Ashley Williams: A Warrior for Self Awareness and Authenticity as Tools for Social Change and Community Building

We were first introduced to Ashley Williams when she was announced as the keynote speaker at the Richmond Girls On The Run breakfast that Health Warrior is sponsoring. She is the owner of bareSOUL Yoga & Wellness in our hometown of Richmond, Virginia and is a Certified Yoga Therapist. We asked Ashley to share her wellness story with us – enjoy!

Allowing myself to truly fall in love with myself-all parts and all things, all experiences and all SELF, has invited real love into my life, which has allowed me to form deeper connections and relationships with my world.  I am a warrior for “doing the work;” not just the active work that we fill our days with and checking off to do lists- the work of the self that requires reflection, mindfulness, honesty, and discomfort. There’s a space where we must unlearn all the things that we have learned to live in this world.  

Fighting For Myself

In 2012, I fought for myself, and that was an experience that led me to today.  In 2013, my aunt passed away from cancer. She was the embodiment of love, light and support and displayed that in all of her interactions with her family, friends, professional life as a social worker, and being that walked this earth.

During that time, I was also experiencing transition between work, relationship and exploring who I was at the age of 24. I experienced a bought of depression and anxiety that left me feeling disconnected from my self, my purpose and others.  My soul desired connection, yet I could not feel nor did I know how to cope with these deep feelings and emotions compassionately and willingly. At this time, I was working as a Behavioral Health Counselor, and showed up everyday to hold space for youth and adults experiencing trauma, poverty, mental health illnesses, abuse, and neglect. We all know that self care is vital to this type of work, and I did not have it at this moment. I prayed that God would show up and guide me to healing.

One day, I showed up at American Family Fitness for a yoga class, and honestly, the rest fell into place. I showed up every day to explore, to connect, to feel. The pairing of the movement and the breath was hard, and it highlighted the uncomfortable sensations of grief, sadness and pain that my body and mind held onto, yet I felt lighter and more free at the end of every class. 

I continued to show up, which then led to the stillness and exploration of my meditation practice. I began to feel connected to myself, my emotions, my feelings, my soul. That is when BareSOUL yoga was created. This challenging time in my life has been birthed into a space created to guide others through these moments, and I am grateful.

Finding Motivation

I am always motivated when I meet an individual that is mindful, compassionate, kind, curious, authentic, and open to this thing called life. I am also motivated by the person that is the exact opposite for all of the same reasons. I am motivated by the people that earnestly take the time to get to know themselves inside out, their environment and their neighbor, and then ask how can they act. On the flip side, when I meet the person that doesn’t recognize the beauty in herself or life for a number of reasons, I am them moved to show up for them, not to fix because that is not my role, but to show up and offer connection. We are all just walking each other home.

Making the World A Little Better

BareSOUL Yoga’s mission is to bridge yoga, education and community to cultivate a diverse, accessible experience that provides balance to the mind, body and SOUL for the greater impact. Our vision is to bring yoga and mindfulness practices to the people by making it accessible to local businesses, corporations, school systems, households, and community organizations to transform the climate and culture of the community.

BareSOUL believes not only in the power of the mind-body connection, but the power of connection between individuals and groups to make an impact on the community.  Recently, BareSOUL has had the opportunity to partner with Bon Secours Sarah Garland Jones Center to offer Relax, Relate, Release, a wellness block party for the Richmond, Virginia community that included free yoga and mindfulness demonstrations, food demonstrations, integrative health practices, and other educational resources. The intention of the event was to offer tools for individual wellness and encourage community building in a space that is rapidly changing.  From this event, a need to serve the community and offer space to be educated on wellness and connection was identified, and further partnerships have been established to make not only yoga and mindfulness accessible, but a sense of belonging in the local community.

Challenges lead to growth

A year ago today, I made the decision to let go of my full time job as a mentor program coordinator at a local nonprofit with the intention of stepping more fully into my role as a yoga therapist and managing BareSOUL yoga studio and community work. I had to step out on faith, put in the work and learn, a lot.

This past year has been a year of financial challenges, relationship challenges, personal challenges, and every other challenge that I could imagine, yet, I reflect on this past year and am grateful for the growth and understanding that I have received from it. Tough times have pushed me to deeply reflect on the root and the why of how I show up in this world and what I offer through BareSOUL. During times of challenge, it is important to find gratitude and remember that you are in the challenge for a reason, and there is active transformation taking place when you sit with the pleasant and unpleasant sensations that you are experiencing.

I’ve had to learn the process of struggling and work through old beliefs & experiences that created a bias lens. The process of feeling the hurt and discomfort, and leaning into the relationships of others, has allowed me to act and move forward from a more whole-hearted space.  It also led me to being recognized by Richmond Magazine as a Daring Woman in 2017, once again during one of the most challenging yet fruitful years of my entire life.

When met with a challenge, I charge you to use conscious communication and find comfort in the uncomfortable conversations. I learned the importance of strong relationship, vulnerability and honesty, especially when I needed to ask and be open to receive support.  I also learned that the best way that I can show up for others is to show up for myself in a compassionate, honest, and forgiving manner.

We all have to remember that we are doing the best that we can- some days a bit more than others, but generally, we are all being the best we can in that moment.  The moment that we recognize a challenge or a hard time is a moment to learn and grow; we invite a feeling of discomfort with grace into our mindset and physical bodies. Once we allow ourselves to truly experience the sensations that will lead us to growth and wisdom, we gain the opportunity to understand how we got there, why we are currently there, and how it feels in the moment. This process teaches us how can we gain the skills to 1) make a different or more effective decision in the future, and/or 2) meet the same challenge with a bit more ease another time.  

And, perhaps most importantly, to know that we are all apart of a bigger picture, and reflect on how we play a role in and act in our world.

Learn more about Ashley Williams and bareSOUL Yoga