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Body Liberation Through Yoga

April 4, 2020

Jessamyn Stanley speaks about how she got started on her yoga journey. She also speaks about how readers can get started on their own yoga journeys.

[[nid:3243]]When I discovered Jessamyn Stanley’s Facebook account, I was amazed. Here is this plus size black woman, doing yoga poses that bigger people are not supposed to be able to do. She is also wearing outfits that clearly make people uncomfortable, because she is plus size, yet she’s comfortable with how she looks. For me, Ms. Stanley was saying, “yes, you can do this and own this without having to be a certain size.”  So, when she put out her book, “Every Body Yoga”, and later her podcast, “Jessamyn Explains it All”, I could not help but stan.
In “Every Body Yoga”, Stanley chronicles how she got into yoga and became a yoga instructor. She speaks about her struggles with losing weight, getting healthy, being the biggest person in the room, and, in many cases, being the only person of color. This really touched me because I have similar experiences in many aspects of my life.
What really surprised me about the book was Stanley’s take on what having a full practice means. For Stanley, having a full practice is not just practicing the asanas (poses), it is following the eight limbs of yoga, which include:
1. Yamas--Moral imperatives
2. Niyama-- Daily habits and observances
3. Asana-- Poses
4. Pranayama-- Breath
5. Pratyahara-- Withdrawal of the senses
6. Dharana--Concentration
7. Dhyana--Meditation
8. Samadhi-- Oneness
For her, yoga is not just a physical lifestyle, but a mental and spiritual journey as well. How every yoga student approaches that differs. However, to experience the full benefits of a yogic lifestyle, one must embrace all aspects of yoga. In the book, Stanley is aware that not everyone is prepared to follow the eight limbs of yoga for various reasons. However, Stanley contends that yoga practitioners should be aware and recognize the history and meaning of yoga. Otherwise, what they’re doing is basic cultural appropriation. This is something I agree with fully. Ms. Stanley provides several resources to learn more about the history of yoga and its sutra.  A good starting place to learn about the eight limb path is The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali by Patanjali.
Now, one thing I really appreciated about the book is the acknowledgement that starting a yoga practice can be daunting, especially for women of color with limited funds. When most people think of yoga, they think of perfectly thin white women with money. Yoga is for the conspicuous consumer who wants to pretend to be enlightened and holy.  Most yoga studios bear this perception out by pricing out most low to mid-income earners.  The average cost to join a studio is $100 per month or $1200 per year, and often markets and caters to a clientele that is awkwardly homogeneous, even when located in diverse communities. As a result, on top of needing to find time to exercise, meditate, and become one with the self, newer yoga students have to also deal with feeling they do not belong, due to their bodies and wages.
Because of this, Jessamyn Stanley really promotes cultivating an at home practice. She suggests several free and paid websites and apps that people can use to start an at home practice, including Youtube, Glo, and Yoga International. Stanley also suggests purchasing or creating your own props to help with practice. She also provides photos of different poses to incorporate into your practice, while also providing modifications for those poses.
Jessamyn Stanley’s book is a great resource for those with bigger bodies who want to start a yoga practice. As mentioned above, Ms. Stanley also has a podcast called “Jessamyn Explains it All”, where she talks about sexuality, body politics, intersectionality, and everyday life. She ties most of this back to her yoga practice and the book. I prefer listening to the podcast because Ms. Stanley goes more in-depth about getting started with yoga, what yoga means to her, and self-care. Listening to her inspired me to continue my yoga practice and wellness habits. It has also made me come to a lot of realizations about myself and my relationship with my body. Hopefully, reading this book will inspire you, too.


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