Taking up a yoga practice can be an intimidating prospect for curvy-bodied women, who may not feel comfortable sharing their body with a studio full of spandex-clad people. But we asked self-proclaimed “yoga enthusiast and fat femme” Jessamyn Stanley for some advice on how to get started.
“You go into the room, and you’re walking into the room with a lot of different pre-conceived notions about your ability, or about whether or not you even deserve to be into the room,” Jessamyn says of thoughts that curvy-bodied women often have in approaching their yoga practice. “The reactions from the other people who are there...those thoughts can contribute to how you feel about your own experience.”
As a prominent yoga teacher, body positivity advocate, and writer, whose name is becoming well-known for her accomplishments as a yogi, even Jessamyn encounters moments like from time-to-time!
“I went to class on Tuesday and I was the largest person in the room. When I walked in the studio, the teacher was like, ‘Oh hey, have you done this before?’” Jessamyn says. “There’s always a look that someone will give you, especially if you’re larger bodied. Granted, this teacher didn’t know me, so my knee jerk reaction after all these years is to be like,
‘You’re saying this because you don’t know me, and you want to make sure I feel comfortable.’ But there’s another piece of me that was saying, ‘You don’t think I can do this because I’m fat’.”
How does Jessamyn keep deepening her practice, coming back again and again even when she still has uncomfortable encounters like this?
“We’ve been taught to think that [the opinions of others] always matter,” says Jessamyn. “Even someone that you’ve never met before, that doesn’t matter in your life. If they look at you and think there’s something wrong with your body, then there’s something wrong with your body,” says Jessamyn of how we can allow other people’s opinions to dictate our experiences in yoga, or in athletics in general, or in life.
“I don’t think it’s fruitful to worry about how other people feel, because you’ll never be able to change that,” says Jessamyn. “Really what needs to happen is a shift within ourselves, so that you’re saying ‘It doesn’t matter how I’m perceived by other people, it matters how I feel inside.’ And that shift, from ‘How do I look?’ to ‘How do I feel?’ makes a big change.”
“I have this internal tape that’s playing that is manually reminding me of all these things,” says Jessamyn, of having to actively monitor how she’s interpreting interactions, like the one she had with the well-meaning teacher who mistook her for a beginner.
“If you walk into the room thinking that you don’t deserve to be there, the moment that someone looks at you wrong, you’re gonna think, ‘Man, they don’t like me, they don’t think I deserve to be here either’,” she says.
So how do we psych ourselves out of being psyched out by what feels like sideways glances from others in the studio?
“Just worry about yourself, look within yourself. It seems miniscule, but it’s massive,” says Jessamyn, of making the shift from being a victim of your environment to taking control of your experience. Jessamyn doesn’t allow the perceptions of others to affect how she shows up on her mat.
What is Jessamyn’s ultimate advice for women who are looking to strengthen or begin a yoga practice with a curvy body?
“Be in your body. Actually trying to have a genuine communion with your body, and yourself, should always be the goal,” she says. “How do you feel when you’re actually in the Asana? Are you thinking about, ‘How do I look,’ or ‘How does this asana feel for me?’ So that you’re actually practicing yoga, not just mimicking and trying to look like the person next to you.”