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."

10 Items Under $25 That Will Keep You Warm This Winter

KEAZA/Yeti/Amazon
KEAZA/Yeti/Amazon

If you're someone who finds the freezing temperatures of winter unbearable, even the shortest stints outside can seem like pure torture. But you don't need to spend the next few months dreading every moment you're in your drafty office or outdoors. We looked through Amazon and found plenty of products, ranging from heated scarves to insulated coffee mugs, that will keep you warm without breaking the bank. Check out some of our favorite finds for under $25.

1. Refillable Zippo Hand Warmers; $20

A refillable zippo hand warmer
Zippo/Amazon

There is a long list of unpleasantries that comes along with winter, and being unable to keep your hands warm is definitely near the top of that list. But thankfully, there are these refillable, flameless Zippo hand warmers, which can last for up to 12 hours. All you need to do is remove the burner, add the lighter fluid (which is available on Amazon for $10), place the burner back on, apply a flame, and enjoy the comfort of having warm hands again.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Heated Scarf; $18

A heated scarf
PerfectPrime/Amazon

We have heated gloves, hand warmers, and even heated socks. But what about when your neck gets cold? Enter PerfectPrime’s electric scarf, which comes with two heaters that allow you to swap between low or high heat. All you need to do is hook one of the heaters up to the included USB cord; place both in the inset of the scarf; attach the cord to the power pack, which sits in a small pouch; and enjoy the added warmth. (The power pack isn't included but you can pick one up on Amazon for $27). And when it comes time, the heaters can be removed and the scarf can be thrown in the washer for an easy clean.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Mug Warmer; $23

Mug warmer
Vobaga/Amazon

It's hard to stay warm in your home or office when that perfect cup of coffee you just poured yourself goes cold after just a few minutes on your desk. This mug warmer can help prevent that by keeping your drink nice and hot, even if you're away from it for over an hour. Simply hit the “tempering” button to choose your ideal temperature of 104℉, 131℉, or 149℉, and rest your mug on top. And if your distractions take you away for too long, there’s no need to worry as the warmer will shut off after four hours.

Buy it: Amazon

4. USB Hand warmers; $20

hand warmers
Eaterhom/Amazon

If you work in a cold office, forcing yourself to type with freezing hands can seem nearly impossible. But now, you can ensure your hands stay nice and toasty with these super adorable toast hand warmers. Fingerless and with adjustable wrist straps, these plush gloves are one size fits all and perfectly whimsical. All you need to do is slip them on, hook them up to the USB drive on your computer, and enjoy the extra dexterity.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Viking Horns and Beard Beanie; $19

A viking hat
Kafeimali/Amazon

If you're going to be out in the cold, this hand-knit Acrylic beanie, complete with Viking horns and beard, is perfect for bringing a little levity to the bitterness outside. Not only will this winter accessory be a great conversation starter, but the beard and cap will ensure your face and head stay plenty warm. If you aren’t quite feeling the beard—though we really have no idea why you wouldn’t—it’s removable. You can find this beanie in brown, black, and two shades of gray.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Heated mouse; $23

A heated mouse from ValueRays at Amazon.
ValueRays/Amazon

If you don't want to completely cover your hands while working in a chilly office, this heated mouse may be your best bet. It plugs right into your computer through a USB cord and will heat up to 99°F-120°F, allowing you to choose the right level of warmth while avoiding the inevitable sweaty palms that come with wearing gloves indoors. Just remember, this is a mouse designed for work or school—basically anything more casual. If you’re looking to keep warm while doing more precise work (like design work or gaming), check out this heated mouse pad for $33.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Yeti Insulated Mug; $25

An insulated coffee mug from Yeti.
Yeti/Amazon

Pouring yourself a warm drink is the easy part—it’s keeping it warm that gets tricky. And no one wants to rush through their hot coffee or tea just so it doesn’t cool down too fast (think about your poor tongue!). With this insulated mug from Yeti, you can keep your drink warmer for longer, allowing you to sip at your own speed. Yeti is a company known for durability, so this 14-ounce mug is perfect whether you're taking it to the office or on a long hike or camping trip. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Hogwarts Scarf; $20

A Hogwarts Harry Potter scarf from Cinereplicas.
Cinereplicas/Amazon

This officially licensed Harry Potter Hogwarts scarf from Cinereplicas is about as authentic to J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world as you’ll get without an owl delivering you an acceptance letter. The scarf is so faithful to the color scheme from the films that it even uses the same Pantone shades as seen on the screen. The comfy knit feel will keep you warm in the winter, and the movie-accurate design will help it double as part of a costume come Halloween time. For a few dollars more, you can buy scarves based on Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin.

Buy it: Amazon

9. These Incredibly Warm Socks; $13

Vintage socks from KEAZA sold on Amazon.
KEAZA/Amazon

If you’re working from home—or just taking part in some world-class hygge—you need these incredibly cozy, incredibly versatile socks. You can wear them to sleep on a cold night, keep them on all day like slippers, or wear them with shoes during those early-morning commutes as the thermometers plummet. Best of all, while they’re warm, they’re not suffocating. They’re soft, with enough breathability to prevent your feet from overheating.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Touchscreen gloves; $7-$12

Touchscreen gloves from Amazon.
Achiou/Amazon

Not even the bitter cold should keep you from your Instagram scrolling, and with these touchscreen gloves, you can keep your digits warm without having to sacrifice your social media time. These gloves were made specifically with phones and other gadgets in mind, so while they’re ready to keep you comfortable in winter weather, the material allows you to use your device without worrying that your fingers won’t register on the screen. Plus, the silicone on the gloves will help prevent your phone from slipping from your grip.

Buy it: Amazon

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!

Scam Alert: A FedEx Tracking Notification Text Wants to Steal Your Credit Card Number

interstid/iStock via Getty Images
interstid/iStock via Getty Images

Thanks to moment-by-moment tracking software offered by delivery services like FedEx, UPS, and the post office, consumers can keep tabs on their packages before they're even delivered. We’ve grown so accustomed to getting notification texts that it might be easy to let a bogus one slip by.

According to How-To Geek, that could prove to be an expensive mistake. The site is reporting that a scam currently making the rounds involves a fraudulent text notification of an impending FedEx package. The message is prompting recipients to “set delivery preferences” for the delivery. When smartphone users click on the link in the message, they’re directed to what looks like an Amazon satisfaction survey. After completing the survey, users are offered a free gift and then asked to remit their credit card information to pay $6.99 for shipping. This also triggers a monthly subscription charge of $98.95.

Due to the deluge of solicitations for customer surveys prompted by businesses, this is a clever bit of misdirection. Needless to say, it’s also not a legitimate offer. Amazon is unlikely to ever route you to a new URL for a “free gift.” If you’re unsure whether you have a package on the way, it’s a good idea to navigate directly to the FedEx or shipper website to check. It’s also best to block the incoming number to opt out of any future texts offering to separate you from your money.

[h/t How-To Geek]

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