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Body Positivity

Jessamyn Stanley Found Body Acceptance Through Yoga and Can Help You Do the Same

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Jessamyn Stanley
Lydia Hudgens

Jessamyn Stanley is an icon for curvy yogis everywhere, but she wasn’t always so comfortable in her body.

The yoga instructor struggled to accept her shape for most of her life, an experience she documents in her new book, Every Body Yoga, out Tuesday. She hopes her story will help others to find body confidence through their own practice.

“I definitely had some pretty severe body image issues, but I wouldn’t say that they were any more severe than the average cisgender female who grows up in America,” Stanley, 29, tells PEOPLE. “But I think it helped to grow up in a family of curvy black women and see that as a source of power. Even when I was succumbing to the idea of the late-1990s image of teen beauty and I didn’t fit that at all, even with that I was still able to hold on to the idea that my mom and grandma and aunts look like me, and it’s okay.”

Yoga helped, too. As a college student, Stanley was going through a dark period of depression when a classmate pushed her to try the practice.

I almost cried during my interview with @selfmagazine when they asked about my experience with self hate- honestly, it's bizarre to me that I'm perceived as such a confident person when I spent such a huge chunk of my life buried under truly toxic body shame. And it's not like those feelings have completely dissipated- just like anyone, I have ups and downs. And I always roll my eyes whenever people draw the conclusion that yoga is the source of my body confidence. I mean, Instagram is littered with proof that an aggressive yoga asana practice can unintentionally sow the seeds of body negativity. But there's no doubt that yoga has made me stronger- but the physical strength isn't really the point, is it? If you want to watch me get choked up and talk about body shame, click the link in my Instagram header! Photo by @nadyawasylko (Btw, I can't remember who made this sports bikini but I EFFING LOVE IT and need it in every color. I only ever want to practice in my underroos and when the #teamSELF crew said "…are you cool with wearing this?" I almost started frothing at the mouth from excitement. THIS IS WHAT FAT GIRLS WANT. 👙👙)

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“When I first started practicing yoga I was still buried under a bad body image,” she says. “When I started to photograph my practice, in the moment I would be like, ‘Wow, yoga’s so great, my body is amazing,’ and then I would look at the photos and be like, ‘Ugh, I’m so fat, my arms are so big,’ and I would just be so down on myself.”

Over time, Stanley — who runs an Instagram account with photos of her yoga moves — started to find her confidence.

RELATED VIDEO: Yogi Jessamyn Stanley Says “You Don’t Need A Traditional Body”

“I always have to remind myself is that the only thing that matters is how I feel about myself,” she says. “I think we’re all forever on a journey, and I’ll always be in recovery from being a body shamer myself.”

I am in NYC working on the biggest project of my life thus far, with an incredibly talented band of bad bitches. Our adventure is all over my snap- I'm @mynameisjessamy over there! We've been all over Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan- I watched the sun rise on Rockaway Beach, stood on @nathansfamoushotdogs_ picnic tables at @coneyisland, practiced #handstands in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, and a whole bunch of other dope shit. If you've been nice enough to walk out of a photo set-up, or been chill enough to let me interrupt your day in order to do a #split on this bridge or that, you have my unending love. I don't care about the bad rep- all the New Yorkers I've met during this trip have been nice as all hell. YES, Y'ALL- I'M TEACHING IN NEW YORK CITY DURING THIS TRIP. NEXT MONDAY AND WEDNESDAY (7/25 & 7/27). 6:30pm. Classes are FREE but are now SOLD OUT! 📸 by bae @zoelitaker Mat by @mandukayoga Swimsuit by @additionelle

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Stanley says the process of writing the book was therapeutic. “Looking at my life, I was like, what do I think is really why I started to practice yoga, and what led here,” she says. “It was beautiful to see that I was able to let it come up naturally and not be afraid of it. I also realized that so many of my experiences are much more universal than I initially considered. I looked back and was like, ‘Whoa. This is every person’s story.’ ”

She hopes to help others by sharing her story — and by giving people a clear and simple way to start their own practice.

Y'all, my first book is being released tomorrow by @workmanpub. I'm overwhelmed by all of the nice shit that's been written about it, not to mention the awesome write-ups in print mags like @elleusa, @bust_magazine, @healthmagazine, & @familycirclemag. Also, apparently there's already a book club reading it this month and I'm just sitting over here like 😳📕😳📕 Tomorrow's Bull City tour kick-off at @motorcomh c/o @regulatorbookshop is allegedly sold out, but y'all know how I feel about party crashers- just show up and you'll probably get in- at the very least you can grab a beer or some sesame udon salad at Parts & Labor. Tell 'em Jessamyn sent you & TIP YOUR BARTENDER PLEASE AND THANK YOU. After that, it's Nashville's @parnassusbooks on Wednesday, Raleigh's @quailridgebooks on Thursday, and a yoga class at #yogafestnc on Saturday- all the info's on jessamynstanley.com/tour (link is in the header). Anyway, y'all are the best & I'm so excited to meet you. Also USE THE #EVERYBODYYOGA SNAPCHAT FILTER WHEN YOU'RE AT THE EVENTS- it features a half-naked bitmoji Jessamyn doing yoga soooo. Yeah. Let's spread that shit. You can buy "Every Body Yoga" anywhere fine books are sold. I have waited a long time to say those words. Also, this shameless promotion is inspired by the boys of @thecrookedmedia. Outfit by @vonscher_active Photo by @lydiahudgens

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“So many people are constantly asking me — I got an email yesterday — how to start practicing yoga. It’s such a multifaceted answer,” Stanley says. “Someone needed to write, in plain English, for the 21st century layperson, what yoga is, how you can start practicing, and that is this book.”