As much as I believe in doing things for others, I think it’s imperative that we take time for ourselves on a daily basis, too. Whether it’s riding horses or simply taking five minutes to meditate, I know my personal time makes my life—and my loved ones’—better. Sometimes it’s necessary to get outside assistance. I recently met Ashley Neese, a talented breathwork healer based in Los Angeles.
Ashley works with several modalities—breathwork, energy healing and meditation—in private and group settings to promote wellness, clarity and connectedness. Her discipline and dedication to her work is inspiring, and has improved her life in countless ways. Recently she lead some friends and myself in a beautiful breathwork circle. I found the experience special and enlightening, and Ashley’s work fascinating. I hope you do, too. XXJKE
Rip&Tan: Can you tell me what led you to leading breathwork and meditation circles and working with clients privately?
Ashley Neese: I learned to meditate out of necessity. I got sober at a young age and meditation was one of the first self-care practices that helped me learn to trust myself and make better life choices. My healing path started out of a desperate need to save my own life and has evolved into something I longed for when I was drinking that I just didn’t know how to access: a life full of love, joy and meaning.
My early days of meditation set me on an incredible adventure of healing and self discovery. Over the years I have gone on retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh, earned an MFA in conceptual art, lived abroad in Berlin and studied with powerful healers in remote places. I’ve also cleared up areas in my life I thought would always weigh me down, cultivated the most incredible relationships, and had my heart broken open in the best possible ways.
Self care and energy healing have always been part of my teaching, writing and sharing—from yoga to holistic wellness to leading women’s circles. When I decided to really focus in on breathwork, it was because I saw how quickly and powerfully this practice could get straight to the heart of what people were needing. As a breathwork teacher, I found that clients and students really loved feeling connected and this is something so many are seeking, an authentic relationship with themselves and the world.
Rip&Tan: What were your first experiences with breathwork, and what does it actually entail?
AN: I started practicing breathwork in my early yoga days. Before I had a consistent breathwork and yoga practice I was very anxious and my head felt like it was constantly buzzing. I am highly sensitive and empathic person and before I knew how to work with those gifts I took on all of the energy around me. It was challenging to sit still for more than a few minutes.
I liked breathwork instantly because of how quickly it calmed me down and quieted my mind. After just a few minutes of breathwork I noticed a shift in my mental and emotional state and I had to learn more. I was in awe of how fast we can change our reality by connecting to the most primal aspect of life, our breath.
The first yogic breathing technique I learned is called ujjayi pranayama. Ujjayi is translated as “victorious”, and pranayama means “extension of life force.” In yogic science, prana is life force energy and is the equivalent of qi in Chinese medicine. From a yogic perspective, the practice of pranayama expands energy, channels life force and gives the practitioner abundant energy.
There are many different breathwork practices and I teach about 10 of them consistently. At the foundational level, breathwork entails paying attention to the breath and then adjusting it depending on the specific practice. The beauty of breathwork is that like other healing modalities, I tailor the work to the individual and give them specific practices depending on their constitution, needs and goals.
Rip&Tan: How were you first introduced to the concept of holistic living? What kinds of changes or benefits did you experience?
I was introduced to this idea through my early meditation and yoga teachers. I remember going on retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh years ago and falling in love with how connected everything was. His community made each moment sacred by simply sharing the concept that we can practice mindfulness anywhere. At the time this felt like such a radical idea especially when it came to washing the dishes!
Thich Nhat Hahn’s simple teachings have had a lasting impact on my life. Since that first retreat I have been on two other retreats with him and have learned to enjoy mindfully washing my dishes and bringing loving attention into all areas of my life, especially the challenging ones.
His teachings have changed the way I relate to the earth, my heart, family and clients. I am a much more open and receptive person these days. The greatest benefit of living mindfully has been the awareness that presence is everywhere if we are willing to open to it. That is a teaching I will be softening into for the rest of my life.
Rip&Tan: In what ways do you work with your clients?
AN: What I observe consistently in my practice is that most of my clients are looking for a safe place to explore their emotions, clarity on their path and a trusted guide to hold space for their growth. I give them plenty of room to be totally vulnerable, without judgement.
