When one of my long time curlfriends tweeted that @jesstaras was her best follow of 2015, I had to see what was up. After browsing through her pics for a bit, I found myself clapping in my head, raising the roof, and convincing myself to go to the gym, all at the same time. Her posts are sexy, insightful, and just plain awesome.
I was excited to pick her brain about fitness, hair, and women’s empowerment — here’s what she had to say:
How long have you been doing yoga? How long have you been teaching?
I’ve been practicing yoga for 10 years, and teaching for five years. I received my first Yoga Teacher Certification at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health (2010) and my master Yoga Teacher Certification with Sacred Lasya in India in (2013). I’m also a certified personal trainer and I’m currently finishing up my B.A. in Dance.
YogaAfterDark is fierce, sexy, and empowering – what made you start posting your skills on Instagram?
Thank you. I strive to convey all of those things through my pictures so it’s nice to know that it’s being well received. Throughout the years, I had posted a few yoga poses here and there but I never really started posting regularly until January 1, 2015. I made sort of a “New Year’s resolution” to post one yoga picture a day for the year. It started as just a way to improve my alignment in poses by looking at the pictures and also just a fun social media experiment. But it’s snowballed into what is now a statement on female empowerment, body confidence, art, and freedom of expression.
My favorite aspect of the whole project is the people who contact me sharing that they’ve been inspired to start yoga or some other venture they’ve been putting off. Or that they were inspired to be bold and wear that red lipstick they’ve been too shy to wear. One woman even said she was inspired to pull out a cheeky bikini that’s been sitting in the back of her closet unworn because she wasn’t sure if she could pull it off. That one really made me smile. Go, girl. Wear that bikini and wear it proud!
In addition to yoga, how do you stay fit? Do you have any nutrition tips for our readers?
I’m also a dancer, so I take ballet, modern, and hip-hop classes almost every day — that definitely gets me sweating! Another aspect of my fitness, and one which I really want to emphasize, is that I’m a bike commuter. I own a car, but I very rarely drive it. My road bike is my primary form of transportation, rain or shine. I love it because it doesn’t “feel” like exercise. I just get on, start pedaling, and cruise — to work, to class, to lunch with friends. I’ve really gotten to know a different side of my city as a bike commuter. It’s a totally different view than from inside the car. My gas budget is almost nil. Plus, it’s good for the environment (and my glutes).
Your inspirational posts often center around encouraging girls and women (I love those!) – do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
I am an advocate of female empowerment and empowerment in general. My work deals a lot with body confidence, anti-bullying, anti-slut shaming, and non-judgement. It’s crucial that we as women stand together, encourage one another, and support each other. Enough of calling each other “sluts,” enough of picking out each other’s physical flaws, enough of this “You can’t sit with us” mentality. You can sit with me. And this doesn’t just apply to women. It applies to everyone.
Have you always worn your natural hair? If not, when did you go natural and why?
I straightened my hair for years until, around the age of 21, I chopped it all off. I wanted something new and different. As my hair grew back, I developed a different appreciation for it. I realized that it wasn’t something I had to fight against, it wasn’t this wild beast that needed to be tamed. It was a crown. It was a blessing. After I started wearing my hair natural I got all kinds of comments about how “bold” and “brave” I was being. At first I thought “this isn’t a political statement — I woke up like dis.” But now I understand what they meant. It does require confidence to be your natural, authentic self, especially in a roomful of people who are not like you. Natural hair is big. It’s bold. We have to own it. Wearing my hair natural was a milestone in my personal journey of self-acceptance.
How do you care for your natural hair? Is your regimen simple or more complicated?
I try to keep it as simple as possible because I’m always on the go. I co-wash/detangle every few days. Coconut oil is my best friend. I also use a leave-in conditioner daily (currently using Kinky Curly Knot Today). If I want my hair to have that extra oomph, I’ll wet it and blow it out using a diffuser (low heat!).
Do you have any tips for ladies on preserving your natural hair while working out frequently?
The more you sweat, the more you will have to wash your hair so conditioning is vital. I try to plan out my Bikram classes (yoga done in a room heated to 104F — you sweat A LOT) for right before wash days. Aside from that, I either style my hair into two pigtail-buns (my go-to hairstyle) or the infamous pineapple ponytail with a headband to catch the sweat. It’s work, but it’s worth it.
Your double puffs are too cute — What are your favorite natural hairstyles?
Thank you! The double puffs are my go-to daily hair style because it’s simple and neat for yoga, and it fits the dress code for my ballet class. But my absolute favorite way to wear it is all out, loud and proud. I feel most like myself when I’m rocking my lion’s mane!
Anything else you’d like to tell us? Any mantras to share?
Gandhi said that happiness is “when what we think, say, and do are all in alignment.” Be your most authentic self. Be kind. Do you. And in doing so, you will inspire others to do the same.
**Can I just say that I love this interview? Such a kickass sweetheart. Make sure you follow Jess on Instagram (@jesstaras) for more pics and inspiration. Namaste!