Sacramento Public Library

Making a name for herself

Jessamyn Stanley on self, libraries and letting go of fear
Jessamyn Stanley's wonderful book, Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love Your Body, is encouraging, candid and humorous. She seeks to disabuse current or would-be practitioners of yoga that a person must look, feel or be a certain way to do a handstand, or whatever one seeks to achieve. She demonstrates that the power of this practice lies in the fact that you can draw on its benefits all of the time, simply by learning to breathe through discomfort, exist in your own skin and redirect an agitated mind.  

Jessamyn, who made a name for herself by documenting her home practice on social media, delineates the various styles of yoga, and provides background on the history of yoga and the story of how the practice became an integral part of her life. I recently spoke with her about everything from her childhood library experiences to cultural appropriation in yoga to how to develop your own vinyasa sequences. Jessamyn, who is currently on a book tour and has visited several public libraries, quickly noted that, “It feels like a life goal complete to have a book in the library because I was that kid — the one who was always excited to go to the library and had a fine forever because I held on to the books for too long.”  

Finding your place

Since the greater Sacramento area is rich with yoga studios and many teacher-training courses, this community yields a myriad of schools, styles and approaches to yoga. Jessamyn mentioned that, while she predominately teaches hatha yoga, “I still take all kinds of yoga classes and I think it’s really important to keep your mind, your body and your spirit open to different kinds of practices. Until you find the lineage that is meant for you, it is a great idea to just continue to try lots of different styles.” Jessamyn considers the style that she currently teaches “to really be a hybrid of a lot of other styles. It’s Vinyasa, but it’s also Yin and there are Bikram elements that are thrown in. If you let yourself be open to it, then your practice will be what it needs to be.”
Jessamyn demonstrates the advantages of establishing a home practice for people who desire the privacy needed to get comfortable with yoga and to cut costs on what can often be an expensive endeavor. She also notes that she loves practicing in studios. “I enjoy the group environment. I just think you have to find the right group environment for you. There are things you can get to in a home practice that can be difficult to do in a class environment because you have the distraction of other people.” Jessamyn created her own Vinyasa sequences, combined with sun salutations, to address her own specific needs and moods. She learned how to do this “from taking lots of online classes. The poses flow together because you make them flow together. People say that writing a song is difficult, but just writing a basic song — anyone could learn to do that. I wanted to make it clear that you can learn these building blocks and then you make it exactly as you are. You make it what it needs to be for you.”

Identifying through practice

In public libraries we are committed to providing the communities we serve with an array of perspectives and diverse points of view. Jessamyn addresses the issue of the appropriation of South Asian culture in yoga, which most Americans encounter through a distinctly Western lens, and which is seldom addressed in yoga guidebooks and narratives. Jessamyn’s yoga practice cultivated an interest in the history and origins of yoga, but her own experience made her sensitive to this issue at the outset of her practice. “As a queer black person, specifically a queer black femme, so many parts of my personal identity are constantly being appropriated. A lot of people immediately feel guilty, so they don’t address the issue. It reinforces for me how important it is to have these conversations.”
Many new yoga students immediately want to dive in headfirst, rather than let the more challenging poses come to them gradually. Jessamyn feels that “the poses you’re meant to practice will come to you.” Hubris, especially in a class context, can be toxic. As Jessamyn reiterates in her book, “We don’t all have the same practice. Practicing the harder poses should never be coming from a place of ego.”

Building a bridge

Jessamyn recently gave an interview with Book Riot, a popular book blog, in which she discusses her favorite books and preferred methods of reading. Her childhood library experiences were formative. She remembers the big public library in downtown Murfreesboro, NC where she grew up. “When I was a kid, to have this giant spiral staircase that you could see from the street… it was the biggest library I’d ever been in. They had a giant children’s section.” Going to the library was an event. “I read everything. My mother in particular is a voracious reader. My earliest memories of my father are of reading with him before I went to school. When I first move to a new town, I always get a library card. It’s one of the first places I go. And I always have a fine.”
 Cover of Every Body Yoga
Libraries have made an effort in recent years to provide dynamic and physically engaging programs. Jessamyn’s book ties yoga with stories and is a bridge in promoting literacy across fitness, reading and social media. She envisions a future in our communities in which yoga will be confined less to pricey studios and more toward unconventional spaces. As Jessamyn noted, “I feel like there’s a lot of intimidation because everybody thinks there are more rules than there actually are.” Her final words: “Yoga should be accessible to everyone.”
Every Body Yoga is an excellent choice for all yogis, both new and seasoned. I have practiced yoga in six different studios in Sacramento. I have practiced in hot rooms, hotter rooms, cool rooms, slow and fast. In Sacramento, it seems there is a yoga studio on every street corner. One could spend a year, or two, sampling the different studios and taking advantage of the intro specials. And I have. Over the course of the 11 years I have practiced yoga in Sacramento, I have come to realize the extent to which I have control over the experience I have — the teachers are only guides. This is the key takeaway of Every Body Yoga. Yoga is for everyone.
Jessamyn Stanley spoke at Central Library on Tues., May 9 to a full house.

Librarian Barrie Olmstead
Barrie Olmstead
has worked for the Sacramento Public Library since 2006, first as a teen/adult librarian at the Arden-Dimick Library, and as the adult materials selector for the past seven years. She is an avid reader and writes reviews for the local publication Ardent for Life as well as Library Journal. Barrie has practiced yoga for 11 years.

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