Jessamyn Stanley is fat, black, queer and undoubtedly living her best life. She’s also flexible AF and has amassed hundreds of thousands of social media fans and the attention of brands like Target, Kotex and Motrin for her love of yoga and inclusive messages of body positivity (which she likes to refer to as “body liberation”) and self-care.
A woman with a plethora of hats, the yoga enthusiast has successfully manifested her passion for Zen into a profitable business model and way of life. With an ever-growing title that includes yoga practitioner, motivational speaker, brand ambassador and bona fide social media celebrity and influencer, she’s also working on her second book, hosts a podcast and is developing a subscription-based platform where users can access her yoga classes. Wonder woman who? In the little spare time that she has, we sat down with Stanley to discuss work, life and balance.
You live a very busy life. What’s your morning routine to start each day with a clear and peaceful mind?
For me daily meditation is key. The time varies from 5 – 30 minutes. [When I first started meditating] my mind would move 90 miles a minute. I was like ‘how am I supposed to sit here and be quiet for 5 or 10 minutes?’ In my early days of meditating I had to tell myself I’m just going to sit down, take a few breaths and let this be whatever it’s going to be just be…If you want to think, then think. Think about everything that makes you anxious. Do this long enough and you truly will stop thinking about these things. We’re carrying all of this emotional baggage from day to day and we have to release it.
I also really like to move my body. Moving my body allows to me to stand up stronger. I feel more powerful. I feel more stable, present and capable of conquering anything. I like to alternate every other day, an hour of gym time or an hour on my yoga mat. Taking that time just reminds me that I’m a human being and not a machine…It’s a really good grounding practice. I also drink water in the morning. I like to aim for 32 – 44 ounces. Adding lemon is a good way to cleanse out everything you’re carrying from the day before. I also like to journal. I don’t do it every day, but I do like to do it in the morning.
As a fat, queer woman it’s very important for me to always come back to self-care. It’s the most important thing to my happiness. I prioritize self-care above all professional work because [my success] stems from that. If you’re not taking care of yourself it will show up in your work.
Favorite Song to Start Your Day
Jill Scott “Gotta Get Up (Anotha Day)”
What was your first yoga experience like?
My aunt was really obsessed with Bikram yoga at the time so I went to this hot yoga class. The room smelled as hot as heaven because [the floor was carpeted] and the carpet had soaked up all of the sweat in the room because the room had been heated to 104 degrees. Every human being in there was sweating buckets. Immediately I was sweating from places I didn’t know human beings could sweat from. I was sweating from my eyes and elbows just from standing. I was like ‘how am I supposed to make it through this whole class?’ Well I made it 30 minutes into the class before I said f**k all of this.
It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I tried [yoga] again. One of my classmates was really into Bikram yoga…she had a Groupon pass and I went and I loved it. Everything about the class was thoughtful. In the beginning I was one of the only black people in the class and I’m usually the only fat person in the class as well. Because the postures were so difficult and the environment was so hard to even exist in, it pushed me past all of these boundaries and limits I had created for myself. It was a total game changer for me.
Yoga made me realize I was just sleep walking through life.
[During this time], I was going through a really difficult time in my life. Yoga made me realize I was just sleep walking through life. I was in graduate school and I would just wake up, go to class, have the same bulls**t boring conversations, be totally not engaged in anything, go to sleep, wake up and do the same thing over again. I wasn’t passionate for life and in order to practice any practice you are going to be pushed out of sleep walking.
You have 366k+ social media followers. How did you become a social media influencer?
My perspective on social media has always been that it’s a chronicle of my life, or a journal of what I do. That mindset has benefited me. If you walked in to it thinking that this a branded platform you should leverage it to make money, you’re not doing anything authentic. It’s almost a non-profit mindset as opposed to a for-profit mindset. When I look back at my Instagram posts I’m looking at a journal that I’ve kept up for the past 8 years. If you look at your social media as a tool to express yourself as opposed to something that’s actually a money maker, it will show.
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Now, and in the early days, I only talked about brands I was already using. I wasn’t trying to promote anything. At that time there was very little representation for athletes, especially fat yoga practitioners and I knew I wasn’t the only one out there. I also knew there are things that [yoga practitioners] need that no one was talking about — like what mats or sports bra are most important. I always try to talk about the things I use and enjoy because I know how hard it is to find things that resonate with who you are.
One day people aren’t going to be paying attention to me or what I do. When that happens, I don’t need to be the person who said whatever they needed to say to make a buck because that authenticity is going to be gone. Brands see that. They see your authenticity and want to work with that. That’s how I partnered with brands like Target, Kotex and Motrin.
How do you make time for yourself?
I’m always doing yoga on my suitcase. If I’m just sitting and no one is talking to me, I’m mediating. If I’m on a flight or in transit, I always try to sleep. I’m always catching up on sleep or meditation. Prioritizing these things like we prioritize all of our other priorities is really important. For a lot of people self-care is an afterthought. Taking care of yourself has to be your No. 1 thing. Before you think about anyone else you have to think of yourself.
What’s been your process for writing a book?
The process of writing a proposal actually took longer than writing the book. Writing a book proposal is like writing a marketing plan and for me, some aspects of that were more difficult than writing. I wrote the book itself in about 6 months.
My process for writing a book right now is different [than the first book] because this is a memoir. I did a lot of late nights. I also did the Pomodoro method where you work for 25 minutes, take 25 minutes off and repeat.
Writing a book requires a lot patience. It’s a lot of not obsessing over getting it right. For me, [the most challenging piece was] trying not to write the way I think someone wants to read what I’m talking about. It’s trying to listen to myself. That process is a lot longer and harder than most people anticipate. Having patience with the process is the most important part.
Words or phrases you live by
- “Run your own race.” — The race horse that falls is the one that looks to the left or the right. If you look straight ahead, if you run your own race and don’t think about what other people are doing than you’re always doing what you need to do.
- “Don’t allow the mountain in front of you to distract you from celebrating the mountains you’ve already climbed.” — I’m the type of person that it’s hard for me to celebrate success because I’m always thinking about the future, or what didn’t go the way it was supposed to go. Just because you’re not where you think you should be, doesn’t mean you’re not where you’re supposed to be.
- “Always remember to lead with love and with no restrictions.”
Are you living your best life right now?
Honestly, I am living my best life. I don’t know how long it’s supposed to last and how long I’ll be living it, but part of what makes it feel like a best life is I’m always trying to be compassionate toward myself and other people. I’m actively trying not to let my anxiety run my life. I’m a truly anxious person by nature and being able to sit in the space of being anxious, and being compassionate toward that is very liberating.
I also prioritize time spent with my loved ones and try not to get caught up in the social media monster, which is difficult, especially when social media is your job. I’m living my best life when I am actually in my life appreciating all of the blessings offered upon me, and trying to reflect those blessings back into the world.