"Every time I showed up to practice at a studio or signed up for a workshop, I noticed I was one of very few women of color," Ash says. "I really wanted to change that. I had seen the power of community with women of color, and I suddenly had all these ideas about how I could merge my passion for community with wellness and yoga."
"Every time I showed up to practice at a studio or signed up for a workshop, I noticed I was one of very few women of color."
Today the 29-year-old is not only a yoga teacher and a recently signed Nike trainer, but—as the creator of Black Girl in Om, a holistic lifestyle brand focused on wellness for women of color—she's a leading voice in the healthy-living world. And with a blog, a podcast, a series of guided meditations, a twice-monthly self-care series (which always sells out), and a content partnership with Shine Text—not to mention her very first BGIO retreat, slated for 2018, in the works—there's no shortage of ways to hear her powerful message.
In other words, Ash is a master practitioner of #blackgirlmagic—creating spaces that didn't exist before, where women of color are drawn to come together to share self-care, beauty, and health intel, and most importantly, to inspire each other.
So what's next? Keep reading to see what Ash is super-excited about these days—and why she says finding your purpose makes you unstoppable.
How exactly did you come up with the idea for Black Girl in Om?
One day I was practicing yoga and the phrase "Black Girl in Om" just came to me. I wrote it down and said, "This might be something." I felt like I could develop or explore it a little more. So that whole summer, during the whole teacher training experience, I started talking more about my ideas and my desire to develop a group or community called Black Girl in Om. Along the way, I started to find my people and my community in Chicago. It was an affirming lesson on finding your purpose, following it, and pursuing it. I believe everything unfolds as it should.
What was the process of taking the idea of BGIO and turning it into something tangible?
After I finished teacher training in 2014 I connected with Janice Bond, who's an amazing arts advocate and cultural curator in Chicago. I literally left my day job in the middle of the day because I saw her post on Facebook saying she was open to meeting with anyone about an idea they wanted to explore. I showed up at her house, and she said, "Tell me about yourself." So I told her about myself and my interests, and at the end she just said, "Okay, when do you want to start?" I was so taken aback by that question. I said maybe in six months, to give myself some time, and she said, "No, you can start two weeks from now." When you have someone who believes in your vision and asks how you're going to make it happen—wow! She told me to get comfortable teaching yoga and grow my community, and that the rest would go from there.
I love sharing this story because I didn't start Black Girl in Om as someone who had studied entrepreneurship or social media. I didn't know anything about any of that. I just knew I had this vision and desire to create a space where women of color would be considered in a way I don't usually see in wellness spaces. I had limited resources, but I had a lot of excitement and support.
What was your first event?
In November 2014, I held our first wellness series called November Namaste. It was a four-week wellness series that brought together people of color. We did yoga and had conversations about incorporating self-care in our everyday lives.
Did people show up?
Yes! But it was mostly my friends, or friends of friends. That's how things start in the beginning, though. Janice really taught me to go with the flow and trust the process—and eventually that meant adding to my team. I brought on an art director, who really helped shape the artistic and visual aesthetic of BGIO, and I brought in someone to help guide the sessions when I couldn't. At times, I was facilitating four events a week—and was still at my day job! We launched our online publication in March 2015, and from there everything snowballed.
What's the podcast all about?
We talk about everything from yoga and mental health to what it means to be a creative entrepreneur. It's like a chat with your best friend, having conversations that some women of color aren't able to have every day. I live in Chicago, which is super diverse, and I'm surrounded by women of color with similar interests. But not everyone has that community in the flesh. As long as you have a computer or a phone, though, we can break down that barrier. We get very vulnerable.
What about the Self-Care Sunday series? Where'd that idea come from?
These sessions are so important because you hear stories from women, primarily women of color, who aren't receiving equal access to spaces that are having wellness at the core.
For example, people will say they stopped going to yoga or were nervous about acupuncture because they felt they faced discrimination in those places. We provide a safe space for them to breathe easy, do a little yoga, and be themselves. We create a sense of belonging, which is so key. It's not about being expensive, elitist, or unattainable; it's about identifying for our own selves how we feel well and good. That might be yoga, a shower, journaling, an honest conversation—but at these sessions, it always includes yoga, meditation, and a conversation where people can connect and look each other in the eyes. The sessions are two hours long, and you get more than just a class—it's like a mini-retreat.
That's a lot to pack into two hours! I'll be honest, it sounds...expensive.
It's not! We're only charging $20 per session, and offer a $10 discount for students. We're all about accessibility. That's always been huge for me personally. We also offer volunteer opportunities for people who find a barrier with the $10 or $20 price. And we sell out every time—there's clearly an excitement and a need for this.
What do you wish more people understood about diversity within the wellness world?
I think that because of my own experience as a black woman, I've felt at times marginalized within the wellness world—which is the last place anyone wants to feel that way. There's so much power looking around your yoga studio and seeing other women who look like you, who can identify and empathize with your experience.
There's still a gap that exists between women of color and white folks, and I'm all about championing the fact that more women of color can and should find ways to really cultivate a life where they don't just survive, but thrive.
And, NBD, you just signed on as a Nike trainer!
Yes, I'm so excited! I've been building a relationship with Nike for the past year and have been able to invite my community to come to workouts with me. Nike is big on the idea that everyone is an athlete and can be an athlete, and that yoga is part of that journey. I'm currently Nike's only yoga trainer in Chicago, so I'll be hosting tons of events—and I can't wait to have my community be a part of that.
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