Jessamyn Stanley is an award-winning yoga instructor, intersectional activist, and author of ‘Every Body Yoga.’ She broke boundaries for plus size bodies with her February 2019 cover of Yoga Journal, and speaks across the country, advocating for body acceptance, female empowerment, and African American and LGBTQ inclusion. In this episode, we talk about why stillness is undervalued in today’s modern world, why yoga is so impactful for releasing stored trauma and pain, and why pigeon pose makes us cry. Jessamyn also shares her own yoga evolution, from the physical to the mental and spiritual, and how her Underbelly app helps all bodies feel welcomed, accepted, and supported in their yoga journey.
Connect with Jessamyn and the Underbelly
Jessamyn Stanley’s yoga app, The Underbelly, is a series of yoga classes available by web, iOS, and Android that will also be launching internationally this fall. The Underbelly is a virtual yoga studio named after the most vulnerable and sensitive part on the human body and will be a home for wellness misfits who feel displaced, discouraged and overlooked due to a lack of diversity in the wellness community.
Subscribers join Jessamyn for unlimited access to classes based on three different tracks, Air, Earth, and Fire. Upon completion of classes, users are prompted to journal their experiences on the mat, thus aligning the mind and body more deeply.
Every Body Yoga, Jessamyn Stanley
MU: 00:00 Hi, my name is Melissa Urban and you’re listening to Do the Thing, a podcast where we explore what’s been missing every time you’ve tried to make a change and make it stick. Today my guest is Jessamyn Stanley an award winning yoga instructor, intersectional activist and author of Every Body Yoga. I first met Jessamyn three years ago when she taught a class here in Salt Lake City. As you’ll hear, that class is burned into my memory,
MU: 00:38 not just for the postures but for Jessamyn’s teaching style. I’ve never heard a yoga teacher curse before, but rather than feeling jarring or taking me out of my practice, her direct cues prompts to look inside and go deeper and frankly calling me on my yoga B.S. made it one of the most memorable classes of my life. We’ve stayed in touch on social media and I was so excited when she accepted my invitation to come on the podcast and talk about what yoga means to her. In this episode we’ll talk about why stillness is undervalued in today’s modern world, why yoga is so impactful for releasing stored trauma and pain and why pigeon pose makes us cry. We share our own yoga journeys and talk about why it doesn’t matter where you start, only that you start and there’s a really fun discussion about how we feel about things like goat yoga.
MU: 01:37 One of Jessamyn’s most important gifts to the world is her advocacy for representation and visibility in yoga, advocating for body acceptance, female empowerment and inclusion. She describes her virtual yoga studio, the Underbelly app as a home for wellness misfits who may feel displaced, discouraged, or overlooked due to a lack of diversity in the health and fitness community. I’ve heard from so many of you that you’d like to start your own yoga practice, but you’re intimidated, you’re not fit enough or flexible enough. You don’t see people who look like you doing yoga in your local studio or you don’t feel comfortable modifying poses for your body type or ability. This conversation is for you. Through this discussion. Jessamyn gives you permission to show up, empowers you to show up and encourages you to show up exactly as you are because as she has experienced in her own yoga journey, where you are is exactly right for your yoga. I hope by the time we’re finished and she closes with one of the most motivational lines I’ve heard yet on this podcast, you’ll feel welcomed, empowered, and motivated to start practicing yoga, whether it’s in a local studio or in your own with the Underbelly
MU/JS: 03:00 community in whatever way you decide serves your highest good Jessamyn’s love for yoga and her love for you shines through and her voice and words. I am so lucky to share them with you here today. Now onto the episode Jessamyn Stanley. I am so excited to talk to you again. It’s been probably three years, I think since we actually had like an in person meeting, right? (JS) I was thinking about that earlier today and I was just like, I’m so grateful that the universe, I mean like there’s, there’s people that you want to meet and that you are, that they draw you to meet and then there’s people that you think like, whoa, if it ever happens and you’re definitely one of the people on the list for me where it’s like, well if it ever happens and then the situation to me just seems so absurd. Like this huge class. Like I just feel like I didn’t even really actually get to engage with you there. And I’m so grateful that we’ve been able to like keep up the connection since then and we now have this opportunity to chat. (MU) I want to talk to you about that class cause I remember that class really well. But before I do, because I know you taught a million classes, but I’ll remind you, I ask every guest at the beginning of every episode. What’s your thing?
MU/JS: 04:20 My thing is just trying to be as authentic as possible in every moment of my life, whatever that means. Like just showing up as much myself as possible. And it means that like I’m frequently out of my comfort zone. I’m doing things that I would rather not be showing other people, but it’s really, it still feels true. You know, like even when I’m like pushed into places that don’t necessarily feel like, like my like cozy homey bubble. I’m just like, okay. But it doesn’t have to feel like your bubble to be true and you need to do what’s true and what’s real. And yeah, I think that’s my thing. My thing is just trying to be as authentic as possible. (MU) That is definitely how I experience you. And it’s one of the reasons I like following you so much is I feel like that really shines through.
