Jessamyn Stanley’s 8 Commandments for Cultivating a Yoga Practice (at Any Size)

Christine Hewitt
Christine Hewitt

"My first yoga experience was hell on earth," Jessamyn Stanley writes in her new book Every Body Yoga. “HELL. ON. EARTH.”

After barely surviving a 90-minute Bikram yoga class (a regimented type of yoga practiced in a room heated to 105°F) she attended with her aunt, 16-year-old Stanley knew "yoga obviously wasn’t for me."

Fast-forward 13 years, and Stanley is one of the most sought-after yoga instructors in the country: She has a dedicated Instagram following of over 316,000 users, is one of the fitness app Cody's most popular instructors, and packs venue after venue as she travels the country speaking about her brand of self-acceptance.

What makes Stanley so popular? For starters, she doesn't look like your "typical" yoga instructor in that she’s not a size 2. But it's Stanley's bold, brash, tell-it-like-it-is style that truly sets her apart from the pack. Proudly stamped on the cover of her book is the mantra: "Let go of fear. Get on the mat. Love your body."

Cover of Jessamyn Stanley's 'Every Body Yoga'
Workman Publishing

You don’t need any particular thing in order to do yoga, Stanley says. You don’t need the "right" body or the "right" equipment or the "right" instructor—or any instructor at all. You just need yourself, a mat, and the desire to begin. Follow these eights tips from Stanley to grow a yoga practice of your own.

1. START AT HOME.

Stanley's journey from Bikram-phobe to yoga crusader began in a surprising place: her home. Years after that traumatizing first class, Stanley tried another Bikram class (at a friend's urging)—and this time she was inspired to explore it further. Unable to afford regular attendance at the expensive classes, Stanley began to string together the yoga postures (or asanas) she had learned previously in her apartment. “I just took the eight to 10 poses from the Bikram sequence that I really, really liked and felt comfortable with, then I practiced them at home,” Stanley tells Mental Floss.

"I think that the class experience is something that Westerners have come to think is the best way to learn because that's the way that it was easiest to teach large groups of people," Stanley says. "But the practice is a solitary practice and I think that it's really important to build a home practice of some consistency. Otherwise you're just going off the basis of what another person does, you're not actually exploring yourself. And I think that for someone who maybe feels intimidated by the practice, your first class experience might not be a good experience. So it might take just one experience to make you not want to do it again."

2. FIND A COMMUNITY.

Eager to learn more and different styles of yoga, Stanley turned to Instagram and Tumblr for inspiration. "This was back when Instagram first came out and it was definitely a lot less popular than it is now," Stanley says. "There was only like one yoga challenge and it was all about just creating community, making a space where we can talk about alignment and talk about the things that you don't have the opportunities to talk about when you’re practicing at home."

Wanting to feel a part of that bigger community, Stanley began taking pictures of herself in different poses and posting them to Instagram. And this is when she began to realize the impact she could make. "I was taking the photos and I noticed over time that the responses that I was getting from people weren't really alignment tips; it was predominantly people being like, 'I didn’t know fat people could do yoga,'" she says. “[Posting] turned into: I can log my progress, I can check my alignment, and also people can see that this thing that they think doesn’t exist exists."

3. USE PROPS.

A page from Jessamyn Stanley's book "Every Body Yoga"
Excerpted from 'Every Body Yoga' by Jessamyn Stanley (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2017.

As Stanley herself can attest to, when you first start practicing yoga, it's hard. Asking your body to move in new ways is uncomfortable (to put it mildly), and comparing yourself to more seasoned practitioners can be frustrating. But here’s a secret: You can use props to help you. Even the most advanced yogis do it. Yoga blocks, straps, and blankets help add support and cushion when you need it—and you should absolutely use them. "It's not a sign of weakness," Stanley says.

"I totally get that you think that you want to be like the baddest bitch that doesn't need to use a prop to have the deepest triangle pose, or that you want to work on your variations and you don't want to use a strap," Stanley says. "But the reality of the situation is that literally your arms are not going to grow [so that you can reach]. You're not going to magically become [more flexible]. We become more flexible as time goes on."

So grab a block, and check your ego. Stanley says to ask yourself, "Which part of this is 'I don’t need a prop,' and which part of this is my ego? So much of it is the ego, and the ego is what we’re trying to walk away from with yoga."

4. MAKE IT WORK.

Can't afford a block or strap? Make your own. "My props in the beginning were VHS tapes that I duct taped together and boxes that I duct taped together and I used a dog leash as a yoga strap," Stanley says. "You just figure out what is going to make the most sense for you and DIY it."

