Beauty without Apology

Yogi and body positivity advocate Jessamyn Stanley on the virtues of topless workouts

Name: Jessamyn Stanley, 32

City: Durham, North Carolina. I’m from Greensboro originally.

Occupation: Yoga instructor, fitness coach, and writer

Favorite Gym: I do really like Planet Fitness. I do really appreciate that it’s everywhere when I travel, and I appreciate their ethos of how everyone should show up and feel included is completely different from every other gym I’ve ever belonged to.

Favorite Exercise Playlist: I mean, it’s endless. Music is the most important thing for me personally when catching a rhythm when I exercise. I like literally all kinds of music. If we’re talking about a go-to album that I always appreciate, it’s probably Kendrick Lamar’s M.A.A.D City.

Best Workout Food: I usually don’t like to eat before I practice yoga or exercise. I like to practice in the morning and then have water with lemon before that. If I eat, I maybe have a smoothie with some peanut butter in it. But I don’t like the feeling of food weighing on me [when I exercise], so if it’s going to be something, it should be in a liquid format.

Best Workout Outfit: When it comes to a yoga workout, I like to wear clothing that is extremely form-fitting, or not that many clothes at all—something closer to underwear. If we’re talking about lifting or cycling, a good pair of shorts and a sports bra. Though I’m not big on tops in general for any kind of activity!

How do you balance staying in shape and having fun? I don’t really think about staying in shape, if I’m completely honest. I’ve found it’s helpful for me to think about keeping my body moving and taking care of it. I think of movement just like overall maintenance for the human body, the same you would do for car or your house. So for me, it’s helpful to think of as taking care of my body. So, what feels fun? What feels effortless? Don’t try to focus on activities because they have an effect on someone else. I try to think how they can empower me in my life.

Basic Workout Tip: I always think it’s helpful to think you’re not reinventing the wheel. There’s a child inside of you that wants to keep moving. Like, the little kid that just ran around in circles, turned cartwheels—that’s child is still inside of you. That kid wants to be let out, and it’s not obsessed by beauty standards or getting fit for summer. That kid is just trying to let it out. Remember, there’s a kid inside of you that wants to have fun and it will feel effortless.

We hear a lot about the benefits of Bikram yoga, and this has been an important part of your journey to preparedness. What specific advantages does it offer? I always recommend Bikram yoga as a beginner style of yoga because it’s so standardized. As a result, you can come back to the same practice over and over again. It’s always going to challenge you, to push some part of you. I think that’s why so many people come back to it—because of the intensity and the consistency of the intensity. It’s always going to push you.

What exactly is the purpose of the heat? The heat provides a certain amount of calming for your physical body. You can practice any of the poses without the heat, but practicing the moves with the heat, it makes the body much softer, a lot more open. It improves circulation. It makes a certain kind of flexibility in the body happen that would not ordinarily. Bigger openings are able to happen. It can be overwhelming initially because it is such a fundamentally different heat from what, in particular, Americans are used to. The pumping of the heat is to mimic a whole other climate zone.

Related: New York trainer Branden Hayward on how a stuffed bunny got on his bedside table

You describe yourself as a queer fat femme woman of color. What is it about staying active through yoga that helped you embrace yourself, to find your own sense of confidence and beauty? I wouldn’t necessarily link yoga and my journey to self-love. I understand the desire, and they did happen concurrently, but I think that really accepting yourself without worrying about society’s standards is something anybody can do. So much of it for me has just been acknowledging the ways that I am my own person. The way I speak to myself, the people I surround myself with, the language that we use to talk about our bodies—they’re the kind of conversations that aren’t really glamorous. A fat black queer person—that’s literally just who I am. It’s like the sky is blue. The grass is green. I’m a queer fat black femme. To be able to accept those labels, you have to acknowledge the way society would not want me to accept those things, and take the responsibility back.

How does doing yoga prepare you psychologically and emotionally for day to day life? I’ve always felt that the way we understand yoga is severely limited because it’s so closely linked to fitness. To me, yoga provides a blueprint of how you can live your life by experiencing compassion for yourself, and by doing so, you reflect that back to others. There are truly an endless number of opportunities in every single day to practice just that. It’s something so simple and so complex, and fully consuming. It provides a structure that I’ve found to be really profound.

