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If goodness gave off visual cues, Jessamyn Stanley would be a Sirius (or Dog Star), the most luminous celestial being in the night sky. For those who read that comparison and instantly asked for context, the North Carolina native is an inclusivity-focused yoga instructor, social-justice educator, and — it almost goes without saying — an unabashed lover of animals. Each day, through her yoga app and Instagram presence, she radiates a mix of determination and compassion.
Selfishly seeking all the good vibes we can get, The Wildest sat down with Stanley — who’s currently hard at work on an upcoming clothing line (out next year) — to learn how having a pet can transform not just your mental health, but also your general outlook on life.
Tell me a little about your Chihuahua, Baby Shark.
He is not like any of the animals who have lived with me. When he and I met, we immediately had a very strong connection. He came to me around the time that my grandma lifted. They are so alike. And I’m like, “Is that her?” I don’t spend that much time thinking about what happens after we die, but if reincarnation is a thing, that is 100 percent what is happening here. We named him Baby Shark, because my nesting partner had just found out about that song “Baby Shark,” and we were singing it literally all the time.
You were RVing for about a year. Did you take your dog with you?
He was with us the whole time that we were on the road last summer and last fall, and then into the winter. We drove across the country because, frankly, it just got too cold on the East Coast. We came out to Southern California first, and then drove up upstate to Northern California. And we have been in Northern California ever since. He was pretty chill, in general. Everywhere that we went, there were lots of dogs. They’re really grounding, because they are able to emotionally roll over so easily from place to place. There’s never anything serious, watching him go for a run or run through water. It’s a reminder to just chill and not worry so much.
You have cats, too! Tell me about them.
I have three cats that live in North Carolina with my other partner. We have three cats — Jane, Bennett, and Carlisle. But when we got to Northern California, my nesting partner had a friend who found a stray cat that needed a home. The house that we are renting has a chicken coop in the back. My nesting partner was like, “Maybe we’ll get chickens, and then we might need a cat who could keep rats away.”
When my nesting partner first saw the cat, she was like, “I think this cat is pregnant.” We took her to the vet who said she is not pregnant. Then, in March, she gave birth to six kids! It was my very first live birth. It was the most incredible thing and deeply inspiring. So, now we also have Chucky, Tommy, Phil and Lil, Angelica Pickles, and Susie Carmichael. We have been fostering them for that first phase of their life, and now we’re getting into the adoption.
So much of what I do is immersed in social justice. Being a BIPOC presence in the often-biased adoption/foster landscape sends a really powerful message.
I feel like there’s so much positive messaging that comes just from living your life as authentically as you can. I never aspired to be a voice for anything in particular. When I first started sharing my yoga practice on Instagram, it was before Instagram was even really popular. Back then, I was just trying to find community, because I did not live in a place where there was diversity of community. I felt very isolated. I had a lot of people be like, “I didn’t know that fat people could practice yoga.” We clearly have visibility issues. So I kept sharing my practice, because I saw that there were people inspired to do anything that they felt like doing.
What was your journey like, becoming a “proper" yoga instructor?
When I did go to training, I didn’t know very much about cultural appropriation. I was like, “Should I even be practicing this?” But during my teacher-training, not to be excessively hyperbolic, but it was a lot like having my soul cracked open. The way that you manifest compassion for yourself might not resonate for everybody, but it might resonate with even one person. If it can resonate for one person, maybe they will influence someone else to practice compassion — that kind of waterfall effect. That’s how we can start to live in a world where we all operate from a place of love and compassion, and not from a place of fear.
Do you ever do yoga with your animals?
Oh my gosh, constantly! OK, I’m getting emotional…When my other partner and I first started living together, I had my cat, James, and they had their dog, Dallas, who passed away some years ago now. When we first met, Dallas was not a fan of mine or of anybody. But we came to be extremely close. She was really like my yoga buddy.
I remember the first day I held a headstand or some kind of inversion. I was taking the photos on a time lapse. The very last photo is Dallas running up to me and us hugging. She’s, like, licking my face. With every other furry being that I have, doing yoga around them has been such a huge part of the practice, if only because they’re such reminders of, like, we’re all here on this planet. And it’s really cool to see, like, downward-facing dog practiced by a dog or cat pose practiced by a cat.
How do you use your animals’ energies to unwind and not get stressed out by all your projects?
The kittens, in particular, have been such a great source of healing for me. We have a room in this house that is like their room. It’s like a cat café, so you can go back there and just chill with them. Especially after a really hard day, just watch them be playful. Watching the childhood of these kittens is so healing for me. They’re not even really paying attention to me at all, which I love. They’re just doing their thing. And that’s a reminder to just do my thing.
What is your advice to aspiring pet owners?
I think it’s always a good idea to consider why you want pets, and where that resides inside of you. And if it’s a situation where you can offer hope to something. It generally feels like a good motivation if you go through a rescue. I think that inherently becomes a part of the wellness journey, to really walk with another being down their path of life and to look at your own selfishness up close and be more unconditionally giving to another being.
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Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.