On Monday in Trinity Park, a toddler-aged boy sat on the edge of a slide, staring hard, looking straight ahead at something with a face full of astonishment.
He was watching a woman warm up on her yoga mat, her body twisted into angles that would snap mine, instantly. What makes Jessamyn Stanley, founder of ‘My Name is Jessamyn’ even more impressive is her extreme distance from the stereotypical, Caucasian, size 2, perky, blondes sponsored by Lululemon we are used to seeing receive attention in the yoga world. Stanley is a woman of color and curves, something that, despite our seemingly advanced times, is desperate lacking in the yoga universe.
Stanely was drawn to yoga like many of us are, through a need for an emotional expression:
“Like (seemingly) most people, I began practicing yoga during a very difficult point in my life. I was twenty-four, and thus completely consumed in the elementary dramatics of being that age. I was studying in a graduate program that didn’t quite fit with my ever-evolving goals, as well as coping with the end of a long-term relationship. In fall 2011, one of my classmates encouraged me to purchase a Groupon unlimited pass to our local Bikram yoga studio,” explained Stanley.
“I had actually tried Bikram once before, when I was in my teens- my experience was so overwhelmingly negative that I almost didn’t heed my friend’s advice. However, I found a great comfort in the Bikram yoga practice when I gave it a second chance— the combination of heat, repetitive sequencing, and long holds was a complete release from the stress of my daily life. I began to look forward to class in a way that I didn’t really look forward to anything else— it made me feel powerful and self-assured at a time when I couldn’t summon those emotions on my own.”
But after moving to Durham, Stanley was financially unable to continue practicing at our higher end, more expensive bikram studios. The need for an accessible yoga community in the Triangle was clearly there. This insight lead her to cultivate a daily, home practice that she kept track of through her Tumblr.
The rest, as they like to say, is history. She began working with the Vinyasa flow and specific yoga styles that work as not just a physical activity, but also a spiritual touchstone.
The thing that makes the @MyNameisJessamyn feed (she is now on Instagram) different is that it is a constant stream of motivation. Not only in the expected, daily workout way, but also because Stanley could be someone you see walking down the street every day, grabbing a coffee, picking up a sandwich from Toast (and actually, you probably do). She looks like a real person, not an instructor who is going to strut over to you and point out to an entire class that your warrior pose: ‘needs some work, baby girl.’
She has a deeper understanding, a caring and compassion to her practice, and the people around her are prevalent in most every conversation Stanley has, whether on Instagram, Tumblr, or in real life.
“My yoga practice gave me a place to find peace and calm amidst the raging rivers of life’s chaos, and it is from that core I find a desire to share my practice with others,” Stanley said.
After receiving attention for an article she published in 2013 on Elephant Journal, Stanley has been featured in People Magazine, Buzzfeed (multiple times), Good Housekeeping, and interviewed by bloggers across the world. Her Instagram account currently has 36.1k followers, a number that grows by the hundreds almost daily. Many of her followers probably have no idea she’s making these photos from a two-bedroom apartment in Northgate Park, but Durham has been a springboard for her practice in many ways.
“Unlike a lot of major city centers, Durham is still an artists’ city— it’s cool and interesting not because of big money, but because of innovative ideas,” Stanley said. “As a twenty-something creative thinker, it’s a gift to live in a town where I can manage to juggle my dreams with the immensity of educational debt. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, and many other creative thinkers have come to the same conclusion— together, we’re returning Durham to its rightful place as a gem of the South. Durham is a hub for creative thinkers to find the right soil for planting their dreams of a new North Carolina golden age.”
North Carolina has always been a creative hub, with it’s prominent artists and authors hiding in the nooks and crannies of Seagrove, Hillsborough, and Saxpahaw. More and more like-minded individuals lead us to think Durham is a creative hub with a technical addition- small startups, industrial engineers, and bloggers like Jessamyn Stanley are bringing more attention to Durham every day. And, like the rest of you, we are all pretty excited to see what’s in store next.