MU/JS: 05:08 The first time we met, I don’t know if you remember this, so we’re on the roof of this yoga class at the Salt Lake City Public Library downtown. I didn’t know you were teaching. I knew they had like some guest celebrity teacher, but I didn’t know it was you. So I get to this class, it’s packed like yoga mat to Yoga Mat. It’s a beautiful summer night people or it’s like 7:00 PM people are amped. We are so excited to be there. Then I find out your teaching, we’re so excited to be there. And you started off this class by putting us in Shavasana. (JS) Oh my God. I just remember this because I remember your reaction to this so clearly. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt you. (MU) So listen to me. I am on my mat thinking who the f does this person think they are? We are like I’m ready to roll at this point. My relationship with yoga was very different three years ago than it is now. But you made lie there
MU: 05:58 on this mat for I don’t know, two minutes and you talk and then we get into class and then we started to move. You are very honest. You are very authentic. You dropped a couple of F-bombs but it took me like probably a week before I could send you a DM to say like I was really challenged by you opening class that way.
MU/JS: 06:14 (JS) Mm MM. That is something that I think stillness and just like being in like just laying down is such a difficult posture and it is so emotionally and spiritually challenging. And I think that a lot of times like we come to, especially because yoga is so closely linked with fitness right now, I think that it gives us this feeling of like the way that I’m going to be challenged in the way that I’m going to be pushed is by like pushing my physical body to its limits. But it’s like what happens in the moment when we are forced to be in stillness? Like what does that bring up? And I fully, it totally resonates with me, this idea of like not that specific posture in that like paired with those feelings. But I have that experience quite often in classes where like I’ll go and I’ll be like, what the f*** just happened.
MU/JS: 07:09 Just the other day I was taking class in the teacher started, there was some posture I can’t remember. And I literally said like this man, like, and I literally just like stopped cause I was like, I’m not, and it sounded like were moving so quickly or like it was just a posture that I had determined I guess in my head. Like I’m not here for this. And that reaction to me brought it, brought up so much good yoga you’re like, it was, it was such a great opportunity to practice that. I’m like, there’s this part of me that’s like, man, people, people hate Shavasana. Is that a thing? And then I’m like, man, we’re all having the experiences that we need to have. And like I’m just, I’m so glad that we can like be in community together and talk about that cause I feel you I guess.
MU: 07:53 It wasn’t that I hated Shavasana. It was that the way, the exercise mentality that I came up through with crossfit and then with Gym Jones and then I took it with me into probably the first, like two years of my yoga practice was that you get in there, you work really, really hard. I used to make jokes that I was going to like kick your ass at Yoga and Shavasana is like the reward you get from working really hard. Like that’s what you have earned. That’s the way I thought about it. So to start class off like that, I was like, first of all, I haven’t moved. I haven’t earned it. I haven’t like, you know, I don’t deserve it. And then also what do I do with all of this energy lying here on this mat for a moment. Like I didn’t want to be still.
MU/JS: 08:35 Yeah, that’s so relatable. That is so deeply relatable because it speaks to so much of what our society asks of us. Like stillness is seen as a negative. It’s like if you’re like, it’s like if you’re not using your energy then like what are you doing? [inaudible] and I’ve always felt like, especially in practicing, that if you start in the same place that you end the, it creates this kind of like book-ended experience wherein you’re able to almost like putting yourself to sleep and that when you go into that space of sleep, anything is possible. In a dream world and that you can move in ways that perhaps your body doesn’t move, like in the non dream world. And that when you go back into that rest, that it’s this great way of actually preserving and holding onto that energy to carry it into the rest of your life.
MU/JS: 09:24 But I think that that is so, it’s just so different and I feel that and I’m ah, man, that sounds funny. You know, now I think I think about yoga a lot differently. I know the way you think about yoga based on what I’ve read and what I’ve watched you talk about on your stories, but when you started yoga in 2012 didn’t look a lot more like what I just described or, yeah, well it was, so my first, when I first went back, this was fall 2011 and I was in graduate school and one of my, um, oh man, one of my really good friends, she was like, oh my God, jasmine, you should go to yoga. And I tried this, we were going to be Crum yoga and I tried be chromeo go once when I was in high school and just absolutely hated it.
MU/JS: 10:10 I was like, I’m not going back. I’m not into that. And I was in like, there are other types of physical activity that I’d been interested in, but I was just like, I don’t feel like this is something that I need to do. But when I did go back, it really, yoga pushed me in a way that nothing else ever had. Like it was something that, I mean the best way to describe it is really the, in my day to day life I decided that I had all of these boundaries of like things that I could do in that I couldn’t do. And Yoga, in order to even survive, especially in a hot environment, you really have to let go of every preconceived notion that you’ve had about yourself just to survive the space. And that kind of experience was so cleansing for me and really clarifying, but it was not at all.
MU/JS: 10:58 Like I definitely did not understand it. Um, like I feel like now when I talk about yoga, it sounds like really esoteric and like just I’m woo in a way now that I, if I had known that it was going to be this way, I would never, if you told me back then that I was going to be like this, yeah, I would never believed you. I know back then I was like, yeah, this is amazing. Like I’m getting a great stretch. Like how far can I push my body? And especially in ways that like, I’d really never even considered pushing my body. And it was so just like gratifying to like really work into the nooks and crannies of certain kinds of postures. Especially like this what, um, for example, like what an inversion asks of you, that it’s not just, you know, it’s not just your core strength, that it’s, it’s your hamstrings, it’s your quads, it’s your, it’s your, it’s your shoulders, it’s your, it’s, it requires a full conditioning.
