By Jim Hoft
Jessamyn Stanley needs you to know what yoga is really about – and it’s not the poses.
In her new book Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance, the yoga instructor and body activist shares reflective personal essays that touch upon everything from racism to the cultural appropriation of American yoga, from consumerism to cannabis.
And while the timing couldn’t be better considering the current cultural climate, the idea for the book came to her years ago while she was writing her first book, Every Body Yoga, a guide to developing a yoga practice.
“I realized yoga is a lot more than postures,” she tells PEOPLE. “The postures get to be more complicated, not because you’re practicing harder gymnastics or physical postures, but because you’re practicing emotional and mental and really spiritual postures.”…
…The book explores the existence of white supremacy and cultural appropriation in American yoga. “I would venture to say that everything in our collective society is rooted in white supremacy. I am sure there are many people who would disagree with that, and honestly I don’t care because I believe that and I know it’s the case,” she says.
“I think that we see it show up in a lot of different ways. In the same way it’s everywhere else and it has polluted everything else, it’s polluted yoga. It’s very much a part of how yoga has spread in America. The popularity of yoga really came down to wealthy white people wanting to learn and explore in a very specific way, and that’s why yoga has been so white for so long in America.”
“I think that when you bring up cultural appropriation in yoga, everyone’s butthole clenches because everybody’s like, ‘Oh s—, I think I might be guilty of this,’ or, ‘I could be apart of this and that doesn’t feel good.’ And that’s the yoga. That’s the hard thing. That’s the thing that we’re being asked to accept. It doesn’t mean you have to sit in space of shame about it; it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It just means that you’re a person and you’re allowed to be that way.”
Stanley talks about coming to terms with her own truth and internalized racism in the essay “White Guilt.”
“I see a lot of people point fingers at other people and I definitely started writing that essay because I had a bone to pick with every person that I have met in the yoga world that I felt was being racist,” she says. “But by the end of it I realized I don’t have s— to say to anybody else that I don’t first need to say to myself – and that is the most important work of all.”