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

Jessamyn Stanley is an icon for curvy yogis everywhere, and talks about her body image ahead of the release of her new book, Every Body Yoga

Photo: 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.

“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.

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“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.”

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.

“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.”

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