MU/JS: 11:51 But the thing that truly has shifted me is that even after you do all of that physical work, there’s unnecessary space of like letting go of all of this inside yourself. And that to me is what has been so intoxicating and that’s what’s kept me practicing. But I definitely didn’t feel that way in the beginning. Yeah, it’s so funny because you’re just describing so much of the physicality of yoga, the kind of get into this posture, can I get in this inversion is this, you know, it’s working my core, it’s working my hamstrings. Like there’s so much physicality to it and that was all I really could think about in the beginning. But then all of this other stuff would come up. Why am I angry? Why am I crying? Why am I having a drug flashback in pigeon pose? Like where is all this stuff coming from?
MU/JS: 12:43 And I didn’t really know what to do with it. Yeah. And it’s like, I think that’s probably one of the most disconcerting things about practicing is that you go and you think like, okay, I’m gonna, I’m going to be pushed physically in this way or that thing. And then all of a sudden you’re literally crying in pigeon pose. And it’s like, well, what am I, where do I go from here? Like I’ve been trying to hold this in for so long and then there comes this place of like, what happens if I just let it happen? Like Renee Brown talks about vulnerability in a way that really like I think encapsulates this. But it’s like what happens when we allow ourselves to just be vulnerable and to feel all of the things that we, um, have been running from. And so often in those moments I find myself like really processing and feeling that I didn’t even realize I was hanging on to that and that, I mean, I talk about this a lot more in my book, Everybody Yoga, but this experience of like, like doing one thing that you think is just going to be like, like no big deal.
MU/JS: 13:46 You’re like, chair pose, we’re holding chair pose for, I don’t know how we’re gonna hold it for a minute and a half. Sounds great. This is, yes, fire me up. And then you realize like a minute in that the experience that you’re having, it’s not really a physical experience and your thighs can only burn so much. Like your, you’re only gonna have so much core awakening. Ultimately it’s gonna come down to like creating this fire inside of yourself that top us is so insane and it just tears out all that mess that you just didn’t even, you just don’t even know that you’re holding and we’re all doing it. Yeah, I’m hanging on to things. What is it about yoga that brings all of this stuff? Like to the current, is it the physicality of this specific postures? Is it the environment where everyone is kind of on their own individual journey, but it’s also like a collection?
MU/JS: 14:37 Like what about it do you think brings up all of this stuff? You know, I think it’s that it allows us to really link our physical body with our mind, which can be like running so crazy that it be hard to even, I mean like everybody runs differently, but I think that a lot of us are like so caught up in these mental games that we’re playing with ourselves and just the opportunity to link the physical body and the mind and to use the breath to do that. So it’s like the breath is pulling all the things into alignment. You’re able to have an experience that’s bigger than the physical self. And I think that that is so, and because it can be tailored to any lifestyle and should be tailored to any lifestyle that it just evolves as you get older. And then as you, you know, as limbs break or as you deal with addiction or as you have children of your own or whatever, the practice adapts and it moves with you.
MU/JS: 15:33 And I think that because it is so adaptive and so I’m just, it’s the, it’s the most beautiful kind of communal activity that is also really just a solo activity. I feel like that’s what makes our era of people so right for this kind of physical movement because it’s not just physical movement. It really pulls you into something larger than that. It really does. You know, the first set of classes I took probably for the first few years, I would only take a power class because I only wanted to move really fast and make it be like really, really hard. And it wasn’t until I started doing the candle light in class once a week where I really started to like, I call it like I cracked, I cracked under the pressure of frog pose for two minutes. Like that was a, I went on a journey.
MU/JS: 16:26 I bet posting new minutes we would do frog, we would do pyramid, we would hold pigeon, we would hold, you know, um, all of these kind of like really deep postures, anything hip opening. And I just, I felt myself releasing things that, like you said, I didn’t even know I had been holding onto exactly. That is the, so one of the main workshops that I teach is a hips workshop and it’s because I think that if we’re, if you’re like just getting into any kind of trying to understand the body, like if someone just walked in and they’re like, I want to take a yoga class and I saw this fat person on the Internet. So like I feel like maybe I could go to her class cause that feels more accessible. I’m like, let’s get into the hips first because this is going to crack open.
MU/JS: 17:10 Literally crack open everything that you are holding, like the pelvis holds all of that fight or flight, all of the uncertainty, everything so that when we open it up, it’s like you can just start to open it up. And the immediate reaction is like, I just had to get out of this posture. I don’t care. I don’t care what it is. And that’s why I like a yen class can be way more. Um, uh, what’s the word I’m looking forward? Like where are you? It’s way more confrontational in a Yang style class because it’s like not only are we in a deep hip opener, but we’re just going to be here for seven months and I can’t walk away from it. And the kind of, um, the kind of submission that’s necessary for that. It’s so, I mean it’s, it strips you of everything that you’re using as kind of like an armor or anything that you can hold up to be like, this is what it means to be a strong person. And it’s like, no, I’m going to let that go and I’m just going to pour forth and then see where I am on the other end of it. And you’re always stronger. You’re always better off always like moving and feeling better at, you know, I heard once a yoga teacher refer to the like hips as the emotional junk drawer and I’m like relatable. Totally relatable.