In your writings, you talk a lot about inspiring others specifically by not trying to develop a following…even though have developed one. Rather, you just try to lead an authentic life. What is it about being true to yourself that automatically just attracts others who admire you? I think because there is so much fake sh*t on social media, there’s a quiet urge to see people living authentically because it just feels real. I think that’s why ultimately, without trying, there are people attracted to me. I think it comes from this desire to experience and be close to something that feels real, because it reminds us of ourselves. The thing that has been so profound to me in my fellowship is that it’s not just fat black queer people. It’s people of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities all over the planet. There is this consistent thread of all of us trying to tap into something beyond this fake, plastic world we live in.

You’re also a big cannabis advocate. What role does cannabis play in maintaining good health? I think the fact that we each have our own unique endocannabinoid system speaks for itself. There is this system running inside all of us, and the cannabinoids from cannabis just replenish that system. It controls so many different parts of our motor system. This is something human beings have been doing literally forever. There are many ways to satisfy and replenish the endocannabinoid system, but having some kind of medicinal cannabinoid practice in whatever way that is for you—it might be hemp, it might be CBD, it might be THC. Find the method that works for you. People get so hyped nowadays, and so angry, and they’re full of pain from so many different sources. Cannabis comes out of the ground literally for this reason: life is hard. The plant is there to help. It can have so many positive health impacts if you can get beyond the stigma the government has enforced.

What do you keep on your nightstand? So many things! Melatonin, all different kinds of cannabis—CBD cells, THC cells, CBD muscle rubs. Tissues. Books. My vibrator. The essentials.

Visit Jessamyn’s website or download her podcast for a sampling of her yoga coachings.

Bonus Pics:

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I’m feeling really grateful that I’m able to pay my rent on time and share a home with a partner I love and have enough pocket change to occasionally grab dinner with friends. I’m grateful that I can lazily online window shop in my uber. I’m grateful that I’m able to walk around without actively fearing for my life. I want to express gratitude for these things right now because they haven’t always been the case and shit’s bound to change at some point and honestly I complain about nonsense all the time but yet I really have nothing to complain about. There are ups and downs in my life and I fully intend to continue to complain at my leisure but I just want to write down that one time that I actually remembered to be fucking grateful for something. #yoga These photos from @thekitchn really make my life look like an @hgtv show Wearing ? @lissagotwalsphoto Also, y’all have asked where to find the floral tapestry and day bed in my yoga room- I got both at @urbanoutfittershome @urbanoutfitters- literally everything else came from @trosathriftstore and @classictreasuresfurniture And yes, @jen_parker87- that’s @beyondmeat ???? #uohome

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Much as I enjoyed myself in Colorado, I left Denver with more questions about cannabis legalization than I had when I arrived. For example, upon arrival my thoughts were completely consumed by incarceration and record expungement. Basically, how do we use the ground swell of public support for cannabis as a tool for liberation? However, it didn’t take long for me to realize how my concerns are just the sweat on the iceberg. For example, WHY is @simplypuremj the ONLY black owned dispensary in the ENTIRE STATE OF COLORADO?? Not just Denver. In the ENTIRE state of Colorado there is only ONE black owned dispensary. In an industry that is rooted in black + brown communities and whose economic success is high key benefited by the contradiction of cannabis incarceration. It reminded me of the person who gave me shit for going to @uncleikesglassandgoods in Seattle. During one of my 1st trips to Seattle, I was so thrilled to buy legally that I was rambling on IG about it and one of y’all immediately hopped in my DMs to talk about how we need to primarily support minority owned dispensaries. I have to confess that I rolled my eyes upon receiving this feedback. I thought what many of us continue to think- isn’t some legal weed better than no weed at all? But after this trip, I really don’t think it is. We’re creating a fantasy in which white ppl fearlessly smoke weed, POC continue to be terrorized by the justice system & are unable to elbow into a now flooded economic market. And each time we silence our questions in favor of lighting a bowl, we each silently contribute to this inequity. I’m talking about this and more this Monday AND Tuesday on IG Live at 9pm EDT (6pm PST). On Monday we’ll specifically talk about my Colorado networking trip w/ @hi.curious and on Tuesday we’ll talk about the complications of legalization v. normalization. BYO Cannabis- If you watch on either day, this’ll be a dope opportunity to consume cannabis with a community of people who won’t judge you and make you feel like a criminal. You’re not a criminal. You’re taking care of your health. All cannabis use is medicinal. Photo by for @yogajournal

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