Black History Month is a time for celebrating our sheroes and heroes. So this month (and beyond) we’re putting black American wellness influencers in the spotlight who deserve more shine. These influencers are making a difference when it comes to giving a face to minority health along with making wellness more accessible to a diverse group of enthusiasts.
Jessamyn Stanley’s book, Every Body Yoga, has been circulating in the orbit of readers, avid supporters, and followers for a little less than a year now. In it she gives us a suggested reading list all yogis should consider, especially if you are a novice delving into the practice:
Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar
Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health by B. K. S. Iyengar
Yoga Anatomy, 2nd Edition by Leslie Kaminoff & Amy Matthews
The Bhagavad Gita translated by Stephen Mitchell
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda
Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness, by Erich Schiffmann
Most of these authors are considered iconic spiritual masters. They are world-renowned scholars educated at the likes of the Sorbonne and Yale. But in the spirit of the inclusivity that our featured author promotes in her book, we feel she should be added to that elite list of authors. She’s only been seriously practicing yoga for the past five or six years, but you’d never know it based on the wisdom she shares in her remarkable debut. It is transformative, funny, light-hearted, not averse to an occasional chill F-bomb, and full of real-talk knowledge and advice, along with lessons pulled from her journey of self-love.
You might recognize Jessamyn from those Kotex commercials which go against the synthetic norms of what a “traditional” Western yogi must look like — “slender, long, and young.” Usually, these ads are severely lacking in diversity as the editorial boards who promote this imagery, as noted by Stanley — oppose the chubby woman, or the awkward dude with balance issues, or possibly the curvy woman with tags sticking out of her sports bra. What Stanley promotes through her book and the brand she continues to build is body-positivity. The celebration of all colors, shapes, and sizes are lessons we can all learn from.
Check out these refreshing tips for beginners and those continuing to explore the spiritual practice of yoga where every BODY has a place:
On picking the yoga flow that works best for you:
Quite frankly, there’s a bunch of them. If you’ve ever practiced yoga, you might find that it is a challenge for some studios to clearly define which kind of yoga they teach because in so many cases yoga is a hybrid of influences and choices of individual teaching styles. “I believe that there’s value in incorporating a wide variety of asana styles [yoga poses/posture] into your practice,” Stanley writes. “Each style of yoga offers different physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits, and blending several styles of yoga gives you a practice that can move seamlessly with the ups and downs of your daily life.” Stanley breaks down nine key modern yoga styles in the book. She personally prefers a combo of hot, vinyasa and power flow (and streaming classes from the likes of Kathryn Budig, Amy Ippoliti, Giselle Mari, and Tara Judelle according to jessamynstanley.com.
Here’s a mix from Stanley’s list:
Stanley describes this as a “highly athletic practice that combines gymnastic-like moves, deep breath work, long holds, and repetitive transitions.” This is great for people who love hardcore sweat sessions where you are creating all the heat on your own — truth bombs are often frequently dropped from inspirational instructors to carry throughout your daily life.
This style consists of twenty-six poses and two hardcore breathing exercises performed in the same sequence every class for 90 minutes in a humid, 105-degree hothouse. It’s not to be confused with Hot yoga where poses vary and the temp ranges anywhere between 80-100 degrees. On a personal note, make sure to drink lots of water before and after both of these styles — and never attempt Bikram after day drinking.
You might be able to see the trees through this one — a mix of a variety of yoga influences combined with traditional Native American medicine and known for long holds and major core work. This school of yoga was established by Ana Forrest, an American yogini in 1982.
This is a flow of movement style which links breath with a series of dynamic poses. It’s often described as “dance-like.” Vinyasa has a bunch of variations within the technique itself. Check out Stanley’s “Who Might Enjoy It” column for each outlined yoga style to help come up with your mat potpourri. For Vinyasa she aptly writes it is for “anyone who wants to unlock their inner modern dancer while learning about their true self.”
On what to expect when you enter a yoga class the first time:
It’s a different experience for everyone — but Stanley points out the standard everyone can expect:
1. You’re not immediately heading to an Ashram. Come with an open mind.
2. There’s always someone near the entrance to check you in.
3. You might use that time to let them know about your experience level and if you have any injuries or restrictions.
4. Find a comfortable spot to roll out your yoga mat and don’t be afraid to use or explore props (most instructors naturally incorporate them into a class or you can ask for guidance). And if it all gets to be too much once class gets going drop to Downward Dog or Child’s Pose.
On finding yoga studios who know how to work with bigger bodies:
Stanley says to keep an open mind but if it doesn’t feel right, don’t waste your coins. Practice on your own. Actually, this is how Stanley became major in the yoga world — practicing at home and posting photos of her experience. “I would recommend retreating to the most body-positive studio of all time: your home,” she writes. “Once you disassociate yourself from Western fitness mumbo jumbo, it may not be such a big deal to roll out your mat in the privacy of your own home.” Practicing on your own might also give you more confidence when it comes to joining a class or working through the group settings and instructors which work best for you. And once you are in a class and you feel like all eyes are on your larger frame . . . Stanley’s advice in a nutshell . . . Get over it and apply that same “zero f**ks” philosophy to daily life.
On what to wear if you are curvy
Activewear brands have exponentially gotten better about what they offer within the past five years. Stanley’s main pro-tip is to rock what you feel the best wearing. But she cautions against the equivalent of a workout muumuu,“baggier clothing can be problematic when practicing inverted asana—it’s not exactly fun when a baggy T-shirt covers your eyes during Supported Headstand.” Stanley’s staples are skin tight leggings or booty shorts and a sports bra. You need to check out the book to learn what she prefers to wear or not to wear at home and why! (Digging Stanley’s subtle suggestion that yoga in the buff is more freeing at home — still not sure how I feel about the low-key Naked Yoga trend in cities like New York and Chicago though!)
A major takeaway from Stanley’s incredible knowledge share? Yoga is so much more than the poses, the gear, the studios, and even the Instagram posts. It’s a major vibe and way of existing which brings balance, concentration and discipline to your life. (Stanley skillfully breaks this down detailing the “eight-limbed path” of yoga and what that all means.) It’s also not yours, mine or someone else’s, but everybody’s.
Every Body Yoga is a game-changer, and one to keep in your permanent arsenal of wellness memoirs and references. For more information on Jessamyn Stanley, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
Photo Credit: Christine Hewitt