Jordan Ashley: Souljourn Yoga Retreats
Journalist and yoga teacher Jordan Ashley established SouljournYoga to fuse her love of travel, movement and women’s empowerment, establishing yoga retreats in remote locations such as Peru, Rwanda and Cambodia. She talks with Travel Begins at 40.
How did you come to set up Souljourn Yoga retreats?
It took about nine months to receive our non-profit status, but once we did, anything became possible since we had government legitimacy to back us. We decided to launch our first service-based retreat to Peru, which is a destination so magical and life-altering for those who visit it as a tourist, but desperately needs on the ground support to provide education opportunities for the local girls who reside in the Sacred Valley. It was the perfect place, organization, and time of year (over Memorial Day Weekend) to run our very first adventure and the response was extraordinary.
How does Souljourn work?
Souljourn Yoga Foundation is a nonprofit inspired by seva, the Sanskrit word and yogic principle of “selfless service”. We 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 the mat by offering a spectrum of workshops and global retreats which continually promote female empowerment and education in communities where equal opportunities aren’t readily available. Our mantra is, “Give back to yourself while giving to others.”
Why do you feel that female empowerment and girls’ rights are such important issues?
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.
Can you give some examples of the impact your work has had on female empowerment in the countries you work in?
It’s through these retreats that we are able to support on-the-ground scholarships and educational support. An example of this can be seen from our 2018 retreat to Nicaragua with UP Nicaragua. The donations covered six months of scholarships for eight girls, including fees for English courses, school fees supplies and uniforms.
You have spent a lot of time in Cambodia and run yoga retreats there, what should participants expect when joining the retreat?
Cambodia is our most volunteer heavy retreat programme in that we have six volunteer session with the Ponehary Ly foundation both at their primary school and with the high school girls at the girls’ dorm. It’s a really beautiful and empowering experience to have multiple yoga sessions with the students in that you can witness the adaption to not only the physicality of the yoga practice, but also the deeper connection from having more time spent together through sangha or community.
How does your retreat stand out from others operating in Cambodia?
We are fully immersed from learning about the culture and history of Cambodia, especially as we have Ponheary Ly, CNN hero, teacher, activist, survivor of the Khmer Rouge, and also found of the PLF (Ponheary Ly Foundation) which supports 2,800 students in Siem Reap province so it’s a much deeper look into the country and its people as so much context from past and present are provided.
Why did you choose Cambodia to hold yoga retreats?
I originally went to Cambodia when I was 19 on a study-abroad programme and it was absolutely life changing. I later returned post-university as a reporter for the Phnom Penh Post where I mostly did NGO coverage and saw first-hand how girls’ education is needed to truly change the quality of life and present opportunities that would be denied elsewhere. I lived with Ponhary and consider her to be my ‘Khmer Mom’ and feel so blessed that this journey has gone full-circle so that Souljourn Yoga is now partnered with her.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide against the Tutsi, why have you decided to run a yoga retreat to the country?
Through our international retreats, our goal is to create opportunities to explore, practice and educate through yoga, both on and off the mat, and continue to promote female empowerment. This year, our Rwanda retreat is especially important as we acknowledge it’s been 25 years since the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi, one of the heaviest moments in human history. It’s important to show support and bring awareness as it will take generations for Rwanda to fully heal as the country is not only made of up of survivors, but also children of survivors so it’s vital that people’s stories are shared and not forgotten.
For more details of the Rwanda Yoga Retreat, click here.
What should participants expect from this retreat?
We’ll experience a full cultural immersion on this 10-day journey, from a game drive in Akagera National Park and monkey trekking in Nyungwe Forest National Park, to hiking in Volcanoes National Park and boat riding on Lake Kivu. We’ll also be diving into the local culture and spending a day with local artisans in Muhanga. We will be supporting Komera, whose aim is to build self-confident young women through education, community and sport. In Rwanda, “komera” means “be strong, have courage”. We’ll have the chance to spend the day with these strong young women and see first hand how your support can make a true impact.
Why did you decide to partner with non-profit Komera?
My dear friend Consolee Nishimwe, who is an author and survivor of the genocide, is on the advisory board of Komera – it does absolutely incredible work providing education, boarding and community building for its female students. As the executive director and co-founder, Margaret Butler says, “We go deep instead of wide,” to have a lasting impact.
Is Cambodia the next Wellness Destination?
What are your plans for the future?
This year, we are hosting our first On the Ground Yoga Immersion and 50-hour training in Rwanda where I will be teaching and training eight women of Komera how to lead a yoga class, teach self-care and meditation so that their teen mom yoga programme can stay afloat and not be reliant on outside support. I hope that this can be the first of many teacher training immersions that Souljourn offers.
To learn more about Souljourn Yoga or to join one of its yoga retreats