Ashley Neese is a breathwork teacher and author, based in LA and the Bay Area. We first got to know Ashley through her journal, which has a wealth of knowledge, including breathwork and other self-care articles, interviews with inspiring women, gratitude lists, recipes, and personal musings.
In this interview, Ashley tells us about using her breathwork techniques for everything, from daily stress management, to skin health and glow, as well as about her approach to exercise, beauty, morning and bedtime routines, and so much more. Ashley also generously wrote up a simple breathing technique for us, which can be done by anyone, anywhere to calm the mind and relax the body.
— Is routine important to you or do you like things to be more open and free?
I like a combination of the two. It is important for me to have structure to my work days when I am seeing clients, teaching or writing. This helps me keep my energy strong and my mind focused. I also keep a couple of days each week open with minimal scheduling so that I can tune into my body and free myself up for spontaneous adventures like a tea date with a friend, a trip to the woods or an extra long nap.
— What do your mornings look like? If they differ from day to day, describe your ideal morning.
Most mornings these days look like me waking up pretty groggy as I’m nearly 6 months pregnant. My body is needing so much extra time for rest! My fiancé usually brings me a warm cup of bone broth in bed and we drink together looking out the bedroom window at the beautiful trees. From there we discuss our day and move on to making breakfast. Afterwards he usually heads to work and I spend the rest of my morning doing a simple breathwork practice and slowly getting ready for the day.
— Do you have any bedtime rituals that help you sleep well?
Usually I have a glass of water with 2 tbsp. of magnesium powder in the evening about an hour before bed. That helps relax my body and get me ready for sleep. Then depending on the night I’ll use a little lavender oil on my temples, put in ear plugs, an eye mask and practice a little synchronized breathing while hugging my fiancé. This usually has me asleep in under five minutes!
— Describe your typical or ideal meal for each of these:
Breakfast – An egg or two, cooked leafy greens, avocado, and some kind of fresh condiment like pesto.
Lunch – I love a giant salad with little gem lettuce, roasted chicken, avocado, fresh tomatoes and herbs, cilantro vinaigrette.
Snack – I love smoothies for snacks, especially on warm days. One that I am making all the time has these ingredients in it: grass fed yogurt, almond butter, collagen powder, chlorella, blueberries, chia seeds and occasionally an extra hit of protein powder.
Dinner – Simple dishes like Indian stewed lentils with turmeric rice or fish/chicken and cooked veggies with lemon tahini.
— Do you partake in caffeine and in what form? If not, what is your drink of choice in the morning?
No caffeine for me. Bone broth pretty much every morning and when I’m not having that, it’s a tonic full of Chinese herbs like Reishi and Cordyceps, ghee and collagen powder.
— Do you have a sweet tooth? If so, how do you keep it in check?
Fresh dates and raw almond butter are one of my favorite sweet snacks thanks to my friend Lacy Phillips (note: we interviewed Lacy about her self-care routine here)! It’s always such a satisfying and nourishing treat. I also love the soft serve frozen juice from Pressed Juicery, it’s made with almonds and dates and doesn’t spike my blood sugar. I also treat myself to a chocolate croissant from Tartine when I am in San Francisco and eat plenty of seasonal fruit.
— Are there any particular supplements, herbs, or tinctures/tonics that you take regularly and find to be helpful with your energy level and general wellness?
Bone broth is huge, I know I’ve said it a few times already. It has really changed my gut health and I feel so much better when I drink it daily.
Before I was pregnant I took this Vitex tincture to help regulate my monthly cycle and prepare my body to become pregnant. Not all tinctures are equal and this one is made from fresh plants which had such an impact on my system.
Water. I realize this sounds basic but most people are not getting enough water each day. I like to add cucumbers, berries and/or lemon slices to it to make sure I am staying fully hydrated. This is really important for the work that I do with clients to keep energy moving and essential for pregnancy.
