Jessamyn Stanley Talks Breaking Stereotypes As A ‘Fat, Black And Queer’ Yogi
Stanley dropped gems, encouraging us to be our boldest selves and to tackle life at our own pace.
May 21, 2020 at 7:41 pm
Founder of The Underbelly Yoga, Jessamyn Stanley, sat down with Blavity for a Facebook Live session on Tuesday to encourage us to amplify our self-care routines amid the pandemic. The published author sat down to share their journey as a "fat, Black and queer" yoga practitioner and overcoming barriers and stereotypes.
Now having practiced yoga for nearly a decade, Stanley walked into their journey to being a yogi during graduate school when they were asked to join a class by one of their white friends. Startled by the invitation, Stanley said they were immediately doubtful of the impact it could have on their well-being.
Eventually convinced to join by their friend, Stanley went and noticed they were the only fat person and one of the only Black people in the room, making the overall session seem impossible.
"It was an alienating experience. I couldn't practice any of the postures," Stanley said. "Even just to sit with my legs crossed hurt, postures like 'child's pose' seemed impossible to me."
They eventually had an epiphany and began to push themselves to make the most out of the class. They soon realized that yoga was not about being the best or being good but rather releasing your ego or at least acknowledging the ego.
"It started to build up my confidence," they said.
Stanley went on to practice on their own at home and to dive deeper into the world of yoga with limited resources and knowledge. As they shared their journey online, they began to break the stereotypes that "fat" people couldn't do yoga.
"They would look at my pictures and be like 'fat people can do yoga?' And I would be like 'b***h, fat people do all kind of stuff all the time,'" Stanley said.
"What we really just have is a visibility issue, and we need to make it more clear that fat bodies are capable of doing things that anybody can do and that we are strong and powerful and mighty," they added.
The desire to address the lack of visibility of people of all sizes doing yoga led Stanley to begin teaching.
After the coronavirus outbreak, Stanley said although they've battled anxiety from the state-ordered lockdown, as a polyamorist, they have been collectively learning with their partners how to navigate and manage fear. In addition, they have been turning to yoga as a coping mechanism.
"For me, being able to use the practice as a way to ride the waves of life and understand that bad sh*t will always happen," they said. "We're all built to sustain and withhold and maintain really complicated stuff. And of the yoga practice I did before this I think was just practicing for this."
Stanley said they view yoga during the pandemic as a daily medication accompanied by meditation to assist with their well-being.
The yogi said they also limit their engagement with negative journalism by limiting their intake of content in an effort to protect their energy and focus on what they are trying to manifest. They also told Blavity's Facebook followers that connecting with their emotions and standing boldly in their truth has allowed them to feel a sense of peace.
"I think the biggest thing for me during the time period is trying to accept that I'm not going to feel good every day. I think there's a lot of shame that comes from ever feeling bad or ever needing to admit weakness or admit vulnerability. For me, there's immense power when I am able to say 'I'm not in a good mood and I don't feel like being in a good mood and I'm not going to get in a good mood.' And being able to own that and accept that and love that about myself, it means I am able to have a deeper connection to this light that's inside," Stanley said.
Although they've been able to find ways to manage during the pandemic, Stanley said they have been pleased to see other people keeping it real and contemplating how to be there for other people and show up for one's self.
The yogi wrapped up the Facebook Live by sharing a few yoga poses with the viewers and reminding everyone to stand in their truth and go at your own pace.