My work is very direct. I ask questions that get right into their heart and get them listening to their body. From there we explore what information their body holds and I give her specific practices to support her journey. For example, if a client isn’t doing what she wants to be doing, like cultivating boundaries in her relationships, we figure out what the energetic resistance is and I give her accountability to move forward.
When I meet with a new client we spend some time discussing what they need and their intention for working together. I check in on their current routines like self care, relationships, food and sleep because if we don’t address those things it’s challenging to get to the deeper work. Next I will take them through a breathwork practice to start moving energy and get into those blocks that might not be visible to them initially.
Sessions are an intuitive blend of breathwork, coaching and hands-on energy healing. During the session they will break through limiting beliefs, access their inner wisdom and accelerate their emotional and spiritual growth. At the end of the session we process a little and I give clients specific practices to support their continued growth.
One-on-one work is incredibly powerful. Each time I meet with a client I am deeply grateful for their trust in me and their willingness to be vulnerable. The space that I hold is one of clear presence and true love and this is something I take to heart with every client regardless of it being their first session or if we have been working together for years.
Rip&Tan: What are some of the benefits of breathwork?
AN: The breath is the most potent healing technology we have access to. Here are some of the benefits:
Clears stuck energy and limiting beliefs
Calms and grounds the nervous system
Upgrades emotional intelligence
Opens the heart for greater exchange with love
Balances chakras (energy centers)
Promotes relaxation and helps establish natural sleep patterns
Relieves anxiety, grief and stress
Supports addiction recovery
Rip&Tan: What is the purpose of a breathwork circle? What can someone hope to get out of it?
AN: Creating intentional community is very important to me. I started these circles because I was craving a space where I could share honestly about what was coming up in my life and I knew I wasn’t the only one. Women have been gathering in sacred circles for ages as a way to heal themselves and strengthen communities. Meeting with other women with intention is powerful. When we are able fully witness, share truthfully and support one another on our path so much magic unfolds.
It is always my intention that every woman in each class feels seen, heard and encouraged. They will likely leave the circle with a sense of clarity, feeling of expansion as well as a deeper level of self trust and love.
Rip&Tan: What is the meaning of the altar in the center of the circle?
AN: I build an altar for each circle as a way to create sacred space, positive energy flow, connect with the elements and offer a blessing to the earth. Each altar references the four directions and includes a variety of minerals, wild plants, feathers and other sacred objects. Each item I use has a symbolic meaning and was chosen specifically for the group I am facilitating.
I rely on my intuition when building altars. It’s a very creative and grounding process. The night before the circle I spend time in meditation feeling into the needs of the group. I choose items based on what information comes through to me and what will be of greatest benefit to the practice.
Rip&Tan: What motivates you to keep learning and developing your practices?
AN: I’ve known since I was a little girl that my purpose in this life is to connect and be of service. This inner spark is what keeps me growing and fuels my willingness to develop and lead. I have an insatiable curiosity to learn and the deeper I get into any practice the more I want to experience. I am also in awe every day of nature and feel that she is my greatest teacher. Just going outside and watching the bees on my rosemary plant and the hummingbirds zipping around the flowers inspires me to keep going. There is endless beauty and wonder available in each moment if we are willing to slow down and notice.
Rip&Tan: How often do you practice yoga and meditation? Do you have favorite classes in LA or do you practice at home?
AN: I meditate everyday and practice yoga postures a few times a week at home. It’s important to establish a rhythm with any practice and these days my practice is centered around what I call intuitive commitment. Each day I let my practice unfold by tuning into what my body needs. As a healer and teacher I rely on my intuition to guide my sessions and classes. Over the years I have found that the most effective way for me to access and strengthen my intuition is to pay close attention to it and work with it on a daily basis.
At its essence, yoga is a practice of embodiment and I do my very best every day day to live an embodied life. Each breath is an opportunity to feel deeply into the moment and place a gentle attention on what is happening right now. When we can lean into the present and widen our container of compassion we are able to exchange an endless flow of energy and love. To me, this is ultimately the practice.
Photos: Brittany Wood