I am a big advocate of flower essences. They work on the energetic and emotional body and have been really supportive for me especially around setting boundaries, healing grief and strengthening my capacity to receive.
I also work with selenite daily to keep my energy clear and uplifted.
— Do you exercise and do you have a particular exercise routine that you repeat weekly?
Yes, I love to move my body. Right now I’m walking a few times a week, doing 1-1 pilates 2-3 x a week and going to a yoga class 1 x a week. It’s a great routine for me at this stage of my pregnancy.
— Do you find exercise to be pleasurable, torturous or perhaps a little of both? How do you put yourself in the right mindset in order to keep up with it?
I grew up as a dancer (ballet and jazz) and also played a great deal of tennis and racquetball. I’m grateful that my parents encouraged and supported so much physical activity when I was young, it definitely informs how I exercise today. Having such a strong foundation from the beginning really set me up for being able to engage in physical activity as an adult because I know how good it is for my mind, body and emotions.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t do well with very little physical activity. Last year when I was recovering from a serious burn out, I had to stop much of my exercise and stick to light stretching and walking. In the beginning it was really challenging as I love to move so much and it definitely took a toll on my outlook. After a while, I started to feel better and regain energy so that I could slowly get back into a routine that was a little bit more active.
— What is your idea of beauty – external, internal or both?
When it comes to people, beauty at its essence is about feeling comfortable in your skin. It is about being embodied. It’s rare I meet people who are fully inhabiting their bodies and when I do, it’s as if I can touch their presence. To me that is the most beautiful thing in the world.
As far as the external world, I love to take my cues from nature. I spend a lot of time outside, connecting with trees, plants, birds, and flowers. Nature doesn’t waste energy and is full of variation, how beautiful is that? When I pay attention to nature I learn such deep and powerful life lessons.
— What is your skincare approach – face and body?
Organic, minimal and easy. I love my skincare products that work so that my routine is simple and quick.
My ultimate favorite face wash is a cleansing balm by my friend Anne De Mamiel. It is heaven in a jar and also makes a for a nourishing mask in winter months. Side note, her pregnancy face oil is heaven too!
On my face I also typically use a mask and scrub 1-2 x a week. I use oils, serums and a Vitamin C powder from True Botanicals that I love. I am also a big fan of keeping my skin hydrated with water of course and hydrosols. I love a good face mist, my new favorite is the one by Nucifera. It is divine and can be used on more than just your face!
On my body I use a gentle cleanser in the shower and a sea salt scrub a few times a week. After the shower I use an I-Sun body oil (Garnet, it’s amazing!) and a belly butter from URB Apothecary to support my stretching belly.
And of course breathwork, this has been a huge piece for keeping my skin clear, bright and youthful. Here is a great article about my practices for breathing and skin in VOGUE.
— Are there any foods, herbs or supplements you find to be helpful to your skin/hair/general glow?
Collagen is the best supplement I’ve used for skin/hair/general glow. I am also a big fan of Nettles for hair and skin. In addition, ghee, green veggies and berries have played a big role.
— Do you have any beauty tips/tricks you’ve found to be especially useful throughout the years?
Honestly for me it really comes down to making sure I am hydrated, practicing breathwork, getting enough rest, eating quality fats like ghee, moving my body and keeping my emotions and hormones regulated. When those things are in place, I feel my most vibrant and beautiful.
— Do you practice any consistent routines in order to avoid stress?
With the amount of acceleration and projects in my life, stress is unavoidable. What I have learned over the years is how to reorient my relationship to stress and develop with tools and practices to keep myself from getting totally overloaded.
Two of my key practices for working with stress are to change my physiology when I am in a stressful place and practice daily breathwork to keep my base line grounded. Establishing a clear and grounded base line each day gives me a direct and regulated place to come back to in my body when I notice that I am stressed.
I am also a huge fan of an Epsom salt bath at the end of a long day and essential oils. The baths are a great way to relax the nervous system and release stress related tension. Essential oils like Bergamot take me right out of stress and into the present moment.
