Jessamyn Stanley Redefines What a "Yoga Body" Looks Like / by Ngozi Ekeledo

DURHAM, North Carolina (WTVD) -- The first time Jessamyn Stanley tried yoga, it didn't go so well.

"I was just like, 'No. I'm not doing this, this is the worst," Stanley shared.

Seven years later, she turned to it again when her life hit a major skid in her mid-20s.

"I was going through a breakup of a long-term relationship. I had come to a crossroads in my life where I felt like I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing," she said.

Now, Stanley has become a celebrity in the yoga world, because she's redefining the idea of what a "yoga body" looks like, while spreading a message of body positivity.

"We so closely associate all of these ideas together where it's like, 'being fat, exercising, eating healthy,'" Stanley explained. "Like these things can't all exist together. And they can. I want to really draw more attention to that and make space for people to reinterpret the way they see themselves."

The Durham-based practitioner encourages this idea of self-love in her new book, Every Body Yoga. It's a mixture of self-help, memoir and a how-to guide for yoga beginners.

She said the response to her book and message has been overwhelming.

"The most amazing thing that I'm really noticing is just the number of people who don't look like they practice yoga who are starting to practice yoga, and it's so many people across so many different colors and gender expression and sizes," Stanley said.

In her book, Stanley opens up about her struggles with weight and alcoholism and how yoga has helped her through those rough times. It's this vulnerability that has made her so popular among her fans.

"The reality is, there's so few depictions of that, that everyone who practices or who's wanted to practice is like, 'Wait. It's okay for us to talk about weight problems? It's okay for us to talk about our self-hate? It's okay to talk about alcohol?'" she said. "And I felt like that was really important, just to make space for people to do that."

Stanley also said yoga is about more than physical fitness, but instead an emotional connection.

"I've found that that kind of honesty and that kind of self-compassion and truth is really what makes people want to practice because you don't become addicted to this practice because it's such a great exercise," she said. "The reason that people fall into it is because it is a way to look at yourself in a very, very honest way, and the only way to really reflect that is to be doing it yourself."

Stanley's message has also resonated more widely because she focuses on encouragement. That's something she says the fitness world could use a lot more of.

"I've had people come up to me at the end of class and be like, 'Thank you so much for telling me good job, because that was the first time I've heard that in years,'" Stanley said. "Because we live in a society where people don't congratulate each other and not be nice to one another."

As for her future, Stanley wants to continue to inspire as an advocate in the fitness space and, of course, draw some new faces to the practice she loves.

"Yoga is gonna be the physical exercise that is also gonna be your mental medicine, and you should try it right now. Let's go to a class today. Right now. What are you doing right now? Let's just go."