I’ve been a yoga student of Jessamyn Stanley’s for a few years. I found her online teachings on yoga both grounding and liberating. As a person who lives and does occasional yoga in a larger body, it was refreshing to have a teacher guide me to ‘make space for your belly’ and explicitly offer other modifications that let me know that my whole body was welcome to the practice. There’s something about that that creates space to come to the mat ‘just as you are’. Her book, “Every Body Yoga” offers the same explicit inclusive invitation. Lately it’s been fun to see her gifts to the yoga community be more acknowledged and celebrated, most recently, breaking the thin, white stereotype we so often see by posing on the cover of Yoga Journal.

Jessamyn lives in Durham, North Carolina, but occasionally travels around the country to offer workshops, and at each stop she offers a donation-only benefit class. We were honored when last Fall we learned that our friends’ at 8 Limbs Yoga had chosen us to receive a portion of those donations, the other set aside for their yoga teacher training scholarship fund for people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and/or other under-represented groups.  With that link, we felt emboldened to reach out to Jessamyn to see if she’d like to learn more about our programs that she’d be benefitting. To our delight, she said yes, and after many emails back and forth arranging the details, we were able to invite her in as a guest speaker to join our class at Washington’s Correctional Center for Women (WCCW). What a impactful day it turned out to be.

Visiting Washington Corrections Center for Women

We’re so grateful to the partnership we have with WCCW and their help in making this day possible, scheduling the event around Jessamyn’s availability. The class was held in the gym, a larger space than usual, to accommodate the 30 womxn who wanted to attend. Marriam, one of our Teachers Behind Bars, led a lovely practice for this large class, many of whom were brand new to yoga. Jessamyn didn’t know it at first, but not only was it Marriam’s birthday but she calls Jessamyn is her biggest hero – what a great birthday gift! We all joined in singing Happy Birthday to Marriam.

Over the next hour, we experienced the humanizing practice of yoga side-by-side: we shared laughs as we wobbled off balance, groaned as stretches brought relief, and sighed as particular asanas, or poses, brought comfort. We all have bodies. They all need love, encouragement, tending. They all bring us pleasure, and bring us pain. Practicing in community, any barriers fall away.

“A book signing, in prison! My sister is never going to believe this!”

Following the class, Jessamyn joined Marriam at the front for some conversation and Q and A with the women. They gathered around, and the talk ran the gamut: where have you traveled to, and what is your favorite country; what is hard about yoga for you; how do you find your way and carve out your space; how can we love our bodies better? Jessamyn shared honestly and tenderly with our students, and it was so filling to be witness to that exchange. At the end of our time together, the womxn lined up to exit, some of them squeezing in a few last goodbyes, some of them getting Jessamyn’s book signed: “A book signing, in prison! My sister is never going to believe this!” 

Jessamyn and Rosa and I spent some time in the parking lot afterwards just soaking in the experience. It was pretty magical. For Jessamyn’s part, I think she was really moved: “This is exactly who and what yoga is for.” For our part, we felt immense gratitude and gladness – gratitude toward all of our partners who made this day possible, including WCCW and Jessamyn. Gladness to be able to bring such a day of inherent goodness to our students, that we could make something happen like this for them. If you are a donor, you made this magic possible, and I thank you. If you’re not, I hope you consider becoming one. Magic like this takes on-the-ground work to co-create. Will you join us?

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