— What measures do you take when you sense a cold/general feeling of being under the weather coming on?
Rest, water, ginger, echinacea, lemon, chicken broth and fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro. These work every single time.
— Do you strive to maintain a healthy work/life balance or do those things overlap for you? What is your approach?
Keeping a schedule of work and non-work days is the best way I have found to maintain sanity and energy in my life overall. Since I work for myself and love what I do so much it can be easy to slip into working all of the time. Having clear boundaries with myself, something that has honestly taken me a few years to get down and I am still learning, has given me more space to rest, enjoy the process and be even more effective in all areas of my life.
— What do you consider to be the single most important change you’ve made to your routine or lifestyle in terms of wellness?
Practicing breathwork each day. This gives me direct access to my inner wisdom and allows me to drop into my body with more ease and grace each day. I am a firm believer that unless we are embodied it’s very challenging to show up in all the ways that we want to in our lives. Think about it, how can we show up if we aren’t even here?
— A book/movie/class that influenced your view of self-nourishment or self-care.
Eat. Pray. Love. is one of my all time favorite books about self care, self discovery, creativity and following your own heart.
— What was your path to everything you teach and practice today: breathwork, somatic trauma healing, and energy medicine? Can you talk a little bit about each practice?
I came to all of these practices because my life depended on it. At a young age I was struggling with alcoholism and addiction and needed a way to live in the world without destroying myself. Each of these practices have not only saved my life, but they have given me the ability to integrate my past trauma, heal myself and hold a very deep space for others.
I could write volumes on each of these disciplines. Below are very short descriptions.
Breathwork is about connecting to your body and emotions through your breath. It’s about creating space in your body for alignment, flow and vitality. Somatic trauma healing is a way to integrate past experiences and regulate your nervous system. Energy medicine is about learning that each of us have much of the medicine we need to heal within our own energetic field and body.
— Can you share one simple breathwork technique that anyone can incorporate into their day-to-day?
Have you ever been to a yoga class where the teacher instructed you to breathe deeply in and out through your nose? This ujjayi breath is the foundational breathing technique taught in Hatha yoga. It translates as ‘victorious breath’. It is also often referred to as ‘ocean breath’ for the subtle sound it makes when you slightly constrict your throat muscles on the inhale and exhale. The small amount of muscle tension helps calm the mind as your breathe eventually brings you into a deep state of relaxation. Ujjayi breath balances the entire body and helps release anxiety, tension and worry which are all associated with stress.
Sit up tall in a chair on on the floor. Rest your hands on your knees. Gently close your eyes. Begin breathing deeply in and out through the nose. With each inhale and exhale, lightly constrict your throat, more specifically the epiglottis. Keep this contraction engaged the entire time. Bring your awareness to the sound of the breath and and focus on making it deeper and smoother as you continue to breathe. Start with 3 minutes in the morning or evening.
Fun and Inspiration
— What do you do to unwind or treat yourself?
I love bodywork and a great meal. I get massages as close to weekly as possible. I also see an incredible acupuncturist each week and make sure that my fiancé and I have a weekly date night at restaurant we love.
— A book/song/movie/piece of art to feed the soul:
Book – Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Fight
Song/Album – James Vincent McMorrow, We Move
Movie – Call Me By Your Name
Piece of Art – Yoko Ono, Wish Tree
— What are your favorite places to eat in LA?
— We are captivated by Joan Didion’s compact travel packing list. What are some essential objects that would be in yours?
A good book, a journal, a pen, ear phones, face mist, supplements, 2 dresses, 1 sweater, 1 pair of jeans, 2 pairs of shoes, bras, underwear, face wash and oil, hair brush, ear plugs, sleep mask, tooth brush and paste, dry shampoo, and ghee.
— Is there anyone you would like to hear from next in this interview series?
Photos by Marielle V Chua, Asami Zenri, Anais + Dax // This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links