How Jessamyn Stanley Is Erasing Yoga Stereotypes

This North Carolina–based teacher and 
Instagram star is changing the perception 
of what a yogi looks like.

This North Carolina–based teacher and Instagram star is changing the perception of what a yogi looks like. Her vinyasa-based teaching offers clear cues, can-do modifications, and wisdom for first-time and seasoned practitioners alike. Join Jessamyn for an empowering body-positivity workshop at YJ LIVE Florida Nov. 12. Sign up today!

Jessamyn Stanley is not a role model—at least, she doesn’t want you to think of her as one. She’d rather be viewed as a best friend who loves yoga. The self-described “fat femme” now teaches vinyasa at Durham Yoga Company in North Carolina and body-positivity workshops from NYC to LA, but she started her practice almost six years ago as a way to break a funk. Not only did taking classes at a hot studio improve her mood and help her manage her back pain, but the photos she took of her home practice made her an Instagram sensation (@mynameisjessamyn had 216,000 followers at press time). Stanley takes an unfiltered, no-nonsense approach to yoga, and life: She tells it like it is, whether it’s sharing her own sweaty journey to Vrschikasana (Scorpion Pose) or her brutally honest takes on current issues.

Yoga Journal: What inspired your Instagram feed?
Jessamyn Stanley: When I first started practicing, I took pictures to track my alignment at home. Comments from my followers included things like “I didn’t know fat women could do yoga.” That’s a problem. I want people to know that this is what a yoga practice can actually look like. I’m not the only fat person who does yoga and who is athletic. As a society, we put way too much emphasis on images. A lot of what’s posted on mass media is not indicative of the yoga community at large.

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YJ: What is your teaching philosophy?
JS: It’s about helping others find comfort in their own bodies while practicing asana. My classes all focus on establishing a clear difference between “How do I look?” and “How do I feel?” so that students can become more confident in their actions and decisions, and begin to disregard the opinions of others in favor of their own, both on and off the mat.

YJ: What is the one misconception about big-bodied people you’d like to dispel?
JS: Our society, and even our families, teaches us to think that fat people are slow and weak—but we can be intensely strong. When you don’t see any representation of fat-bodied people doing anything athletic, you maintain that outlook, making it easy to be narrow-minded. It’s time to change this mentality. Strength comes in different shapes and sizes.

See alsoAlexandria Crow on Listening To Your Body During Yoga

YJ:Why is home practice so important to you?
JS: It can be stressful in a classroom, especially if, like me, you’re distracted by other people. My practice grew with online classes at home. (Now, I teach classes on I like to upcycle old items as props, such as a scarf as a strap or a VHS set as a block. Find the environment you need, and yoga will work on you, if you let it.

In the Details

Stanley shares a few of her favorite things.

: Esse quam videri—Latin for “To be, rather than to seem.”
: Dolphin Pose. It requires you to stay put despite shakes and trembles. You need to renounce your ego in order to be in the moment.
Chakra: Anahata (heart chakra), because it’s very difficult to find any kind of clarity if your heart chakra is blocked.
Meditation spot: Eno River State Park, North Carolina. There are hiking trails and a giant quarry. It’s so peaceful and untarnished.
Practice space
: I’m most natural at home. It doesn’t belong to anyone else, and all I have to do is roll out my mat.