Yoga Journal - - PROMOTION -

Stan­ley be­lieves peo­ple are pay­ing at­ten­tion be­cause they aren’t used to see­ing a fat black woman tackle tough asana, the Amer­i­can yoga space be­ing—in her words—“deeply rooted in white supremacy.” She’s un­cen­sored in her cri­tiques of mod­ern yoga in the West and of forms of op­pres­sion and body sham­ing she calls “pa­tri­ar­chal white-cen­tric beauty stan­dards.” She calls her­self fat con­stantly—in her In­sta­gram posts (“It’s weird to be the fat kid that thin kids want to know/be­friend,” she wrote in Au­gust); in her 2017 book,

Ev­ery Body Yoga; and in con­ver­sa­tion—as a means of tak­ing back own­er­ship of a term gen­er­ally re­served for sham­ing those it de­scribes. To that end, she’s a one-woman vis­i­bil­ity cru­sader, dis­man­tling ex­pec­ta­tions about what a yoga body looks like and en­cour­ag­ing more peo­ple who don’t gen­er­ally see them­selves re­flected in the yoga space to come along.

Stan­ley started her In­sta­gram ac­count not to be­come the poster child for fat yoga, but to so­licit feed­back on a home prac­tice she’d started in 2012. Like so many yoga prac­ti­tion­ers, she says she never truly felt com­fort­able in a pub­lic yoga class, squeez­ing her­self into the far­thest back cor­ner of the room wish­ing to be in­vis­i­ble—the very op­po­site of what she stands for to­day. But back then, she was in­se­cure and a lit­tle lost, hav­ing dropped out of grad school at the Univer­sity of North Carolina School of the Arts, so she be­gan a yoga

prac­tice from the safety of her own liv­ing room. She uti­lized Yoga Jour­nal’s pose in­dex and on­line classes from Kathryn Budig and Amy Ip­politi, doc­u­ment­ing her progress on­line. “But the re­sponse I was get­ting from peo­ple wasn’t a lot of feed­back about my prac­tice, it was more peo­ple be­ing like, ‘Oh, my god. I didn’t know fat peo­ple could do yoga,’” she says. “And I was like, ‘Why do you think that fat peo­ple can’t do yoga? Fat peo­ple do all kinds of stuff all the time.’” That’s when she re­al­ized her unique op­por­tu­nity to broad­cast a real yoga prac­tice, “scars and all,” she says.

By the time she at­tended a 200-hour yoga teacher train­ing (YTT) in Asheville, North Carolina, in March 2015, she had amassed a siz­able on­line fol­low­ing and in­ter­est from the press. In Jan­uary of that year, Peo­ple ran a story about the “self-pro­claimed fat femme” who, with 29,000 fol­low­ers, had be­come a “yoga star on In­sta­gram.” In the piece, she dis­cussed her plan to crowd­source the money she needed to at­tend YTT later. “There’s ob­vi­ously a need for this,” she said at the time. “Peo­ple are thirsty for some­one who looks like them— or at least who doesn’t look like ev­ery­body else—to show them what to do.”

But as we sit across from each other eat­ing chur­ros and sip­ping on lat­tes one Oc­to­ber morn­ing in Durham, where she lives with her part­ner and three cats, she tells me she never as­pired to be­come a yoga teacher at all. “So many peo­ple were ask­ing me to do it,” she re­calls. “But I didn’t un­der­stand why I needed to be the one to teach.” In­stead, she’d thought­fully re­spond to her fans by re­search­ing and sug­gest­ing Jes­samyn-ap­proved teach­ers in their ar­eas. It wasn’t un­til her fa­ther, who had dis­ap­proved of her foray into yoga “from the jumpoff” of­fered to help fund her train­ing that she be­gan to

take teach­ing se­ri­ously. “My par­ents do not have $3,000 lay­ing around,” Stan­ley says. “For him to be so em­phatic, I re­al­ized there were big­ger forces at play.”

Stan­ley says her life could be neatly di­vided into pre- and post-YTT. “Dur­ing YTT I had a num­ber of ex­pe­ri­ences that cracked open my soul,” she says. “I was able to see so many things I’d been hid­ing from my­self, and I un­der­stood that the way to teach peo­ple would be to gen­uinely live this prac­tice and to shed light, as much as I can, on the spa­ces that are ugly and dark and com­pli­cated, and re­flect that to the peo­ple. For me, that’s what teach­ing should be. Rather than be­ing a ca­reer choice, it’s a mis­sion. A call to ac­tion. Some­thing to drive pur­pose in life. When I left train­ing I was like, ‘OK, now it’s time to reach the peo­ple who have asked me to reach them.”

And she does. Stan­ley spends nearly ev­ery week­end on the road teach­ing classes in re­gions where she’s been beck­oned by stu­dents who

ABOVE Stan­ley has kept a ded­i­cated home prac­tice for the past seven years.

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT Stan­ley at work in her of­fice; her tat­toos serve as a re­minder to prac­tice what she preaches; a com­fort­able home is the back­bone of Stan­ley’s prac­tice.

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