Illustration by Peter Oumansk

Every issue, GRAZIA USA highlights 17 Game Changers, who inspire, educate, and celebrate individuality, beauty, and style. Meet Jessamyn Stanley, an author, advocate and podcast host who is all about spreading love — one yoga pose at a time.

I started practicing yoga when I was in graduate school. I was studying nonprofit arts management, and I was going through a period of depression that is pretty characteristic of anyone who is in their early 20s. At the time, I went to a hot yoga class with a friend of mine who was obsessed with it. She said, “This is going to change your life,” but I was really not sold at all.

When I went, the postures seemed completely impossible to me. Even just to sit with my legs crossed felt excessive! But what yoga offered me was an opportunity to see beyond the boundaries that I created for myself and to see that as long as I just show up and be present in the moment, then that is sufficient.

I started sharing my yoga practice on social media, not thinking about creating community or connecting with other people; I really just wanted to track my yoga practice. But what ended up happening was that a lot of people saw my practice and said, “I didn’t know that fat people could practice yoga,” and I said, “Fat people can do all kinds of stuff, all the time!” We obviously have a huge visibility issue and that really spurred me to keep sharing my practice — to show that I am not alone, that I am not the first, and there are so many fat people, Black people, queer people, and others who don’t look like me, period.

There are so many different people who don’t see themselves represented who deserve to believe in themselves, and that’s why I founded my wellness community, The Underbelly. It came from this desire to make space for other people to accept themselves and for all of us to be in a community together.

Since I started The Underbelly, I have seen way more diversity in the wellness and tech industries and more conversations about body inclusivity and inclusivity in general are happening. It’s been really heartening to see, because I think it will pay dividends, even as things continue to evolve.

I think that before the pandemic, there was a reluctance to be committed to an at-home practice, but now, more people have turned to online and I love seeing that, honestly. I think it says a lot about how we can all take care of ourselves in the long-term. I would love to see all human beings individually believe in themselves, and I think that the more we can love ourselves, practice compassion towards ourselves and be gentle with ourselves, it will make the world a better place.

I would literally not be the person I have become without yoga. The biggest result of my focus on yoga is that it allows me to understand the waves in life are supposed to happen and nothing is ever supposed to be good all of the time. The dark is just as important as the light, and if I can find myself in the midst of the darkness, if I can find myself in the center of the intersections of the chaos, then I can just roll with it and I can expect the change to come.

-As told to Jaclyn Roth

Pick up GRAZIA USA’s March 2022 issue on newsstands and email to subscribe.