“It seemed like it was impossible,” Jessamyn Stanley said of her first time trying yoga at 16. Today, the 29-year-old is a body-positive yoga enthusiast, teacher and author of the new book Every Body Yoga, a memoir meets beginner’s guide that brought her to Rabb Hall at the Boston Public Library last Tuesday for a Q&A event with WBUR’s Robin Young. Although Boston was one of Stanley’s last stops on a busy 24-city tour, she was nothing but fresh—brimming with humor and an infectiously strong sense of self.
A self-described “fat femme,” Stanley recalled how yoga helped her “let go of fear” and love her body after battles with depression, personal identity and body image. But as a queer, black, “full-bodied” woman, she’s often felt alienated in a culture that tends to depict yoga practitioners as thin and white. She discussed struggling to find validation by looking at other people’s bodies and poses. “I think that a lot of people want to find their identities by stealing someone else’s,” she said.
But instead of focusing on “How do I look?” Stanley’s book urges us to ask, “How do I feel?” That’s what she did while cultivating a personal practice in her apartment, a comfortable and safe space allowed Stanley to celebrate her body and leave behind what she called the “fat woman workout outfit” of baggy shorts and an oversized T-shirt. “As a fat-bodied person, I was taught to avoid my body. I was taught to apologize for my body,” she said. “But the fact that my body has been oppressed doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to breathe.”
Now she strives to carve out that kind of judgment-free zone through her vibrant social media presence—she’s Insta-famous, boasting more than 300,000 followers—and in her classes. But she knows that welcoming environment isn’t always easy to find in the fitness world, so she hopes her book can help people start practicing yoga in their own bedrooms too.
Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get On the Mat, Love Your Body is now available for purchase on her website at www.jessamynstanley.com.