rocky introduction to yoga. Spoiler: it wasn’t great:
“I enjoyed going to classes, but like many other yoga students who look ‘different,’ I always left the studio feeling a vague sense of discrimination at the hands of my teachers and fellow students,” she writes. “I was also strapped for cash and could barely afford the occasional drop-in class. So I turned my focus to developing a home practice.”
Before body positivity morphed into a glorified catchall for wellness brands and influencers, Stanley, a self-described “fat, Black, queer woman,” showed the world what it meant to wholly love yourself, thus embodying what the body-positive movement is all about. But Stanley is quick to stress she’s not a yogi, but rather a teacher first and foremost.
“I think of myself as a practitioner. I would never call myself a yogi,” she specifies. “I’m a yoga teacher, but my teachings come from lived experiences. So I’m also a practitioner.”
If you’ve ever stepped into a gym or fitness class for the first time and immediately felt like you didn’t belong, then you understand Stanley’s early experiences. Whether it’s not seeing people who look like you or being overwhelmed by the nagging feeling that strangers are judging your body, appearance or technique, finding the right environment can make or break a new experience. In Stanley’s case, her environment of choice became her home.
“Starting a home practice was really when things began to come together. I was free to just focus on the poses and breathing and not being an outsider,” says the author. At-home yoga became so much more than a series of poses to master; it slowly evolved into a lifestyle.
Around 2012, while sharing her yogic evolution during Instagram’s early days, Stanley began amassing a devoted following of fellow yoga lovers and newbies who benefitted from her trailblazing approach.
Since then, life has changed dramatically for Stanley. She’s found a supportive community and now has more than 465,000 and over . She also published a second book, in 2021, launched a wellness app, , and co-hosts , a podcast about relationships.
While visibility has been a major driver behind Stanley’s success, it comes at a cost: online trolls. Body-shaming, racism and hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric run amuck online, and Stanley’s identity ticks all of these boxes.
“In order to troll someone, you have to be so sad, so deeply hurt, and I understand that feeling,” she says. “If I can see myself within that person, then I can experience compassion for them.”
These days, Stanley has little time to ruminate over online foolishness. Podcast, teaching practices and app development aside, she’s also recently launched an where she practices naked yoga and empowers her subscribers to bare it all.
“Practicing naked is a cool way to engage with your body and spirit in a way that we really wouldn’t be able to do in other classes,” Stanley says. She stresses, however, that if you’re not quite ready to strip down, you don’t have to.
Body acceptance is a major benefit of practicing your Asanas and downward dog poses in the buff. And seeing your body without the adornment of your favorite trendy leggings or baggy clothing is the simplest way to start that journey. Stanley’s platform offers subscribers class tutorials that offer in-depth postural breakdowns.
Although naked yoga isn’t a new concept, finding the right virtual platform for such a practice was a major challenge for the practitioner, particularly in a climate that often associates nudity with sex as opposed to a natural state of being. Stanley feels grateful to have finally found a place where she can freely practice in a way that is intentional and hopefully inspires her fans to love their naked body and yoga more.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she says. “At first I thought that maybe I could confine myself to the limits of the community guidelines of platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Then after a while, I realized I was limiting my creative freedom and the way I’m able to talk about yoga.”
With 2023 rapidly approaching, many people have wellness on the brain and our aspirations shamelessly hitched onto the glittering bandwagon known as “the new year’s resolution.” We’ll soon be in the doldrums of winter when the gyms are packed, and fitness classes might be at their most intimidating. If you are someone who struggles with the kind of anxiety that tends to dishearten those who don’t quite fit into these spaces, Stanley offers some resolve.
“My biggest advice is to establish a home practice,” she says. “Establishing a practice in a place where you don’t have to apologize for yourself means that you can practice not apologizing when you’re out in other places too. Phobias and -isms are everywhere within the wellness industry. Instead of trying to change the system, we have to show up as ourselves. You can be fat, disabled, old, whatever the thing is, in whatever environment and you’ll know this because you found a safe space first at home.”
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