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You may not have heard of Jordan Ashley, but you’re about to hear about her brainchild, with Souljourn Yoga sweeping across the globe – literally!
‘While embracing New York City’s fast-paced and driven yoga culture, Jordan Ashley recognized a need for service-based yoga; a need for experiences which give perspective to the self through selflessness,’ her website reads. ‘Feeling extremely blessed to not only be given the opportunity for education, but to have a voice in society, she felt it was imperative to raise both awareness and funds for girls all over the planet who are denied such essential human rights.’
But what is Souljourn Yoga, and how can we get involved?
Digital Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot sat down with Jordan to better understand the practice and to pick her brains on building a business…
Talk me through your journey…
I returned to New York after living abroad and went to a yoga class where I had an a-ha moment when I realised how everyone was completely isolated by the perimeter of their mats. These women would show up week after week to the same class at the same time and go through an experience of breath, movement, and in many ways, healing together. Why couldn’t we leave our mats and go to places where the leisure of yoga doesn’t exist?
Education is the gateway for equalising the playing field so why can’t this same tribe of women travel, connect, and support girls’ education initiatives on the ground whom I had worked with firsthand to create a global sisterhood? As a journalist and yoga teacher creating a charity that merged my three passions of travel, women’s empowerment, and yoga was the perfect platform to kickstart this philanthropic adventure.
What is Souljourn Yoga?
Souljourn Yoga is a US charity inspired by seva, the Sanskrit word and yogic principle of selfless service. Our aim is to raise awareness and funds for girls education in developing countries by teaming up with both local and international non-profits. We create opportunities to explore, practice, and educate through yoga both on and off of the mat by offering a spectrum of workshops and global retreats to continue to promote female empowerment and education to communities where equal opportunities aren’t always readily available.
Currently, over 130 million girls around the world are denied an education, which also means they’re denied the chance to improve their overall health, income, quality of life, and the ability to empower themselves with endless opportunities. A girl with an education is also less likely to become a victim of violence and child marriage, which are two predominant issues that women face across the globe.
What does a typical working day for you entail?
Everyday is a little different! I usually hole up at a neighbourhood coffee shop and respond to emails and work on project/retreat development. I usually break for lunch and go to either a yoga or pilates class with a friend and then return for conference calls or physical meetings.
What is the boldest thing you’ve ever done?
Deciding to trek to Everest Base Camp at 23 by myself without any trekking or camping experience! Let’s just say I adapted fast.
What decision changed your life?
Walking out of my abusive relationship at 22 to live in Cambodia as a journalist.
What has been your proudest moment?
In 2017 I had the honour of being one of the speakers at TedxHanoi which was an extremely empowering experience to be able to share my mission and why it’s vital to change the way that we give/donor-recipient relationship to one of equality instead of hierarchy.
What do you refuse to compromise on?
What has stopped you progressing further?
I would say fear of losing quality of life over this so called “work/life” balance that we are so encouraged to maintain.
What is your superpower?
Empathy. It’s only through experiencing my own obstacles and hardships that has allowed me to cultivate a sense of deeper compassion and non-judgemental attitude for when my friends and family are going through a rocky time.
What is your anthem for gearing yourself up?
“Under Pressure” By David Bowie and Queen.
What is your mantra?
Open heart, no expectations.
When is the last time you felt personally discriminated against?
For being questioned as Westerner on my motives and authenticity for wanting to do on-the-ground projects in Africa. It was pretty brutal and honestly shook me, but was a reminder on how I have to be hyper-aware of as to make sure the work myself and Souljourn does is always seen as supportive/collaborative as opposed to helping/saving.
What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Not everyone has a soul mate. Some of us have a soul purpose.
What is one thing you would change for women?
Only one? Even though it’s 2019, there is still a long way to go for women to feel like equal members of the workforce. I think one challenge is this ever-looming FOMO of prioritising work over family planning or relationship building which ends up being a complete mind cluster in second guessing every decision that has led you to where you stand today. Being accountable for your decisions and finding substance in the work you do is what makes “work” transform into a “lifelong journey” in that it is one component of yourself versus the entire definition.
What is your tip on asking for more?
Work your network! Those already in your contact list are your first and most ardent supporters. Good work begets good work. Honest heartfelt effort is unforgettable. Ask for help. Vet advice – move forward. When you stumble remember there is a lot to learn from the ground that carries you as you shall again rise.
What should women always do?
Women shouldn’t do anything. They can do, be, succeed, love, etc any which way that they want.
Upcoming Souljourn Yoga retreats that are available to join include South Africa, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Peru, with plans for further retreats in Tibet, Rwanda and Morocco.
This interview was originally conducted in 2019.