MU/JS: 18:28 You had a story a while back where you talked about crying and yoga, and I talk about this all the time about how crying and yoga is totally normal. And if you get into a posture and you feel that emotion come up, like you should just cry. Right, right, right, right, right, right. And that there’s no, I think that especially in a class context where you get afraid that like other people are going to hear us cry or that it means something. And then, I mean I grew up in a household where crying was my accept. Like it was not, if you were going to cry, you had to do that in the corner by yourself. Don’t bring it around us. And I grew up thinking that if I could just like cry quarterly or even like monthly, that was like, and I would praise myself for that.
MU/JS: 19:11 So that to be in yoga and be in tears was mortifying. It was like I’m, I’m ruining. I’m not being a good human. You know, I’m not doing this right. I’m not handling this. The difficulties, rights and really there’s so much power in being able to be vulnerable and there’s so much just so ill. God, it’s like a, there’s just so much opportunity there and, but it’s scary though. It’s very scary. It is scary. I usually, in the beginning I would try to cry quietly, which would only just make pigeons even harder cause I’m like Kinda hiccupping and tears and stuff. And once my teacher noticed and she just kinda came over and like kind of put her hand, um, on my back and I was like, oh, OK. Like this is OK. And from that point on I just kinda didn’t care anymore. Like if it comes up, it comes up, it obviously needs to come out exactly.
MU/JS: 20:04 And man that hand at the small of the back or at the nape of the neck or shoulders or whatever that is like, oh my gosh, I feel like a breadth of salvation now. You know that I’m, you know that I’m here. You see me? Oh yeah. So you talked earlier about how in the beginning you’re like preconceived notions of what your limitations were, kind of where in your head when you first started yoga, what are, what were some of those preconceived notions? What were some stories you had about yourself in Yoga? Oh Man. So many different things. Like, I mean basically I had very, I had a lot of difficulty with balance, so any posture where I had to um, like bend knees and beyond the beds of my toes at the same time or like, um, anything where I had to hold one leg or anything like that was always extremely challenging for me.
MU/JS: 20:57 And then on top of that, I have damaged my shoulder a number of times on both of them, but especially my right shoulder and I have difficulty reaching back for even to this day, I have difficulty reaching back on the right side and that can also affect the left side. And I have scoliosis, whatever I have all of the different bodily things that everybody has. And I felt like those were my limits. Like, okay, I have scoliosis, my spine goes this way. So that means that I don’t go that way. You know what I mean? Like it was just like I can’t. And then also as a fat body person, I had this feeling that like I fundamentally shouldn’t have been there anyway. So I was like, okay, Whoa, I’m not good enough to do this. Like there’s no other, at the time now when I go out to live classes, they’re way more diverse than they were whenever I first started going.
MU/JS: 21:47 But they like I would be the only fat person, the frequently, the only black person, like super alienating experience. So that I thought like, I’ve never really seen that many people who look like me doing this practice anyway. So like, why should I even try? And so that feeling of like don’t even try was huge for me. Like I would start, they would say posture and they’d start calling the, um, the queuing for it and I would start doing it and then the mental chatter would start and then just be like, right, I guess I can’t do that, you know, I’m going to try. And the great thing about a beacon studio is that they’re lined with mirrors. So I would have this experience like while looking at myself and again, like as a fat body person, I’ve spent my life avoiding mirrors, like trying not to get caught in them.
MU/JS: 22:40 So I’m already pissed that I have to look at myself in mirror. And then I’m like looking down at myself and I’m just like, you know, you could just try like, you paid money to get in here. So like the least you could do, I mean, you could also spend 90 minutes being pissed about being here and right. Try or you could just try and that idea of trying without worrying about failure without being obsessed with like getting it right. That was a brand new concept to me. Like I thought that if I, if I thought it was probable that I would fail, then that meant that I shouldn’t even try. And the idea of that just, it shifts everything and not just in the postures. It shifts everything in life. Did anyone ever tell you that you can’t fail at Yoga? You know, I don’t remember anyone ever saying that explicitly, but I do think that I had teachers who were very, very encouraging.
MU/JS: 23:37 Like from the beginning they were very much like, like one of the postures that was so difficult for me was pose. Oh yeah. When I would go into practice camel, like even just being on my knees felt impossible. It’s insane to me that I was photographed for the cover of yoga journal in camel pose because that first, when I first started practicing that posture, it was completely inaccessible to me, like not at all. And I would talk to my teacher about it, Trudy Swink if she, for some reason was listening, I don’t know where Trudy is now, but she was like, I’ll, I would always be like, Trudy, like, why can’t I do this? You know? And she’d be like, it’s okay. Just go as far as you can. That’s fine. And I was just like, man, she don’t know me. I should be able to do this.
