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November 05, 2020
The Spark: Talking to Jessamyn Stanley

BY INDYA BROWN

Photo by Jade Wilson

Yoga sprang up during a pivotal point in Jessamyn Stanley’s life: Feeling disillusioned from graduate school, and in a period of depression, a friend encouraged her to take a class. “I tried yoga once in high school and absolutely hated it. I didn’t want to try it again, but eventually she wore me down,” Stanley recalls. The class sparked a physical and mental breakthrough that prompted her to completely reset her life and incorporate yoga into her daily routine. After sharing her favorite poses and sequences on social media, Stanley started to gain a large following, in part due to her uplifting body positive message and easy-going approach. 

Now as one of the internet’s most recognizable yogis, the body positive activist has written one book and is about to release a second in 2021, created the yoga app The Underbelly, and even started a podcast called Dear Jessamyn. On top of that she’s also devoting her time to cannabis activism: We Go High is Stanley’s latest endeavor, a social justice organization advocating for the decriminalization and de-stigmatization of cannabis specifically within prohibition states like her home state of North Carolina.

We caught up with Stanley to chat about her organization, the pathway to normalizing weed consumption, and why she loves a good CBD-infused butter.

On the connection between yoga and weed:

I’m a daily cannabis user and have been since even before I started practicing yoga. I've never known yoga without cannabis: Both have been deeply intertwined since I can remember. Cannabis allows me to be more present, to enjoy the moment in a different way, and let go of things that don't matter. I always say it’s like sweeping out the cobwebs within myself. 

On getting into yoga:

I started practicing yoga almost a decade ago. I was in graduate school and going through a period of depression that I think is pretty typical of anyone starts to realize that life is more than the money that you make or the job that you have. I was trying to understand myself. One of my friends was like, Oh my god, you should go to yoga and I was basically like, Isn’t that just for thin white women? I decided to try it and that was a fundamentally different mental space than I had ever been in before. Like a lot of people, I set boundaries for myself to the point that I couldn’t see anything else. Yoga gave me confidence and it definitely became a type of medicine for me. 

On creating her practice:

I had no ambition to teach or share my practice with other people. The only reason I started posting was to feel a part of a community. By that point I had dropped out of grad school and moved to a new town to start a new life. It was just my partner and I in a very tiny apartment and I could not afford to practice yoga in a studio. Eventually we moved into a bigger place, but it was still so small that I would push my furniture into a corner to do the eight to ten postures that I felt comfortable practicing without a teacher. I started taking photos to feel like I was reaching out of the ether for anyone who was there. 

Most of the original feedback was primarily, I didn't know that fat people could do yoga and I'm just like, Why do you think that fat people can't do yoga, fat people can do all kinds of stuff all the time! Like, literally fat people have been practicing yoga since forever. That was when I realized there’s an obvious visibility issue if people fundamentally believe that and so I kept posting about my practice. It was an opportunity to share something that seemed so different to other people, that I knew was actually extremely common. 

Even so I didn't aspire to be a teacher. I had so many people reach out to me from all over the world from Sweden to Barcelona to South Africa and they asked me to teach them. At first I didn’t think they needed me because there are literally thousands of yoga teachers. I would recommend other resources but I still had so many people request for me. I figured okay, I'll go to teacher training

On practicing yoga within everyday life:

Before my training I thought about yoga as a class that I go to not as a thing that you live. During my training though I realized that I'm not just practicing yoga when I'm on the mat, it's all the time. I'm practicing it during conversations with people I may perceive as difficult, within my relationships, or at work. It's not just breathing, meditation, or any one posture, it's bringing together all the things in life that don't make sense, and from there compassion grows. And so I realized if I'm manifesting and living in this practice in this way, if I can share that with even one other human being, it’s worthwhile. 

On normalizing cannabis:

In North Carolina we just got hemp legalized. There's so much happening to normalize cannabis and that’s why I started my organization: We Go High. Our prime directive is that we believe no one should be in jail for weed. As we push toward legalization, we are seeing that the people who have been most affected by prohibition are being completely forgotten. And so our mission is to uplift those stories and to do what we can to work towards abolition and decarceration

Cannabis should be so normal that we shouldn't feel like we have to talk about it in a curious sense. It should be as interesting as the type of toilet paper that you use: Everybody uses it, but I'm not asking them do you like Charmin or Scott? If you can spread that message, it has huge effects — and not just within the cannabis justice world. Cannabis is the linchpin in so many different social justice issues, and we can start to see the unraveling of those problems. 

On how cannabis fits into her daily routine:

I prefer to smoke my cannabis. In the morning before I practice yoga I’ll consume and then it’s a little throughout the day or it could be at the end of the day too. Sativa-dominant hybrids are always my go-to. If I'm in a situation where discretion is paramount, I’ll go for a vape. If I'm doing something creative or if I’m trying to chill, I’ll take an edible.

On her favorite products:

I love to roll a joint, so that's usually my primary method of smoking. I also have a chillum that I keep on hand for when it's just me. My glass bong collection is pretty extensive because I love the look of glass but it’s not really my preference to use because I’m lazy and you constantly have to clean it. Also the taste of a glass that needs to be cleaned is the worst so I just stick to rolling everything. 

I’m also getting more into dabbing. Recently my partner bought a honey straw, and I became obsessed with it. It’s my favorite way to dab now.

On her relationship with edibles:

When I'm consuming edibles, especially during the work day, I go for a CBD one. I've also started making a lot of my CBD-infused oils and butters since I live near a pick-your-own hemp farm. For me this is one of the better ways to consume, because THC-infused edibles can be so unpredictable so I don't always like to just be doing it randomly.  

When I do buy edibles, I love a local CBD chocolate from 1906 which indica dominant and blended with corydalis, a Chinese plant that has sedative properties. Usually indicas make me sluggish but this one is great when I want to relax or if I’m on my period. My routine is usually like this: I’ll take some, light a candle to relax, open a book and read for ten minutes, blow out the candle and I’ll wind up sleeping for like seven hours straight. It's amazing! 

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