Find Your Voice

Move be­yond body pos­i­tiv­ity and fo­cus on find­ing your true self. This se­quence, de­signed as a ve­hi­cle to help you turn your gaze in­ward and iden­tify the in­stru­ment of au­then­tic­ity in­side you, will leave a last­ing im­pres­sion.

Yoga Journal - - JANUARY 2019 - By Jes­samyn Stan­ley

Jes­samyn Stan­ley shares ad­vice, plus a prac­tice, for tap­ping into your true self.

When I first started teach­ing, I had no idea what I was sup­posed to do. I’d spend the whole class try­ing to pre­tend to be some­one else. I re­mem­ber some­thing Kathryn Budig once said. She said that in the be­gin­ning of her prac­tice she was do­ing “a bad Maty Ezraty” (her teacher). And I felt like I was do­ing the poor man’s Joe Taft, an­other yoga teacher who’s had a huge in­flu­ence on me—to the point where a stu­dent ac­tu­ally asked me, “Is Joe Taft your teacher?”

So, you go from this feel­ing of, I must em­u­late some­body else, to think­ing,

I just gotta fig­ure out how to be my­self. I’m just go­ing to try to be me in this prac­tice

and see what hap­pens. That evo­lu­tion, re­ally look­ing within my­self and dig­ging deeper into my own prac­tice, has had such a pos­i­tive im­pact on my teach­ing. I think that’s all teach­ing is, ul­ti­mately: It’s just find­ing your­self, liv­ing your own prac­tice, and then re­flect­ing that to other peo­ple. It’s as if in find­ing my own prac­tice and find­ing a link­ing of the light and the dark, I found an in­stru­ment in­side me. I ac­tu­ally think of it like a trum­pet.

To ac­cess it, I reach in­side of my body. (It’s very Walk­ing Dead.) I reach in and I find my trum­pet. I pull it out and I clean it off. I get all the gunk and guts off of it, and then I put it to my lips, and I start try­ing to play it. I’ve never played this in­stru­ment be­fore. I don’t know how to play the trum­pet. So, I’m just ex­per­i­ment­ing randomly, mak­ing sounds. But I’m hav­ing fun ’cause it’s my in­stru­ment, and it seems nat­u­ral to play it.

As I’m play­ing, some­body walks by. They’re like, “Where’d you get that in­stru­ment?” And I say, “I found it in­side my­self!” They’re like, “Word!” And I’m like, “Yes.” Then they ask, “Do you think I have an in­stru­ment in­side of me?” And I say, “I know you do. Just look.”

They start look­ing for an in­stru­ment. And they find one. They pull it out, and it’s not the same in­stru­ment as the one that I’m play­ing. It’s some other in­stru­ment, but they’ve never played it be­fore ei­ther. And they start clean­ing it off, pulling off the gunk, and then they start to play.

And then we’re play­ing to­gether. We’re not play­ing the same song. We don’t even know what we’re play­ing. We’re just try­ing to find our in­stru­ments, our own voices, but we’re do­ing it around each other. And then more peo­ple see us, and they come over, and they start find­ing their in­stru­ments. And be­fore you know it, we have a whole orches­tra. So many voices. This is not Jes­samyn’s orches­tra, where ev­ery­one has to play in time. Come through, pull out your in­stru­ment, play it for your­self. We’ll make a safe space to do that—to be your­self. I think com­mu­nity build­ing is the best form of lead­er­ship. It’s em­pow­er­ing other peo­ple to be­lieve in them­selves, as op­posed to try­ing to get them to be­lieve in some­thing else out­side of them­selves.

Try the se­quence on the fol­low­ing pages to help you em­body this ex­plo­ration and find your own in­stru­ment.


Start by ground­ing. Sit in a com­fort­able po­si­tion, eyes closed, and tune in to your­self. Try to re­lax, feel­ing no pres­sure, fear, or judg­ment. Start to no­tice your breath mov­ing through your body. Give your­self per­mis­sion to feel where your in­hala­tions might be tight and where your ex­ha­la­tions might be a lit­tle ragged. Al­low your­self to de­velop clear, deep in­hala­tions through your nose, re­leased by clear, deep ex­ha­la­tions through your nose. Stay 5 min­utes.


These two poses to­gether will help you warm up your spine and get en­ergy flow­ing. On an in­hala­tion, rock off your seat and come to hands and knees. From here, rock it out a lit­tle—for­ward on the in­hala­tions, back on the ex­ha­la­tions. Even­tu­ally, pause when your shoul­ders are over your wrists and your hips are above your knees. Spread your fin­gers wide. Then in­hale and drop your belly, lift­ing your gaze, tail, and chest. Ex­hale and round your up­per back as you drop your head and tail. Keep go­ing at your own pace, fig­ur­ing out what you need.