MU/JS: 24:19 And if I can’t do it, then that must mean that I can’t do it. And like just have this whole thing about it. And over time, not wanting to be on my knees turned into being on my knees. And then over time that turned into, you know, reaching back for my heels and, and I found that it was so helpful to have someone just be like, you’re okay where you are not even like it’ll get better one day or like one. Yeah. You just keep trying and it’ll happen. She was just like, just do what you can, you know, that’s fine. And it made it okay for me to just show up for myself as myself. And that I think was definitely crucial for me. There’s a difference in those two messages. There’s a difference in keep trying and you’ll get there, which implies that you’re not there yet.
MU/JS: 25:02 Or this message of like where you are is perfect for you. Exactly. Exactly. And I’ve, I feel like especially if you are someone who’s been taught to believe that you know, you can’t do certain activities or like you have not been good at them. And I think that this is, I’ve heard this a lot from other people who are fat bodied, but I think that it’s something that is not just something that’s in that community, but we have this feeling of like, you know, I just need a little bit of encouragement was like just something someone’s saying, good job, you know, great, great effort, great way to go. And I notice it in classes, like when I am encouraging of my students than people they are encouraging of themselves. Like cause it’s really like I’m encouraging myself and then they’re like, oh shit that’s cool to be positive in here.
MU/JS: 25:57 Okay Great. Then I’m going to be positive and like, and you see people like take risks and go further because they feel like okay it’s okay. The way I’m showing up is okay, it’s good. When was the first time you remember feeling like you gave yourself permission to do something different than what the teacher was? Cuing like the teacher’s cuing something and out of self love or self compassion you said this is not what I need right now. I’m going to do this instead. So I have two things for that. One. I would say that I didn’t really have that experience fully in wive classes and that that’s something that I really started to cultivate by developing a home practice and really getting into a space of like cause. So when I started practicing at home, I had been practicing in studios for some time, but I’ve been specifically practicing Bikram style Yoga, which is only 26 postures.
MU/JS: 26:51 And when I started practicing at home and then started going to other live classes, I started to go to more vinyasa style classes. And that was so up until this point, I’d never really practiced a downward facing dog, which is like one of the most ubiquitous postures in yoga. But because I’d been doing this beat home style, I was like, it’d be all right. You know, how hard could it be? Bikram is so difficult to like, it can’t be that hard. And our facing dog seemed impossible to me. I was like, I do not understand how people hold this over and over and over again. And so I would do, just while I was taking online classes, I would just like stop and watch and pay attention to alignment and look at what the teacher was doing. And I gave myself permission to like adapt in ways that I think that if I had only been in a class environment, I don’t know that I would’ve felt that level of freedom because there is a kind of conformity character that happens in classes where you like, you don’t want to be the one that’s behind and you don’t want to be like out of time with other people.
MU/JS: 27:50 And it can feel a little bit nerve wracking to go out to step out on your own in that way. But because I’ve had that experience by the time that I started like really going to live vinyasa classes when I would have like when I’d have moments of like, okay, you know what, I’m just gonna go with this. I’m going to modify in a way that is, it’s not what the teacher is doing, but I’ve seen it in a book or whatever. That was always my thing before is I’d be like, have I seen this at least once, like on the internet or something? Okay, I think this is fine. So then I’d be like, okay, yeah, I’ll, I’ll do it this way. But, um, it helped to have teachers that were encouraging of that. Like I, um, one of the teachers that I had in the beginning who I love so much, Allie, I don’t, I, she doesn’t really teach anymore, but she was at the time teaching kind of in Ashtanga vinyasa blend in the class was very intense.
MU/JS: 28:43 And there are a lot of people who were like, um, primarily like Ashtanga practitioners. So they’re used to a certain kind of athletic experience. And I would have moments we’d be on like our 15th asana and I’d be like, okay, this is, I’m good on this, that’s enough for me. And I just would be like, okay, I’m going to modify a little bit more. And she was so chill about it and she would come over and adjust me in my modifications and it just made it okay for that to be the case. So I think it’s a mix of sort of listening to your own intuition and then surrounding yourself if possible with teachers who do the same. One thing I have to be careful of, not so much anymore. I’m pretty good about it now, but back in the day I would have to really ask myself and my modifying this because it’s not in my highest interest or am I just being really pissy about this pose?
MU/JS: 29:30 Like I know I’m not good at it or I know it’s going to be really hard or I know last time I tried it I fell over so I’m just not going to do it. There’s a difference defender there is a difference and I feel like everything that comes up is so important. It’s like so like, like if you go into, I have this feeling if I, if I am like anticipating a posture, if I’m like I heard them say half moon pose and I know that yesterday I was feeling a little bit unsteady so I’m going to go ahead and grab for that block because, and then it’s like first hold up. Why was I trying to be in the posture before we were actually in the posture? I was like, let’s just back up to what we’re actually doing and see why can’t I be in the moment?
