When Jessamyn Stanley, the author of Every Body Yoga, discusses practicing yoga daily, she doesn’t necessarily mean the sun salutations and poses that most Americans picture. The Black plus-size yoga instructor has something more profound and personal in mind.
“Yoga” itself means to “yoke,” at least in Stanley’s admittedly “American millennial translation,” and that’s where her focus is. Finding daily ways to join the good and bad and all the intersections of life is how she brings balance to hers. Now she wants to help others do the same with a new book of essays, Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance.
Even as Stanley, a queer femme, became a powerful voice in wellness culture, she never felt there was a place for her within it, and the book leans into that.
“It’s addressing this separateness and really trying to understand my most true, authentic self in a world that is set on boxes and standing in very specific spaces, and really trying to understand what it means to live at the intersection of identities,” she says.
That separation isn’t limited to wellness. It permeates our lives. In Yoke, Stanley explores how yoga can help with self-love, body positivity, sexuality, and more.
“The yoking that happens in everyday life, the yoking that has nothing to do with a yoga mat or postures or moving the body at all is the most profound yoga, and it’s really the yoga that’s being asked of me for sure right now.” She suggests that’s what is being asked of all of us.
The last 18 months have exposed the country’s systemic violence and discrimination, and Stanley has noticed that people are done with the bullshit.
“There can be no more make-believe.... So much of yoga is about that unveiling, the peeling back, the looking under the rug. It’s about really engaging with the things that feel most painful.”
To heal as a society, Stanley says folks must learn to accept that every single human being is crucial, and it’s not about erasing the darkness or bad things, it’s about balance.
“What yoga can offer us is the structure, the clarity, the patience, and the openness to acceptance.... Through that, we can heal tremendous pain in our society.”