Ashley Turner: Yoga Psychologist
For Ashley Turner being involved in fitness has always been coupled with a sense of community. When she has felt lost or without center, it was always physical activity and the bonds created between people through shared physical activity that brought her back to center. Finding her psychological and emotional well-being so tied to her physical well-being compelled Ashley to pursue a life around what she calls “yoga psychology.”
Ashley first found community through an active lifestyle when she began teaching aerobics classes while enrolled in college at the University of Southern California. Moving from Bloomington, Illinois to Los Angeles, Ashley at first felt lost and, for the first time in her life, searching for an identity. Soon, she found her new community at the USC recreation center.
USC was also the place where she first began honing a life’s worth of skills as an instructor. As Ashley shared:
It’s funny looking back because I never really thought that much about the fact that I was teaching aerobics, but looking back now, I was building all those skills of teaching exercise, being in front of a group, understanding body mechanics, thinking about exercise physiology, and all that. So that really set me up, and…I really recognized the mental health benefits, because I definitely went through phases of being stressed, and not really having a sense of self. The thing that kept pulling my back to my center was exercise.
After college Ashley would pursue a career in acting and it was during this time she would also discover yoga. She met a man named Ira Rosen, now known as Govindas, with whom she became close friends. While training for the LA Marathon together, Govindas told her about famed yoga teacher Bryan Kest and she eventually agreed to try a class. Remembering that day, Ashley recalled, “I remember walking out of that class and I was like, completely orgasmic, and I had never experienced anything like it. I was like, ‘This is crazy!’”
From there Ashley continued to learn Power Yoga from Bryan Kest and also studied with Govindas when he opened his own yoga studio. The paradox of pursuing a career in acting and pursuing her authentic self in yoga began to trouble Ashley after a time. She was more and more drawn to become a yoga instructor herself. She explained:
So the choice was, I wanted to be speaking my truth and helping other people find and live their truth, versus being an actress and speaking a writer’s lines or a character’s lines. I really wanted to connect in a different way. So I started teaching in 2000. Shortly after that I got the job teaching at Brian Kest’s power yoga, so I was teaching there for eight years, and then moved to Exhale Center for Sacred Movement, and it just started building from there. It was a really natural fit, because I’d always been really spiritual and psychological, but then combining it with physical fitness was just so amazing.
For Ashley this intersection of the physical and psychological would become pivotal to her growth as an instructor and the space she wanted to provide for her clientele.
What happened is, I was teaching power yoga and doing all these retreats and workshops, and all of a sudden in my own practice, I started experiencing big shifts internally, and realizing that mental/emotional component of the practice. I also realized that very few teachers had those skills, and I didn’t feel I had those skills, and a few of my clients did start crying on their yoga mat, or having emotional releases, or asking different and bigger questions in their life. And so a couple of my yoga teacher friends had gone back to school and gotten their masters in psychology. I saw that shift in them and I thought, this is something I really want to be able to add to my practice, to be able to understand what’s happening, how we hold emotions and trauma in our bodies, and how to effectively release it, and how to dig a little deeper. So I went back to school in 2005 and started getting my masters in psychology, to add that onto my practice.
Now, as she works toward completing her graduate studies, Ashley is able to put more and more into practice the combination of the physical and mental approach to physical and mental health. Currently her time is split between her psychotherapy clients and her yoga clients. And while she does see clients as a therapist, as Ashley explained, “I have the opportunity to really take people deeper on their own journey and transformation with psychotherapeutic work within the context of yoga.”
Ashley’s studies haven’t stopped with yoga and psychotherapy. She also undertook a thirteen-month priestess training and currently studies with a shaman from Peru. For Ashley her quest for knowledge is about finding her own voice, and helping others find their voices. By learning different approaches and different vocabularies, Ashley feels it better enables her to speak to people in a way they can hear.
At the same time, Ashley acknowledges each student and each instructor will resonate differently. She encourages people interested in yoga to seek out different schools and studios until they find the one that resonates for them.
Definitely try out a lot of different teachers, and a lot of different studios, because each studio and teacher has a completely different vibe and emphasis. Some people really emphasize alignment; some people emphasize spirituality; some people just have a hard-core workout. So try out all the different teachers until you find one that you really resonate with, because you will find someone that you resonate with. It might take a little energy, but you will.
Creating good energy and happiness is what Ashley intends to do in the world and she is taking it on one class at a time and one client at a time. For her the marriage of yoga and psychology is an obvious one. Ashley explained:
Yoga is a psychology. Yoga is a whole practice of how to work with the nature of the body and the mind, that connection and inseparability. Everything about the practice is helping us become more skillful, mentally and emotionally. Skill, patience, and non-judgment, all of these things – that’s just psychology. So, I think it’s so ironic when people are like, “What’s yoga psychology? What are you doing?” The whole practice itself, everything about the practice, whether it’s a mantra, meditation, asana practice, anything, it’s meant to train your organism and your bio-computer, so that you’re more effective in the world, and you’re happier in the world.
For more about Ashley visit her website at AshleyTurner.org.
If you are interested in training with Ashley, consider her upcoming Chakra Detox Immersion at Kripalu, July 1-6.