MU/JS: 30:09 Am I feeling agitated? Why am I feeling agitated? Where’s this coming from? It pulls up all these opportunities to practice on a deeper level that I always feel like if there’s now I feel like regardless of what happens, that it happened the way that it was meant to happen and that you’re getting the practice that you need. Absolutely. You know, now you talk so much about this mind body connection and kind of listening to your subconscious and doing things for your highest interest and what’s meant to be is meant to be. But for someone who’s relatively new to yoga, is it okay that someone just comes in and does yoga for the movement or they just come in for the physicality of it or just come in for the exercise? I was just talking about this actually how I feel like now again on the level of woo that I did not anticipate, but before I really wasn’t and I was deeply skeptical of the spirituality of yoga and like just felt like it wasn’t for me.
MU/JS: 31:05 I didn’t understand what any of it meant. I was like, is this religion? Is it something like should I even be doing it? I don’t know what’s up with this. So I was like, I’m gonna do yoga for the poses and for the physical aspects of it and that’s going to be enough for me. And I think that was perfect for where I was at that point in my life. And I feel like had I not had that experience, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. And I also think that like it is important if you’re going to practice a practice that involves a lot of physicality, it’s important to understand the mechanics of it and it’s important to move safely through the postures and, and to spend some time focusing on like what that means and looks like. And so I think that, I think every part of the journey is important and that regardless of where you start, all the matters is that you show up.
MU/JS: 31:58 What about practices? Like goat? Yeah, or I just read something the other day about a company offering rage yoga classes where like you get into the yoga studio and you can like swear as much as you want. And flip people off and get all your anger. Like I feel like yoga thing like that. That sounds familiar. Right? It was some, some article or something like that. I can’t remember where I saw it, but I remember thinking like this, it’s like counter intuitive or backwards. But then again, maybe if it just gets people in to the practice and gets them [inaudible] that’s okay. Like I don’t really know how I feel about things like yoga that are really hard. Same. And I have a really close friend who is like, she’s an amazing runner and she does these classes, um, in Seattle that are like running plus yoga.
MU/JS: 32:45 And she does this like running yoga beer meetup at a brewery where they like though they go for a run. Then they do yoga together at the brewery and then they kick it at the brewery. And I’m like, what a beautiful way to build community. You know, like I don’t find myself at the peer yoga class, but it’s not for me. It’s like it’s for somebody. I’ve seen the most hilarious photos of goat yoga, the tickle, the gotta me. And I don’t even know what I’m like, I’m just always like, I have a lot of opinions about it that are born out of my own stuff. But my feeling is that if it makes you feel good and it’s not hurting any goats, please enjoy. I don’t feel that that’s something that’s necessary for my personal practice. And I also, you know, I wonder sometimes like the cycle that I get in is like, how is that Yoga, you know, that’s not what did, what did what I go attempt to do with Yoga.
MU/JS: 33:38 Like what horse yoga was what really got me. I was like, what a horse is that to do with yoga? And um, and I was just like, you know, actually like what do European calisthenics have to do with yoga? Not much, but that’s actually what a lot of Vinyasa style yoga is. It’s calisthenics. And I mean, I think that at the end of the day, like we all have the gateway that we need to get there. So if there’s someone who like whatever you feel like I won’t be there probably, but you know, whatever y’all want to do, have fun, sounds great. If their journey is like my journey where I got into it from like a very different mentality where it was all about the physical and I was kind of using yoga to punish myself and then you know, here I am 10 years later and I’m looking at things like cultural appropriation and how to practice in a way that’s inclusive and like if that’s my journey and that can be someone else’s journey and they get into that journey through some.
MU/JS: 34:34 Exactly. Exactly. Cause I’m like man, I remember during my YTT I used to spend every single morning just running postures and there was this one morning where this Ashtanga teacher at my studio came in and he like corrected all of my postures and I was like, yes, this is what yoga is. And like I was so fervent about the physical practice and now I’m at this place of like, you know, postures. You only really need the one that allows you to breathe. So whatever. Like, I just feel like everybody has their path. Everything is necessary. Everything is good. I completely agree. I really enjoyed watching your home practice. And specifically some of the things that you’ve talked about as you shared your home practice and this is kinda getting into the idea of the Underbelly app that you’ve created and the fact that your, I’ve read that your ultimate goal is to make more body diverse classes accessible to anyone who wants them. I’ve watched you in your home practice talk about postures like downward dog and talk about how you take a wider stance to accommodate room for your
MU: 35:37 belly and that this makes the posture so much more comfortable for you. And just by making this modification you can get it at more, you can stay in it longer, just feels more comfortable. I shared that story on my story and I had so many people say I’ve never heard someone talk about making space for my
MU/JS: 35:53 oh good. I’m glad that people heard. That’s great cause people say that. I’m always so like because I live in my own little yoga bubble and I mean like I’m in my own, I’m in the Underbelly all the time so I’m not really thinking about the fact that not a lot of people are taking this perspective cause I’m like yeah, just acknowledge your body. And I think that’s really so much of the ethos of the Underbelly is just really, again like show up as you are, allow everything to be there. The most beautiful part of practicing in your body is when you can really accept it for what it is and you’re not apologizing for it. You’re not like, I’m like, oh well one day when my belly is not there, one day when I get a breast reduction or like one day when whatever, I’ve completely different wired differently.
