It is 5:00 a.m. and my alarm has gone off. By the third snooze, I realize it is nearly 5:30 and I really must get up. Bleary-eyed, I stumble out of bed, throw on clothes, and put on contacts.
Since it’s early and I’m moving slowly, somehow it’s 5:45. Grab the keys; grab the phone – out the door. I am on my way to Equinox. I am parked at 5:52. Up the stairs and to the front desk I go, then over to the yoga studio. It is 5:55 and still dark outside; the room isn’t lit much either. Similarly sleepy souls are lying on their backs already. I throw down my mat and join.
Sixty minutes of yoga later, I am ready to face my day. As Ashley bid the class goodbye this particular Thursday, she mentioned being in the process of receiving approval to teach yoga in prisons. I knew right then I needed to interview her about her yoga endeavors.
I requested Ashley meet me at Profeta to discuss this piece. Despite attending her class many times, I had never actually introduced myself to her and looked forward to knowing her better.
I entered Profeta and a flustered barista took my order—a cappuccino for here, of course. I stole one of three tiny white metal tables outside the front window of the cafe and sat on one of two itsy bitsy red metal chairs at my table. Ashtrays with actual cigarette butts lap atop the tables, and I wondered at the last time I had seen an ashtray—or even someone smoking during the day, for that matter.
While resting my shoulder on the brick exterior of Profeta, I heard a loud car, turned my head, and caught a white mustang pulling a U-turn in the middle of the street to swoop a parking spot—nicely done. Out stepped Ashley, wearing yoga attire, hair down, and barefaced.
Ashley is a Southern California girl, born and raised. She attended Malibu High School and Santa Monica College. She commands a sweet voice and a frank, yet kind, disposition.
We met with a hug. She placed her phone and keys on the little white table and ran inside to get a drink. Left looking at her cracked screen and beat up case, I decided I was in the presence of a kindred spirit.
When Ashley returned to our table, I noticed her giant eyelashes, two nose piercings, and amethyst crystal earrings. Everything matched the energy she exudes.
Ashley has practiced yoga for 15 years. Amusingly, she did not love it at first. Her mother dragged Ashley to her first classes, and Ashley was not completely into it. However, fast-forward to an attractive guy and his invitation to attend a yoga class at another studio—Ashley was hooked. The guy faded away, but her passion for yoga stayed.
Six years ago, Ashley began teaching yoga regularly. While working full-time at a more traditional office job, she taught yoga at 6:00 a.m. before work two to three days a week. Ashley continued in this manner for years.
Around January 2016, however, Ashley picked up the pace. She said yes to teaching at additional studios, and was now teaching everyday while still working full time.
After a year of this, in December 2016, Ashley knew something had to give. Her heart wanted to pursue yoga full time. Even so, she felt insecure about trading convention for risk. She did not want to be “just a yoga instructor,” whatever that might connote.
In the face of her self-doubt, Ashley left her job in December 2016 to focus on yoga. An incredibly fortuitous, but deserved, turn of events ensued—she almost immediately received an offer to teach at a mental wellness center, as well as an offer to teach at a substance abuse rehab center shortly thereafter. In addition to the classes she already had lined up at four studios in the Westside[i], these additional projects allowed Ashley to enter the New Year with a jam-packed teaching schedule.
In addition to yoga, Ashley teaches a separate communication skills class at the rehab center, pulling knowledge from her past life in personal development. And, ever astute, Ashley monitors the needs of her students particularly closely at both the mental wellness center and rehab center. Students may have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and/or other mental illnesses, and thus may walk into class behaving quite differently than a typical LA yogi. Ashley works with each student, whether they want to do any yoga pose or not. Other times, Ashley might encounter a rehab student who has fallen off the wagon—with compassion, she endeavors to be a source of stability and guidance.
Following the incorporation of the mental wellness and rehab classes into her schedule, Ashley feels like she is making a difference in other’s lives. After six years of teaching yoga part time, and one year with one foot in and one foot out, Ashley began feeling truly successful in February of this year, and I understand why. Her years of preparatory hard work coalesced into a cohesive career within months.
In prior years, Ashley struggled with deviating from a more traditional career path for fear of being “just a yoga instructor.” While I find this fear legitimate, it is clear that Ashley is more than just a yoga instructor—she is a yoga instructor, a good one, who followed her heart and is now absolutely killing it in her space. Ashley loves teaching yoga and does so every single day—14 classes per week at studios, 2 classes per week at a mental wellness center, 4 classes per week at a rehab center, and various private and corporate sessions.
Now that she feels successful, Ashley is set on giving back to the community—what she so appropriately dubs an “energetic exchange.” She currently shadows members of a local nonprofit, A Thousand Joys, specifically in regard to its Transform project. This effort seeks to bring mindfulness and wellness programs into underperforming schools (such as those in Watts, California).
Further, Ashley is currently being screened to serve as a volunteer yoga instructor at local prisons—the program that initially piqued my interest. Once she is approved, Ashley will be walking into prisons to impact inmates’ lives through yoga to the extent she is able.
Ashley does not know what her future looks like. I imagine yoga will be a part of it. For now, however, Ashley is in the midst of her current success, and rightfully enjoying it: “I feel fulfilled.”