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Durham's Yogini - Jessamyn Stanley

Jessamyn Stanley’s journey to yoga professional turned wellness personality was an unexpected one.

Posted By Shayla Martin on Feb 22, 2018

She started out humbly enough, taking photos of herself in various yoga poses mainly to track her own progress, but also to share her new passion for yoga with family and friends on her tumblr page and social media profiles. As a self-proclaimed “fat femme,” her yoga photography and unfiltered honesty tapped into an audience of people who had always been interested in yoga but feared they didn’t look the part and therefore couldn’t participate. After posting instructional yoga classes online, and teaching locally in Durham, Jessamyn’s following has grown by the hundreds of thousands, and she published her first book last year: Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get On the Mat, Love Your Body.

Through all the changes in her career over the past four years, Jessamyn has been committed to making Durham her home. She is a constant advocate for the local community, both within and outside of yoga and wellness circles, acting as an unofficial brand ambassador in travel-focused articles for CNN, MSN, and other media outlets. We chatted with Jessamyn about what drew her to Durham, why she has stayed, and where she thinks there’s room to grow.

When did you move to Durham from the Triad? Was there anything specific that drew you to Durham?

I moved to Durham in July 2012 to attend culinary school at The Art Institute of Durham. I graduated in Winter 2013 with an A.A.S. in Culinary Arts.

I read that your move to Durham launched your home yoga practice because drop-in classes were unaffordable. How do you think the Durham yoga community has addressed this problem?

While many studios and teachers in the Durham area offer opportunities for discounted or free classes (work study, pay what you can, donation-based studios, etc.), Durham’s yoga community still isn’t large or diverse enough to offer widespread accessibility to yoga classes. Because yoga came to North Carolina in a predominantly fitness industry capacity, studios and teachers still tend to teach primarily for profit rather than service.

In many cases studios and teachers see no reason to make their classes more accessible unless it’s directly related to expanding their studentship. This problem is not at all unique to Durham or North Carolina — this is a problem faced by most, if not all, yoga communities in the West.

Are there any studios or yoga/wellness professionals in Durham that you’d recommend to someone looking to learn more about yoga and holistic living?

I always recommend the teachers and classes in the Carolina Yoga Company family. The studios in Durham, Carrboro, and Hillsborough have a wide array of classes that represent a diverse variety of yoga lineages and perspectives. More specifically I would recommend the classes taught by Patti Adams, Laura Nickerson, Mira Shani, and Briana Young-Roane.

As your profile began to rise, why did you decide to stay in Durham as opposed to moving to a larger city?

I could very easily rationalize moving to New York City, Los Angeles, or any other major metropolitan area. In many ways living in a bigger market could even help my career as it stands, because my logistical team is based in New York and I maintain a co-op office membership in the city. That said there are quite a few reasons why I continue to live in Durham County. For one thing the cost of living is (for the time being) dramatically less expensive than major American metro areas. Who knows how long that will last given Durham’s recent growth; gentrification is a b**ch and it’s taking a terrible toll in nearly every part of the city. Plus Durham is a town built on the spirit of entrepreneurship, and I feel as though my brand and career have been nurtured by this community and I would like that feeling to continue.

The biggest reason that I haven’t moved is simply that I really like it here. I like the energy and it makes my life happy. There are museums, bars, restaurants, venues, and so much more in every city/town in America that you can live basically anywhere and have a good time, but the energy and the people are what make the difference, and it can be hard to find the community that makes you feel at home. I consider it a gift to feel at home here, and I’m not in a rush to give that feeling away.

Where are your favorite places to take out-of-town visitors?

Breakfast at Elmo’s Diner or Silver Spoon Restaurant, shopping at the Farmers' Market or a hike/swim at the Eno, lunch at Dashi for ramen, walk off lunch at Duke Gardens or The Nasher Museum of Art, ice cream at The Parlour and coffee at Cocoa Cinnamon. Then there’s dinner at Mothers and Sons, Gocciolina, or Mateo Bar de Tapas, dance parties at The Pinhook or Arcana, late-night pizza at Pie Pushers and late-night drinks at The Atomic Fern or Accordion Club.

Do you have any favorite under-the-radar places in Durham?

El Chapin, The Carrack, The Scrap Exchange, and Hairizon.

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About the Author

Shayla Martin