Hi Ashley. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I’d like to start out just by asking you about what you might call your “yoga origin story.” What initially brought you to the mat? What was your first experience like practicing yoga?
In 1996, I had just graduated from USC and was training for the LA Marathon with my dear friend Govindas (founder of Bhakti Yoga Shala in Santa Monica, CA). He kept telling me about yoga and his teacher, Bryan Kest — so finally he took me to a class at Santa Monica Power Yoga. That was it!
I had never walked out the door after class and felt that orgasmic.
Haha! You know, that’s not the first time I’ve heard Bryan’s class described that way…
I started going to Bryan Kest and then Govindas’ class regularly. I listened to all the Ram Dass tapes I could find and began a deep self-study practice. Four years later, I completed my first yoga teacher training with Baba Hari Das (Ram Dass’ Hatha Yoga teacher) at Mt. Madonna in central California and began teaching.
Wow, it sounds like the practice really grabbed you…. I’m curious, do you consider yoga a transformational practice? Has it changed the way you relate to the people in your life at all?
The first tangible transformation in my practice was that I learned to cultivate SELF-LOVE. Before I came to yoga, I was so hard on myself and critical of my body. Bryan emphasized radical self-acceptance, and slowly over the months and years, I learned to love my body, accept it’s imperfections and be grateful. This compassion gradually extended outwards, and now I am a lot more understanding of others, less critical (hopefully), take things less personally and see the larger perspective that we’re all here to learn different lessons.
Has yoga ever brought you into a place of feeling particularly raw or vulnerable? If so, what was that like and what kept you coming back to mat anyway?
To me, yoga is about having the courage to “look the tiger in the eye”. In other words, to clearly see “what is” and face the TRUTH head-on. I believe that when we’re feeling raw and vulnerable, we’re closest to the soul – unencumbered, humble and awake. A few years ago, I went through a very intense, gut-wrenching break-up and the only thing that kept me going was getting on the mat, praying to Spirit, breathing and knowing that deep down inside, I had the resources to survive and thrive. At this time, over a decade ago, Seane Corn became one of my best friends and literally coached me through this break-up and rebirth.
Yoga provides a built-in healthy community of people seeking to be there best selves. Most of my best friends now are colleagues or people I met on yoga retreats. You naturally develop a strong network and support system to keep you on track, hold you accountable and celebrate life. My community keeps me inspired and coming back to my mat.
That’s been a recurring theme I’ve heard throughout these series… the importance of community. How do you share the benefits you’ve gained from your practice with your community?
My teaching comes directly from what I’m learning on a daily basis. That’s why all teachers have something slightly different to offer. I find that whatever I’m going through shows up in my class themes. So if I have a breakthrough in meditation or my practice, I bring it into the class the next day. We all teach what we’re most passionate about. As a psychotherapist, I’m really passionate about rescuing the roots of yoga psychology and helping people apply the deeper mental-emotional teachings in a practical way.
I’m also passionate about giving people specific tools to integrate their shadow (repressed, cut-off) material and transmute difficult emotions (rage, anger, betrayal, greed, jealousy, self-criticism and grief) into positive action. I probably self-disclose more than most teachers, but I find people can relate more to you when you aren’t afraid to show your vulnerability and laugh at your own weaknesses and foibles. I’m always bringing in stories from my personal life and clinical practice as a mind-body psychotherapist.
So what is your intent in sharing the practice yoga?
My intent in practicing yoga is to help people LIVE THEIR TRUTH so they can LOVE THEIR LIVES — whatever phase they are in. My intent is to reclaim the power of the feminine (for men and women): embracing the body, emotions, community, intuition and the unseen.
How did you come to yoga? How is yoga transforming your life? How are you sharing the benefits of your practice with your community? Whether you’re on your mat, living your life, or loving those around you, Manduka wants to hear from you! Fill out this short questionnaire about how you’re living YOUR yoga to receive 10% off Manduka gear and a chance to be featured on their website, blog, or next Yoga Journal Ad.
The YOU Series features in-depth conversations with yoga practitioners and teachers from around the country. The goal of the series to chronicle stories of how people came to yoga and how the practice is transforming lives and communities. To read inspiring stories from yogis we met at this year’s Wanderlust Festivals, check out these blogs: