Jessamyn Stanley Wants You to Know Yoga Is Not About the Poses

Her new book, Yoke, unpacks the deeper meaning of yoga, beyond perfecting your downward dog.

Jessamyn Stanley book launch interview
Photo: Courtesy

In her first book, Every Body Yoga, Jessamyn Stanley, an internationally acclaimed yoga teacher and body liberation advocate, sought to bring yoga to every body - including those that don't fit the slender, white, female yoga mold of the West.

But while writing her inclusive how-to guide, complete with yoga poses and sequences to practice at home, she realized there was so much more she had to say. "I was really only talking about one small piece of what it means to practice yoga. When people want to get into yoga, the first questions that come up are like, 'What mat should I use?', 'What style should I try?', 'What posture should I practice?'," Stanley tells InStyle.

"Once you actually get into your practice, yoga has a way of kicking up all of your emotional dirt and sweeping out corners that perhaps you've never swept out. It makes you think about things that you never wanted to. And there's always this period of acceptance that has to come," Stanley says. "I wanted to speak to that and what it really means to practice yoga beyond the postures."

So she went to work writing Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance. In Sanskrit, yoga means to "yoke," and to Stanley, the larger idea of "yoke" is about the yoga of the every day - and it goes far beyond any specific pose.

For example, in one chapter of Yoke she writes: Find your breath and you're practicing yoga ... Because, really, every moment in life is a yoga posture. Standing up tall when someone's trying to shrink you is a yoga posture. Protecting your loved ones is a yoga posture. Finding the breath in these moments inspires you to action and confirms your faith. Sometimes finding your breath can be the difference between seeing someone else's point of view and punching them in the face.

Workman Publishing

Through autobiographical essays, Stanley, self-described as fat, Black, and queer, uses her unique blend of radical honesty and humor to tackle a wide range of topics including self-love, sexuality, cannabis, and the hypocrisies in yoga culture - the consumerism, the cultural appropriation, the racism.

Stanley half-jokes about the "low-key, incredible timing" of her book finally coming out now, four years after she began writing it. "After 2020, and after this year of all of us really being forced to look at so many things that have gone unacknowledged, it was really like, these are the conversations that we need to be having," she says.

"Since Donald Trump was elected, there's been a lot of surprise and outrage and people will being like, 'Wow, I really did not know that there are people who have these deeply problematic, racist, ableist, sexist opinions.' And I think it's so great that we can all just shine a light on that for real and be like, no, this has been happening. People have always felt this way. They just weren't talking about it before. And maybe if we can talk about it, we can go forward from there," she adds.

If you follow Stanley, you won't be surprised to know that self-love and body liberation are main themes of Yoke. But she also says her view of the 'body positivity movement' at large has evolved since she first became an Instagram yoga star back in 2016.

jessamyn stanley

"You can think of it as body positivity or body neutrality, I don't really care what you call it. As long as we all get to the party, I'm here for it."

— jessamyn stanley

"On a personal level, I don't really find a lot of identity through body positivity or body liberation or body neutrality. I don't care about it in the way that I used to," Stanely says. "You can think of it as body positivity or body neutrality, I don't really care what you call it. As long as we all get to the party, I'm here for it."

She adds, "I think there's been a general gentrification of body positivity. But I also think that that co-opting has led to a much larger conversation about body politics that is really still needed, I think needed now more than ever."

Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance is on sale June 22.

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