It’s a hectic start to the day when I get on the phone with Jessamyn Stanley. In between Austin morning traffic and email fires to put out, Jessamyn is a calming reserve to finish up the morning. The celebrity yoga master is talking to me from an RV park in Northern California. This is where the aftermath of the pandemic left her which seems apropos for someone who expands the lives of everyday people– the great wide open.
Stanley’s fleet of Instagram followers and loyal subscribers of her app, a digital wellness experience called the Underbelly, has had a diverse pool of lives changed by the accessible, inclusive, and convenient yoga classes and mantras that Jessamyn offers the world. Stanley’s offerings have become a safe space for those who often do not see themselves reflected in the narrowed and quite filtered mainstream depiction of yogis. Jessamyn gives courage and truth to her followers in an all-encompassing lesson of how to make yoga a way of life, no matter who you are. Her book Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance is out now.
How have things been going, like with your like mental health and fitness journeys and all of that since the pandemic? What, is your mindset right now, are you picking things back up ok?
You know, honestly, I felt like all the yoga that I practiced before the pandemic was practiced for the pandemic, because I was just like Oh, so that’s what this is about. It’s about. And honestly, yoga is just about riding the waves and being okay, well, less riding the waves and honestly enjoying the surf and swimming through the ocean of life. I felt like that’s just, that’s been my approach since I started practicing my whole approach to life. The pandemic was just a really intense training round let’s say. I’ve definitely had a lot going on last year, in particular, was this was really intense for me in my personal life and in my professional life.
We moved from 2000 square feet to 56 square feet. I sold like 70% of my stuff. Then we went on the road and have been living full time, our beings since then, and we got this office space, a house, it’s a ranch, but it’s like a space where we can work and also have the RV park in Northern California. We did this in January and since then I have felt much more settled spiritually. During the first six months of full-timing, I was very much in the whirlwind of it. I think that I’m coming to a place of acceptance of all of that chaos and, and trying to just enjoy the waves and get into like, that’s what life is, life is chaos, and that the chaos is there to teach you lessons. That’s kind of where I’m sitting right now, in the sunshine. I’m enjoying the surf. It’s a good day.
That sounds so liberating. Your persona seems like you’re very liberated and spiritual, and that all comes with like yoga, but then there is a part of the social media aspect with its like accumulating things like likes and sponsorship deals and all of that. How do you navigate those two?
I literally spend as much time alone as possible. I try to only create from a place of just enjoying my life and wanting to create art based on what I’m doing and trying to stay away from the opinions of other people as much as I can. It’s really hard, like extremely challenging. I think that I don’t do a great job of it all the time but I think that that’s a part of it too, not doing a great job.
Whenever I see myself as a powerful being, nobody’s victim, nobody’s villain, and nobody’s hero.. when I’m just being, that’s where I’m able to experience the balance. I’ve had a lot of conflicted feelings about social media, especially over the last five years. There was a period when I thought yoga and social media just don’t mix because social media is asking us to look to other people who are our reflections and yoga is asking the exact opposite. Yoga is about looking within yourself. I was like, these two things, literally don’t go together. During that time, I thought that if I had not already started my social media accounts, then I would not have them, but I’ve come to a place with feeling like yoga is everything and that it’s not just what you practice on a mat and it’s not just meditation. There is great value in living my life authentically and sharing that with other people. It’s messy and conflicted, that truth could inspire somebody else to live their truth as well.
Wow. I love that. Yoga’s everything. Cause you know, that is so true. Like the yang and the yang, it’s the chaos, it’s the balance. It’s the happiness, it’s the sadness. I needed to hear that today.
It’s the thing I have to remind myself of it literally every day.
I really look up to you as a black woman who carved out a space for yourself in such a niche sort of world where everything is supposed to be like skinny and white and green juice and, freckles and auburn hair. Do you know what I mean?
I do appreciate that. You said earlier that black women are not all one thing, because that is something that has always frustrated me, that there’s this monolithic idea of who we are as people. And it’s weird. We are complex, layered all the different things. And like, I never felt like I was really disrupting anything. Honestly, I didn’t. Okay. That’s not entirely true because I know that like when I first started posting on social and showing my yoga practice, I got a lot of responses from people who were like, I didn’t know that. Well, first they’re like, I didn’t know that fat people could do yoga. And then the underlying thing, even I experienced this in real life. When people come to my classes, they’ll be like, looking at me like you’re a fat black woman. Am I supposed to learn yoga from you?
I’m like, I’m not even the first fat black person to put themselves out. They are doing yoga. Like I think about Diane Bondy, she has been she’s somebody that I had seen before I even started practicing yoga. But I didn’t see people in my local studios who looked like me. I knew that we were out here and I’ve always felt like I just represent those of us who are not singing in the mainstream.
I’m just representing everybody who is not seen. I don’t really feel like I’m doing anything that is that unusual. If unless unusual is like being yourself and loving yourself and not, um, thinking that you don’t deserve to exist if that’s the case then. Yeah. I guess what I’m doing is unusual, but it’s nice to me to see, like in the last 10 years, the amount of change that has happened in the wellness industry, I think we still have a lot of work to do. There is a long way to go, but the amount of change that has happened is astounding to me and a lot of that though, has to do with a desire, I think, to adhere to trends.
There’s a lot of tokenism and fetishizing of black people these days with brands that are using all different marginalized people to lift their status. That’s an interesting trend that has started happening.
I always think that the power of visibility and representation is undeniable. It has its own numerical value. And so I think that it is something that we can get a lot from. When the amount that is seen as like anti-racist has become trendy. It really makes me nauseous. Sometimes just like watching people, trying to like fit in with that trend. But then I’m like thinking about all of the people who through these trends experience seeing themselves represented and feeling more visible. And that feels worthwhile.
Well, what do you have, like coming up next? Is there anything that you’re excited about? Um,
I’m excited about everything I’m excited about my new book. My podcast is expanding. My companies are just growing every day. Oh, I’m in a new campaign, with Gatorade. I’m, I have new projects coming up with Adidas. There’s a lot on the horizon and I think more than anything though like my goal always is to just enjoy today as much as I can. And that was one of the big lessons for me through the pandemic. It’s just like enjoying right now today because you don’t know what tomorrow is coming.
Photo Credit: Sass Art, @sasss.world
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