When you’re ready, come back to a neu­tral spine, then walk your arms out in front of you, slid­ing your chest and throat to­ward the ground. Press into your fin­ger­tips or palms, go­ing as far down as is com­fort­able. Wrap your outer up­per arms in, and al­low your neck to re­lease. Even­tu­ally, to come out, walk back to all fours. Go slow.


Start to ground through your legs: Curl your toes un­der and walk your hands back, com­ing into Ut­tanasana (Stand­ing For­ward Bend). Bring hands to your hips, cinch your shoul­der blades to­gether, and, with a long spine, come to stand­ing. Step one leg out, open­ing into a wide stance. Your feet should be un­der your hands when you ex­tend your arms out to your sides. Turn your right foot par­al­lel to the long edge of your mat, and try to line up your front heel with your back arch. Press into the back edge of your back foot and into your front big toe. Bend into your right leg, bring­ing knee over an­kle. With your arms ex­tended, re­lax your shoul­ders. Hold here for as long as you’d like.


From War­rior Pose II, drop your back arm down your back leg, and ex­tend your top arm up. As you are reach­ing, you can draw the knife edge of your top arm around, to­ward your body, and walk your left (bot­tom hand) down your left leg. Again, stay as long as you’d like, then in­hale to come up.


Straighten your front knee and shift your right hip back. Reach for­ward with your right arm and down with your right hand to the floor. Then reach up with your left hand. Draw your right thigh un­der, and try to drop your top ribs down a lit­tle. You can bring your hands to the top of your ribs as a re­minder. Breathe. Then, when ready, in­hale to come up.


Find your bal­ance: Pivot on your back toes and tip for­ward as you bring your left leg par­al­lel to the ground. Press through your stand­ing big toe and set your gaze to the left, or 6–8 inches in front of you, on the ground. Flex your left toes, like you’re kick­ing be­hind you. Ex­hale, and re­lease into a Stand­ing For­ward Bend.


Step off the ball of your left foot, keep­ing your hips squared to the ground. Press through the ball of the big toe of your stand­ing leg, scis­sor your thighs to­gether, and turn the toes of your left foot down as you kick through the ball of your foot. Play with ex­hal­ing your palms to your chest, stay­ing as long as you’d like. Then in­hale to come up. Switch sides and re­peat poses 4–8.


Bring it in: Pivot your feet so they are a lit­tle wider than hip-dis­tance apart and turn your toes out, heels in. Sink your hips down into a deep squat. Bring your up­per arms to the in­sides of your thighs and your palms to­gether. Draw your chest up. Pump your heart to­ward your thumbs. Breathe. Re­lax your shoul­ders, tak­ing move­ments that feel good. Stay here as long as you’d like.


Ex­press your­self, em­brac­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity but know­ing you are safe, rooted in your truth. From Gar­land Pose, come to sit on your heels. Rest and take this op­por­tu­nity to re­con­nect with your breath. When you are ready, move your hips over your knees and bring your hands to your waist, fin­ger­tips point­ing down and el­bows draw­ing to­gether be­hind you with your heart pump­ing up. Stay here, sup­port­ing your lower back, or start to move the head back and chest up—heart and throat open. As you move deeper into the back­bend, you can place your hands on your heels. Move your pelvis for­ward, and let your heart open to the sky. Keep draw­ing your thighs to­gether. To come up, bring your hands to your lower back again, slowly rolling up, head last. Come back to sit­ting on your heels. Take it in. Breathe. This is such a big opener that it de­serves your pres­ence and ab­sorp­tion as you take a mo­ment to re­flect.


To counter this big pose, draw your left shin for­ward and ex­tend your right leg back. Keep the toes of your left foot flexed and tucked un­der. In­hale to sit up tall; ex­hale and walk your arms out in front of you, re­lax your shoul­ders, and re­lease your back foot. Breathe. You can bring your head all the way down or rest it on blocks. Hold here for sev­eral breaths, tak­ing a mo­ment to ob­serve your truth. Then in­hale to come up, and switch sides.


Come back to a com­fort­able seat. Close your eyes and bring your palms to­gether over your heart, bow­ing to the spirit al­ways present within, the strength al­ways rid­ing within. Deeply in­hale through your nose, and deeply ex­hale through your mouth. Gaze up, open your eyes. Na­maste.


3 ANAHATASANA Ex­tended Puppy Pose

1 VAJRASANA Thun­der­bolt Pose





6 UTTHITA TRIKONASANA Ex­tended Tri­an­gle Pose

12 VAJRASANA Thun­der­bolt Pose

11 EKA PADA RAJAKAPOTASANA One-Legged King Pi­geon Pose, vari­a­tion

9 MALASANA Gar­land Pose

10 USTRASANA Camel Pose

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