5. BREATHE.

Yoga—and achieving a “yoga body”—is a big business. But the practice isn’t just about burning fat, slimming down, and toning up. “[The 'yoga industry'] doesn't care if you’re happy, they don’t care if you are actually enjoying the experience, all they want is for you to feel like you’re getting a burn, like you’re getting sweat,” Stanley says. But they’re missing a key component.

"The whole point is to breathe," Stanley says. "There is no other purpose. There is no other thing. So even if you just sit and breathe, that could be the most intense yoga that you ever experience."

6. MODIFY.

Yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley in a standing pose
Christine Hewitt

Whether you’re in class or at home, there’s bound to be a moment where you're asked to try a new pose and you just want to laugh. It seems ridiculous and impossible that you could get your leg over there or your arm up there or balance in that way. Now what?

"The first thing you need to release is your obsession with whatever it is that you think you should be doing, because it's just not happening right now," Stanley says. "So you can’t worry about it, and you can’t enjoy the experience if you’re obsessing over how you’re not doing it."

So take a beat, breathe, and check back in with your body. "And then after you start assessing that, then you’re like, 'OK, cool.' So now that we’re good on this, why don’t you bend your knees a little bit more, because then you can shift your hips up more and then you can be a little bit more flexible." Making modifications—like bending your knees or grabbing a prop—is always an option.

7. STRENGTHEN YOUR MIND.

OK so, you've bent your knees in downward dog and it still feels like your arms are going to crumple beneath you. What now? "That's the moment that you need to dig in, because that's why you’re here: To get over that feeling," Stanley says. Otherwise, "you spend the whole time just thinking like, 'How can I get out of this?'"

Instead of obsessing, Stanley tells us, you could just stay in the pose. "That's when your mind goes blank and that's when you can be there for minutes. So just dig in to that feeling. Allow yourself to have it and then see what happens next."

And if your arms do crumple (they might, it’s OK!), take a few breaths and try again.

8. LET GO OF YOUR FEAR.

Yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley in a triangle pose
Christine Hewitt

A few weeks before our interview, Stanley tells us, she was filming a video for Cody in which she approached people on the street and asked them to practice yoga. "We had so many interesting reactions," Stanley says, "but the number one thing that I heard from the people who didn’t want to [participate] was, 'I don't want to look stupid.'"

"It was so amazing to me to hear that because I was like, 'We are so afraid of each other.' Like everyone is afraid of the person next to them. The person next to you is afraid of you,” Stanley says. Even in a class full of yogis or at home alone, doing a pose like lion’s breath or happy baby can feel embarrassing. “So you have to assess that reaction and you have to really say, 'Why am I embarrassed? What is going to happen if someone sees me do something that they’re not expecting to see me doing? What is the absolute worse thing that could happen?'"

They could laugh, or you could laugh—but would laughing together really be so bad?

"I'm not saying this like it's easy," Stanley says. "It's definitely some of the hardest work that we do, working to release the boundaries that are placed upon us. But in order to really enjoy your practice, you have to get over thinking about what other people think of you."

Why You Should Never Charge Your Phone in Public USB Ports Without a USB Data Blocker

Creative-Family/iStock via Getty Images
Creative-Family/iStock via Getty Images

The USB charging ports that have popped up at airports, coffee shops, and even outdoor stations around cities in recent years are definitely a lifesaver when your smartphone is down to its last bit of juice. A dead phone is annoying at best and downright dangerous at worst, so it’s totally understandable why you’d jump at the chance to revive it at your earliest opportunity.

However, those public ports might not be as benevolent as they seem. According to Afar, hackers can load malware onto those stations—or on the cables left plugged into the stations—which can then deliver passwords and other data right from your device to the hacker’s. If you have used a public port recently, don’t panic; TechCrunch reports that these cases are fairly rare. Having said that, it’s definitely better not to risk it, especially considering what a nightmare it would be to have your identity stolen.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office explains that the easiest way to prevent becoming a victim of this type of scam, often referred to as juice-jacking, is simply to abstain from using public USB charging ports. Instead, invest in a portable charger, or plug your own charger into an actual AC power outlet.

But unoccupied power outlets are notoriously hard to come by in public places, and portable chargers themselves can also run out of battery life. Luckily, there’s a small, inexpensive device called a data blocker that will enable you to use public USB charging ports without worrying about juice-jacking. It looks a little like a flash drive with an extra slot, but it lacks the two wires usually found in USB chargers that can download and upload data. That way, your device will charge without transferring any information.

You can get two of them for $11 from Amazon here.

[h/t Afar]

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12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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