Ashley Neese is a holistic healer who is certified in breathwork, energy medicine, somatic trauma touch and Hatha yoga. She’s a writer, an empathetic servant, a wise soul, a survivor, an all around incredible human and someone I am honored to call a friend. She has changed my life through her teachings in more ways than I have words for and has empowered me in becoming my own healer.
I have spoken about my breathwork practice here, on SOE to which I received many inquiries, so I’m beyond excited to Spotlight her work and have you hear all the healing goodness from the Goddess of breathwork herself. Ashley so graciously and soul-fully answered some of our most burning questions about breathwork, her healing practices and what lights up her world. Allow yourself to sit back and take in her magic, her wisdom and her beautiful heart.
What exactly is breathwork and what are the physical, mental and emotional benefits of a breathwork practice?
Breathwork is a general term for a range of methods that, when practiced with awareness, have a host of emotional, mental, physical and spiritual benefits. Like yoga or meditation, there are many forms of breathwork and they all have their own approaches of using the breath as a catalyst for change.
Anybody—regardless of age, ability, location, or beliefs—can utilize breathwork. Breathwork practices are effective tools for navigating the ups and downs of everyday life. Breathwork is also for anyone with a desire to integrate their body and mind, attain deeper self-awareness, elevate their innate capacity to heal, or increase their overall health and spiritual wellbeing.
How does breath or lack of breath affect our emotional state?
Our breath influences our emotions and our emotions influence our breath. Take a moment and recall an experience you had recently that was stressful. As you think about it what do you notice happening with your breath right now? Chances are your breath became shallow, faster and concentrated in your upper chest.
When you are in a stressful situation your nervous system goes into a state of arousal which causes your respiration rate to change, allowing you to take in more oxygen. This influx of oxygen prepares your body to be able to fight or flee depending on the situation you are in. This highly developed function of our autonomic nervous system was designed to keep us safe from danger and is something that we don’t have control over.
The amazing thing is that once we are aware of what is happening, we have the ability to shift our breath and our emotional state. Imagine you are stuck in traffic and starting to feel stressed. What you can do in that situation is start to consciously slow down your breathing which will send a message to your body that you aren’t in immediate danger. This simple action will begin to regulate your nervous system and calm you down quickly.
Can you share with us the magnitude of healing you have witnessed within yourself and others through the power of breath?
What I have learned over the last twelve years of exploring my breath is that the most important offering I can give myself is to hold witness space for myself. There is something so raw, so incredibly vulnerable and so humbling in the sacred act of being with yourself. The breath is the pulse of our life force and simply being with that pulse each day is deeply restorative, regenerative and a constant reminder of how precious this life really is.
In my younger years I was addicted to alcohol and drugs. I worked tirelessly to hide who I was, how I felt and the shame I carried of my past mistakes and traumas that I went through. In those years it was not only extremely terrifying to be with myself it was pretty much impossible. The fact that today, through my breath and some life changing mentors and adventures I am able to be with myself no matter what comes up is the biggest gift I could have ever wished for.
Through discovering the power of my breath I understood the nature of my addiction and got to its root. Learning to ground myself and heal through breathwork has increased my ability to be vulnerable and develop a community of friends and clients that are on a path towards healing and radical self care.
These days when I am engaged in my breathwork practices I am still humbled and in awe of the journey I am on. And I am thankful for all of it, especially the parts that are painful because today I have tools for supporting myself through those moments and I trust they are rich sources of renewal.
What I observe consistently in my private practice and teaching groups is that healing is a natural byproduct of witnessing each other’s vulnerability. We all need a secure place to express ourselves honestly and without judgment. This is how we learn to give and receive love which are the cornerstones of my practice.
