Joe Ray is one of the most inspiring yogis—scratch that, people—we know. Her practice embodies the kindness, compassion and resilience that yoga teaches and her Instagram captions read like motivational essays (but really, really good ones). After struggling for years with body image, Joe found yoga through Instagram, started an at-home practice and now describes it as one of the best things she’s ever done. Yoga has affected her in so many different ways, but above all, it helped her heal and grow from the inside out. The yogi now acts as a role model to others who have struggled with personal challenges, using her Instagram as a platform to connect with people through yoga and inspire self-acceptance, and sharing some amazing snowga pics in the process. We talked to Joe about how yoga has shaped her into the person she is today, what it feels like to be so honest on social media and the upcoming e-book about yoga she’s working on with friend and fellow yogi, Vanessa (@rootedinflowing).

How did you get into yoga?

Like so many other people, I was introduced to yoga on Instagram after stumbling upon a few yoga accounts from my explorer page. At the time, I was overweight and struggling with my mental well-being and body image, and the practice of yoga really spoke to me. I started an at-home practice that day and have been practicing ever since, thanks to the inspiration I find on social media, participating in challenges and continuously diving into who I am as a woman and the desire to constantly grow and evolve as a human away from my mat. Now, 70 pounds lighter and much more aware of myself as a being, it’s one of the greatest things, aside from motherhood, I’ve done in my life.

High-Waist Airlift Legging

Your Instagram is a source of inspiration for so many (us included), and your captions are real and relatable. Where do you find the confidence to put yourself out there in such a raw way?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. In a world where I’ve constantly felt invisible, it has been my way of grasping at an existence that someone would remember, even if it was only to look back and remind myself how far I’ve come. Three decades into life now, I’ve spent nearly half that time feeling incredibly lost and insignificant. To me, feeling deeply connected to others, feeling deeply connected to our own emotions, eloquently expressing even the deepest secrets through writing—these are all gifts that can empower and inspire others to break free, to fight for themselves and to continuously push forward.

For me, it’s less about confidence and more about coming from a place of knowing how it feels to feel alone and not wanting others to feel that way. I’ve learned over the past few years of really being raw and vulnerable on social media that it doesn’t matter what you do, who you are or what you have to say—there will always be someone who doesn’t agree with you or who feels the need to put you down, but that doesn’t mean you stop speaking up. You will never lose at cultivating change unless you allow the world to silence your voice. Let love be your language and refuse to speak softly.

Movement Bra, High-Waist Airlift Legging

You do so many incredible things—you’re a student, a member of the emergency services, a mother, a regular yoga challenge host—and you still manage to keep up with Instagram. How do you balance it all?

While I am constantly busy, I focus mostly on the things in life that bring me joy and positively impact myself and my family. I’ve found that constantly working toward things that make my heart full makes being busy feel less like an overwhelming task and more like an experience to be extraordinarily grateful for. Although we all must do things in life that we don’t enjoy, I try to find the good in every experience because there is good in every experience to be found. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to help people, and in one way or another, I can do that in nearly every aspect of my life. That is a rare and beautiful way to experience life.

You will never lose at cultivating change unless you allow the world to silence your voice. Let love be your language and refuse to speak softly.

How has your yoga practice impacted your day-to-day life?

I have become much more patient, with myself as well as with others. With that patience has come compassion and a deeper understanding that we all come from different places in our lives and are shaped by difference experiences. People body shaming me used to drastically impact the way that I saw myself, but now I am much more aware that those who don’t ask for kindness or treat others poorly need to be greeted with kindness the most. I am more mindful of the things that I say to people and how I look at situations, and see differences in opinions and outlooks as a beautiful learning experience as opposed to an obstacle to overcome. Overall, I am a kinder person to myself and to the world around me.

Sunny Strappy Bra Tank, High-Waist Moto Legging

Tell us about the yoga program you manage.

I have the privilege of working as part of an amazing team for a local brand, Blue Ridge Hemp Co., which offers CBD-infused natural care products for pain and wellness management. We focus on empowering through wellness, gratitude and self-care. I manage our sponsored CBD yoga program, which allows U.S. yoga instructors to offer free yoga classes incorporating our products to students all across the country. Our CBD products, as well as yoga, are wonderful holistic approaches to pain management and overall wellness, and this program allows students to attend these classes and experience the benefits of both without the financial commitment that those who are suffering the most from chronic pain and illness often cannot afford. I have been working with Blue Ridge Hemp Co. and managing this program for a little over six months now, and it has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I have connected with hundreds of yoga instructors from across the world and have been able to share in their experiences as teachers and students.

We hear you’re working on an e-book with Vanessa (@rootedinflowing). What inspired it and what can we expect to see in it?

Vanessa and I both come to our mats every day with a very open and raw vulnerability that reflects the way we see ourselves and our bodies. We both struggled for years with body acceptance and empowerment, and we wanted to create something that promoted body positivity for all bodies, incorporating two things we are both extraordinarily compassionate about: yoga and body empowerment. Titled 30 Days of Inner and Outer Body Healing, it will take you on a month-long journey incorporating yoga asanas, love letters to yourself and off-the-mat exercises to promote acceptance and help you find inspiration within yourself.

Idol Legging, Cut It Out Long Tank

Who or what inspires you in your practice? Favorite yoga Instagram accounts?

I am inspired every single day by every member of the Alo family. We are a group of empowered individuals cultivating change all across the world, and that’s such a beautiful thing to be a part of. @alissayoga is one of my favorite accounts on Instagram. She inspires me daily on and off my mat, as a human as well as a mother. I have always felt a connection to her and her authenticity. @rootedinflowing and @eleonorazampatti are two beautiful accounts I find myself drawn to every day for their images as well as their thought-provoking captions. These yogis are unapologetically being themselves. @elisheva_yoga is one of the first people I met off Instagram—she’s one of my closest friends and greatest sources of inspiration. She’s also one of the biggest support systems I have and one of the kindest humans I know.

Inspired by Joe’s story? Catch up with the yogi on Instagram.