Localist: Yogi Jessamyn Stanley visits Salt Lake City

By Jane Lyon

Touring for her new book, Everybody Yoga, Instagram yogi from North Carolina, Jessamyn Stanley came to the Main Salt Lake Public Library, not only to chat with us about her book but also to instruct a free yoga class on the library rooftop. Thursday night, May 11, locals gathered at the Nancy Tessman auditorium to hear her chat with one of our local educators, Romeo Jackson on stage. Stanley talked about her journey into yoga as a southern-raised African American full-bodied woman.

Her first yoga experience was at a Bikram studio where obviously every pose felt like death. “You don’t realize how little you access your body until you really try to access it.” She shared with us how scary it can be to access the body and how we can feel afraid to fall or fail. Bikram yoga is known for having mirrors around the studio because they teach that you should “look into the eyes of your one true teacher” which is yourself, in the mirror. “In yoga, if you fall down, you get up and try again. It’s never about the poses, you get on the mat to learn a lesson. My practice is releasing all that. It is a slow burn. You practice forever.” Jessamyn speaks of yoga from a very humbling place, I sensed zero ego from her presence.

Jessamyn is a strong advocate for home practice. She told us that she would just get on her mat every day and hold 8-10 of those Bikram poses and focus on her breath to get through the difficult times. She made me look inward at my own practice. Do I feel I have a strong home practice? Do I feel I make studio visits enough? Do I have a strong pranayama practice? Jessamyn is a hugely tolerant of any one doing whatever they need to do for their practice: wear whatever clothes make you feel comfortable, even if that means hardly any. Hold poses that feel comfortable for you, don’t look at any one else, this practice is for you.

She spoke a great deal on the mostly white, affluent community of yoga and how she would like to change that. “Find your privilege, check your privilege and figure out how to move forward.” Jessamyn is pushing back against the homogeneity of Western yoga by providing low-barrier, donation-based classes in any outdoor, open and free spaces she can. She understands that for many people, just walking through the door of a glitzy studio is too much and will keep them from practicing. Teachers should share yoga asana pract
ices with every one in their community– especially those who are of lower income, those experiencing physical and mental disabilities and those who may never feel confident enough in knowing that their body actually can do yoga.

The night ended mostly with a great discussion on what is Beyoncé’s best album in which Jessamyn had to confess that her go-to song is actually one by Beyonce’s sister, Solange called “Don’t Touch My Hair.” She told us about how growing up, her mom did her hair in dreadlocks because it was easy and low-maintenance. She tells a story of one of her mother’s friends, another black woman, judging her for her natural hair and insisting on giving her braids. Not only did Jessamyn feel oppression from the white American community, but also within her own community growing up. While she vocalized that our town had a lot more white people than most, I really really appreciated her opening up about her personal struggles as an African American women with a room of people that might not exactly relate.

But now Jessamyn, you are now an idol to women of all colors, sizes and even sexualities, because you showed up for us. By sharing your experience far and wide you brought so much organic realness and positivity to the Intagram Yogi/Fitness sector of social media where you typically see only one body-type. So thank you, so much.

The next morning we had a beautiful class on top of the library, hundreds must have showed to Salt Lake Power Yoga’s first day of the #SLPublicYoga Sunrise Rooftop Series. We were mat-to-mat in order to fit every one into her class and I happened to be  touching mats with Jessamyn. Having her as a teacher for even one day was a huge blessing to my practice. She made me so self aware of “judgement city” and how much I look around at people while I’m practicing. She motivated us to close our eyes as often as possible and just tune into ourselves, and feeling what we need to feel. She also said things like, “…and if you’re like, bitch I don’t wanna f*ckin do any more down dog, then you do you girl, honor that.” I’ve never felt such a strong goddess power from a yoga teacher like that before. Thank you Jessamyn, for being one of many great teachers of mine. Namaste.


Find her online HERE.

This article was originally published on May 17, 2017.