Often when I begin working with clients I hear them judging themselves harshly for how they feel while deep down seeking attention and approval from others. Our society has really done a number on oppressing our sensitivity which is directly related to our ability to access and trust our intuition. I’ve always been a very empathic and sensitive person so it’s no wonder all of my clients are too! I was taught to keep my feelings to myself growing up and hide the parts of myself that I didn’t like out of fear of being judged or left behind. Covering up those parts leads to developing a loud inner critic and shuts you off from being accepted exactly as you are, which is an important aspect of love.
One of the most transformative facets of my practice is supporting my clients to clear the pathway for those inner critics, that nine times out of ten didn’t belong to them in the first place, and making room for their inner wisdom to come forward.
My clients have also taught me the precious value of deep listening. When I am present, taking in all they are saying the answers and information always comes to light. The path is illuminated and genuine healing unfolds.
Can you share your favorite breathwork technique for calming ones self fairly quickly during moments of anxiety or stress?
My favorite breathwork technique for calming down quickly is to focus on extending your exhale. This is such a simple and effective tool for kicking on the parasympathetic nervous system which is our rest and digest mode.
Anytime you are feeling anxious or stressed take a minute or two to lengthen your exhale by 1-2 counts out of your nose. This will make a huge difference in downshifting that energy and bringing you to a place of presence and calm.
Our nervous systems love repetition so the more you practice the easier it will become and the faster it will work.
Outside of your breathwork practice, what are some of your other favorite self care and healing practices?
Developing a deep appreciation for nature and connecting with that energy daily is key in supporting me to stay present and not take on external stressors from the the hustle and bustle of city living. Most days I go for a short walk in the woods and connect with the trees and birds outside which has proven to be incredibly healing for me. This might sound weird but I feel totally restored when I sit on the ground with my back against a big tree and just follow my breath for a few minutes.
Making sure I get some sun on my face and arms as many days as possible. And yes I do wear a simple sunscreen (just on my face)! I tend to run low in vitamin D so getting in some extra sun has been really important for me. It’s amazing how much vitamin D affects so many processes in our body and it’s something we want to be sure to get enough of.
Listening to music is huge for me. Sometimes I just need to turn up some of my favorite songs and drive around for a bit. It helps me blow off steam, connect to my creativity and voice and it’s just plain fun. I have a tendency to work too much because I love what I do so much. It’s a great problem to have and it’s important for me to make sure I am enjoying myself along the way. Music definitely helps me get there
The SOE 5…
What are you fully DEVOTED to?
Taking care of my body. Showing up for my partner and family. Reducing my carbon footprint as much as possible. Reminding myself and others that we aren’t alone, that we’re better together and that our stories matter.
What brings you ultimate JOY?
Laughing with loved ones. Oh there is nothing quite as healing as a deep belly laugh with someone you love.
If you could shine a SPOTLIGHT on someone who has either inspired you, helped you heal or that you admire, who would that be?
Yes, my dear friend Erica Chidi Cohen, doula, author, CEO of LOOM and radical leader in the birth and parenting space. I first met Erica for lunch in Venice, CA several years ago and we instantly hit it off. She is a beloved friend and colleague who has been such a huge part of my life and really shown up for me in all of the important big life moments. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve taught classes together and I know I can always count on her for a reality check when I need it as well as a massive dose of support. She has inspired me to set better boundaries, trust my gut and talk about the stuff that really matters without fear or shame.
What do you love most about your SOUL CASE? (It can be a part of your body or just something you love about yourself)
Its innate ability to heal when given the love, nourishment and support it needs.
When you come down with a case of WANDERLUST, where do you love to travel and explore?
I love the Redwoods, they are so grounding and full of wisdom. Some of my favorite spots to be with them are Big Sur and Muir Woods in California. I also love being in the water, in the warm ocean in Hawaii or in hot springs. A few of the hot springs I love are in Ojai CA, Breitenbush OR, Big Sur CA (twice on my list) and Williams CA.
~ Inspired and want to explore your own breathwork practice? Ashley has just launched her very first, digital “Breathwork Basics” workshop and so kindly offered our SOE readers a discount code. Enter LETSBREATHE at the check out here!