Inside a juice bar there’s a yoga studio, and inside the studio there’s a piece of Jackson Ward looking audaciously hopeful. This May, Ashley Williams founded Bare Soul Yoga to strengthen community ties as much as people’s hamstrings. The journey began four years ago when she could no longer ignore rising feelings of stress and disempowerment in her neighborhood.
Improving mental, physical and social and health is Williams’ triple play. As mentoring program coordinator at the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, she stepped up to provide mentorships for more than 200 incarcerated youth. “There’s an unexplainable freedom and boundless potential when you allow trust,” she likes to say. Williams also teaches weekly classes in the adult psychiatry department of the Medical College of Virginia, and leads Friends Feed RVA, which provides basic necessities to homeless individuals.
You never know where you might find Williams teaching yoga, though. She shows up at farms, gardens, schools, in front of a turntable—or even alongside Solange Knowles, who visited the Bare Soul studio in July.
“The mind can be a chattery distraction to our growth if we let it,” she says. “It also can be a beautiful thing if we allow it. Redesign your way of thinking and suddenly realize how amazing, beautiful and incredible you’ve been this entire journey.”
Williams says her mantra for the past year has been, “Let me be the being that I am.” It’s a promotion of authenticity, but also a how-to manual for serving the community, she says. “When you take care of self and listen inward, then you are able to speak and work from your truth and values.”