MU/JS: 36:42 Then I’ll be able to be a good person or then I’ll be able to do this perfectly and it’s just like you’re actually exactly where you need to be right now. So just show your, it’s not doing your body any good to be hateful toward it. It’s actually, I would think it’s doing it a lot of harm. So if you say like, I’m just going to be accepting of you and I’m going to allow light and love to lead, then you can negotiate space for your body. Like if your breasts are choking you, you learn about relaxing the chin away from the chest. You maybe use props, maybe straps to hold the breasts down with the belly, like making space between the thighs for it instead of pretending like it’s not there or being angry that it’s there. One of the most common modification questions that I get is like, what do I do with my belly when I’m in twisted postures or what do I in forward folds?
MU/JS: 37:35 And I’m always just like, just move it, pick it up. But people, but that in just even saying that is like what? I’m allowed to pick it up, I’m allowed to, we’re even allowed to talk about it. And I think that that’s so much of it is that we just have to get to a place of like, no, just accept it. And that acceptance isn’t saying like that. You don’t want to work towards something else or do something more or whatever in your life. It’s like just accepted so that you can move forward so you’re not just stuck in place stamping your foot like a toddler.
MU: 38:09 Yeah. You said, you just said a little while ago that that when you first started taking yoga classes, they were not very diverse. Like you did not see a lot of fat bodied people. You didn’t see a lot of black people and that your experiences now are different that you are attending more diverse classes, which by the way I think is in huge part due to your influence. You know, some people would say, well, yoga is completely accessible. You can go to free classes, community donation classes.
MU/JS: 38:36 You can do free, you know, youtube videos. Like why is accessibility not enough? Can you talk about why representation really matters, right? Because it really doesn’t matter if you have like free classes or even donation-based classes. If people can get things on youtube, if the people that you’re seeing doing those activities don’t represent you and that you don’t feel like you see yourself reflected in the community. That’s something that I hear even now and what’s one of the really one of my catalyst to become a teacher, because I would, people would ask me to come teach them and I would be like, why do you need from me to come teach you yoga? There are literally thousands of yoga teachers and I realized that people just wanted someone who they felt looked like them and then in a larger sense that feels authentic. But I also am like, Yo, that means that if people are this interested in like one fat, queer, black person, what’s good with everybody else?
MU/JS: 39:33 Like there are so many people who are not represented in the mainstream who don’t see themselves and who just feel like, man, I can never go to yoga. You know, I just, I couldn’t do that. That’s not enough. And it’s like it’s, it really is just one drop makes such a difference. Even just one person. I have personally seen the effects of just being one person and what that can do. And I feel like, and also just in the time that I’m in a time since I’ve been practicing in the, in the time since I’ve been teaching, I’ve noticed so many more people just like being out and open with their practices and cause it’s not even just about us. It’s not even just about brands doing more or about, um, them being more accessible, showing different kinds of bodies. It’s about us talking about it to one another and really being open in a way, which is encouraging to like our family members and our community members to just start practicing.
MU/JS: 40:32 Because if you see one person who has a Yoga Mat who looks like you, even if they’re not teaching the class, but they’re just in the space, that’ll make you want to show up because it’s like, that’s my yoga buddy. We looked, you know, I see them. We’re cool. Yeah. I also don’t think that it’s just a job of the marginalized, you know what I mean? Like, I think that there’s something to be said for everyone regardless of whether or not your body looks like a quote, Yoga, body, everyone really accepting and understanding all of these intricacies within ourselves because when it comes down to it, the trauma that we’ve all experienced is, is a great equalizer. Like we’ve all experienced that makes us self conscious about our physical bodies and the way that we show up. And if you can sort of tap into that and understand that, then it’s like we can really start to have a space where it’s okay to for that to be the case and then as opposed to like everyone kind of reaching for these standards that don’t feel familiar to anyone. I mean I think that everyone is on their journey, you know what I mean? Like we’re all out here trying to understand our own practices and then understand how our practices could be seen as harmful to others and that that there’s nothing really wrong with that at the end of the day that there’s, there’s more importance than just acceptance and understanding. Then like pointing a finger at like who’s going up and who’s not going up? Cause at the end of the day everybody is so like let’s just, let’s call it there and then everybody’s doing that work. Yes. Great.
MU/JS: 42:17 You mentioned that you’ve seen from your own experience the power of one person and to influence change in this space. You’ve done a lot of that via social media. Your social media following had, has exploded since 2015. What’s like the best thing about that and then what’s the worst and that was a great question. Um, the best thing about it is being able to communicate with other people who feel the same way about life than I do. And that’s like not just about yoga but like just in worldview and being able to be in community with so many people that I wouldn’t know otherwise. It’s really amazing to me. That is the gift of amplitude. I’m one of the negatives I would say is what it means to put yourself out there to other people and how it can affect others. And then dealing with the feedback that comes from being open about yourself.
MU/JS: 43:12 And that to me has been one of the greatest lessons of my life thus far. Teaching space, personal teaching spaces, just to really understand like where my own motivations come from, what it means to be authentic and um, and really to like try to live beyond the standards that other people might have for me. But I don’t prefer the experience of putting myself on display for other people. I in my mind for a long time, like I really didn’t feel a connection with my growth in social media, followership and, and even now I find myself like sometimes trying to sabotage it because I just don’t, I’m like, I’m just really not into followership and like it, it’s kind of stressful in a way. It’s just like, I don’t, I don’t love it. And so there’s a part, how do you like, be like so honest to the point of like turning people off.
