How I Made My Passion My Career

The tiny girl whose photo I’m taking is no more than seven and her big eyes were almost as large as the egg that she clutched in her little hands. “Small hands, big egg or was it small egg and big eyes?” I thought as I began to snap her image on my new digital camera.

These images were part of my daily existence reporting for the Phnom Penh Post in Siem Reap, Cambodia (predominantly doing NGO coverage), where I was exposed to the best and worst of humanity with people surviving, helping, and taking advantage of the current social climate. Even though the Khmer Rouge genocide had occurred over 35 years prior, you could still feel the reverberations of fragmentation and mourning, as former soldiers lived next to survivors in villages and cities everywhere.

Majoring in journalism and wanting to “be in the field” as opposed to sitting behind a desk paraphrasing the AP and Reuters, moving to Siem Reap seemed like the decision Hemingway or Orwell would have chosen, and that became very clear to me as this beautiful, spiritual, and special part of the world could be a man’s paradise and a woman’s isolation tank – finding romance was a feat.

Living in southeast Asia taught me to become self-reliant and autonomous – to stay open to all possibilities. And I knew I had to return to New York City to try and obtain a few of those notches. After finishing my 500-hour yoga teacher training, freelancing for a few different publications, and being perpetually disappointed with the opposite sex, I realized that my path wasn’t written in the stars – I was going to have to make my own constellation. It was only in surrendering to the idea that finding a “soul mate” was obsolete, that I discovered my “soul purpose”, which left me optimistically fulfilled and excited.

In Cambodia I didn’t have time to dwell on what was wrong or what could be better as my attention was shifted to people outside of my social circle; individuals who needed to have their stories told and I was the conduit to do so. Siem Reap made me realize that I am at my best when the option to be selfless was put in front of me. However, writing about the injustices or hiding behind a camera lens to only document, not change or even help was my biggest qualm with reporting. Day after day I saw girls and women who were no different to myself, except they had been born into challenging and unfair circumstances that left them without medical care, protection, education, and a voice to determine the course of their lives.

How lucky was I to be able to wear spandex and run around the city at all hours with no guardian? Let alone have access to clean water, food, and the right to learn. And there is a whole city of us. Juxtaposed to the women I saw in my yoga classes, New Yorkers who sought to have an hour or so carved out of their overly scheduled days, move with grace and walk out of class a little lighter before running to check their emails. Why couldn’t these two worlds hold space together? We have no idea when someone steps onto a yoga mat (or a straw one for that matter) what experiences led her up to where she is at that very moment. Most people come to the yoga practice because of wanting to fix something, even if it’s physical. But it’s in the subtlety, the way the breath syncs with the shapes that we get to witness these moments of bliss. These same moments I felt on the back of motorbike riding through a rice-field or contagiously laughing with a group of friends at the night market.

One definition of the word “yoga” means “union” and I yearned to create that same connectivity for women everywhere by making an experience for these two words to meet. My love of travel, women’s empowerment, and yoga were all equally important and intrinsic to my existence. I was determined to make a platform in which yoga could be used for social activism; taking the physical, personal practice out of the studio and across the globe to communities, to women who needed the lifeline of education to open up the possibilities of choice, freewill, and hopefully one day equality.

It is when yoga is taken out of the studio and into the world that the greatest shift in consciousness occurs because we have the opportunity to realize and see through first-hand experience that we are, in fact, all one. Winning the lottery of life by not having to second guess where our next meal will come from or where we will be sleeping makes it our global responsibility to stand up and give voice to make sure that these girls are heard.

Starting a non-profit, Souljourn Yoga Foundation, allowed my soul purpose to manifest into something concrete. I often times have to remember that it was the moments of feeling utterly alone that allowed me to develop compassion and empathy. There will always be women in big cities who feel isolated and girls in small villages that feel powerless, but it’s when we are able to find human connection that the stars in our own constellations burn the brightest.

By Jordan Ashley
Founder of Souljourn Yoga Foundation

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