MU/JS: 44:13 I’ll be like, I’ll be like, I just want to say everything that I feel and then anyone who’s like, who feels a negative way about me yet. But it’s like they know and then, and then there’s still half hours so that I’m like, well yeah, I thought I said the thing that would make you not so, I don’t know. I feel like that, that aspect of it I don’t love, but at the same time I just, there’s so many positives too. I mean, honestly, if I could boil it down just to the number of people who have said, I used to hate myself and then I saw you and I considered not hating myself again. That’s, I feel like that’s, that’s good enough. That’s amazing. Um, I want to do so much more in my life, but I also feel like if that’s, if it ends today and that was it, then I’m glad that that’s how I spent my time and I’m willing to take on the anxiety of followership as, as that’s fine.
MU/JS: 45:05 I want to close with you talking about the Underbelly. I want you to share why you created it and who it’s for and how it works, the elements. So I started the Underbelly because I wanted to have a yoga space that was actually like for us, by us a space that is meant for the marginalized, meant for the person who is said, I can’t do yoga. I don’t even know where to start. It’s that is, I was like, I want for that person to be able to come into a studio and feel totally at home there. And the best studio to make you feel at home is your home. And so it was crucial to me to have the as available as possible. And we, oh, we launched this past spring just in Beta and the response already has exceeded anything that I like my like, yeah, I’ll just put on my yoga classes.
MU/JS: 45:55 And since then we’ve decided to expand internationally this fall, we’re gonna launch, um, you’ll be able to access on in every country and you’ll be able to get it across, not just Ios, android and on our web platform, but also on, um, apple TV, Roku and Amazon fire. And I’m just like really excited that people have an opportunity to learn from someone who understands what it means to live in a fat body, who understands what it means to have people tell you that you’re not good enough and who also understands that the way to counter all of that is by loving yourself. Yeah. I love that. Congratulations on going international. That’s wonderful. Thanks, and I’m going to make sure to link it to all of this stuff in the show notes so that people can find the Underbelly and join and take some of your classes with you.
MU/JS: 46:50 The last question I ask all of my guests is, what’s one thing, one piece of advice you would give to someone who was ready to do the thing? The one piece of advice that I would give is to just do it. Don’t think about it anymore. Just do it. If it means you want to swim, get in the water. You want to practice, get on the mat. You want to run. Just start running down the block. Don’t wait. Don’t wait for the right outfit, for the right partner, for the right lifestyle. You already have everything that you need right now at your fingertips. You just have to do it.
MU: 47:30 Oh, I just got goosebumps. That was really perfect. Absolutely. I love it. Jessamyn Stanley, thank you so much for this wonderful conversation. I’m really looking forward to sharing all of these views with my community.
Speaker 2: 47:43 Dude, it’s so good to connect with you, Melissa. Thank you so much for having me. Oh, it was my pleasure.
MU: 47:56 Jessamyn and I just scratched the surface of her work in the yoga. I had so many more things I wanted to talk to her about, so I think a followup interview is a must. Maybe we can do that in season two and hopefully we can do it in person because I have been stalking her social media feed. Looking for another class I can attend. You can find more adjustments. Work on her Instagram at, my name is Jessamyn, that’s j e s s a m y n and her website, Jessamynstanley.com learn more about her Underbelly app going global in fall 2019 at the Underbelly. Yoga on Instagram or the Underbelly.com. I’ll have links to all of this stuff in the show notes and as with every episode from day one, full transcripts are always provided, so make sure you visit whole30.com/podcast for details. Before I go, I also want to make an exciting announcement. My newest Whole30 recipe book, Whole30 Friends & Family is coming out soon.
MU: 48:56 October 15th, 2019 this book concept is unlike any I’ve ever done but much like every good idea I’ve ever had. It came from you. My community socializing has always been a pain point on the Whole30 you want to stay social but you also want to maintain your whole 30 commitment. Whole30 Friends and Family makes that easy with 22 menus for everyday social occasions like family dinners, movie night, backyard barbecues and kids birthday parties. The book contains more than 150 all new recipes sorted by menu and each menu includes my best tips for navigating social challenges, answering questions and inspiring friends and family. The Whole30 Friends and Family comes out October 15th, 2019 but it’s available for preorder now and if you preorder, you get us sweet bonus. We’ll send you the entire tailgating menu free just in time for fall and sports thing. Visit whole30.com/friends-family and order your copy today.
Thanks for listening!
Continue the conversation with me @melissau on Instagram. If you have a question for Dear Melissa or a topic idea for the show, leave me a voicemail at (321) 209-1480.
Do the Thing is part of ‘The Onward Project,’ a family of podcasts brought together by Gretchen Rubin—all about how to make your life better. Check out the other Onward Project podcasts– Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Side Hustle School, and Happier in Hollywood.
If you liked this episode, please subscribe, leave a 5-star review, and tell your friends to Do the Thing.