One of the focal points for Joe’s Daughter is how culture and life interconnect, how one can shape and inform the other. This week, we spoke to Ashley Neese whose background is in Fine Art, but who now works as a natural food chef, holistic nutrition counselor, certified yoga instructor and blogger.
Ashley talked to us about that moment when you’ve had enough of one thing and need another, of how to consciously build a life based on supporting rather than undermining ourselves, and how creativity can be an essential piece of how we approach, and promote, a life practice.
jd: You made a significant shift in your life: from working too hard, drug and alcohol abuse, not taking care of your body, and living in fear to where you are now, working in LA in the field of wellness. Was there a specific point of transition for you?
ashley: There were many points of transition that brought me to where I am today. My first big shift came just a few weeks after I turned 21 and quit drinking and using drugs. I had been in a very dark place for my teenage years and that carried over into college. My life was completely out of hand and I was too lost to stop it even though I knew deep down that wasn’t what I truly wanted. I had been caught in a cycle for years and could not imagine my life with or without those substances. When my parents presented me with a chance to go to a live-in rehabilitation facility I knew it was my chance to change my life.
Making the decision to go to that rehab was one of the most important decisions I made in my twenties and the beginning of a new way of life - one that was based in self-care not self-destruction. Of course I didn’t learn to love myself in a month or even a year but I learned to face myself and life without alcohol and drugs and that was a major shift.
In my mid-twenties I started practicing yoga as a way to connect to my body and quiet my mind. I had already started dabbling in meditation but I found I needed to work my body, mindfully, in order to be able to sit still for meditation. That was another shift for me. I had been living sober for several years but I still felt completely disconnected from my body. Yoga helped me become more integrated - more heart centered.
I came into the wellness field very organically. I had been a working and teaching artist for years and the transition to coaching people and supporting them to live in a healthy way was very natural for me. My art was all about personal transformation, relationships, self-discovery and this has become the main focus of my wellness practice.
jd: In your work, you connect well-being to broader issues. It's not just one thing, such as exercise, but also extends to food, cooking, and nutrition, even love, music and dance. How do you incorporate this into your approach?
ashley: In my late twenties, I moved to Portland, Oregon, and got really involved in local foods. I started cooking more for myself and creating my own recipes. I loved being in the kitchen. It was becoming clear to me that eating, just like being sober and practicing yoga was yet another way to take care of myself.
To me it’s all connected. I don’t believe we can be healthy by only focusing on our diet. That is just too one-dimensional. If we want to live full, engaged, inspiring lives we need a holistic approach. We must be willing to incorporate healthy diet, movement, creativity, and spiritual practices in order to have optimal wellness.
jd: One of the big shifts though was jumping fields. You earned your MFA from California College of the Arts in 2005. How does this fit with what you do now? Have you continued your life in the studio?
ashley: I had a more formal art practice for years. My art however, was very socially engaged and most of my projects took place outside of a traditional gallery setting. I feel like all of the work I am doing now, blogging, coaching clients, practicing yoga, teaching, cooking, is an extension of my art practice. All of that education and art making had to come first - that is part of what brought me to where I am today.
Last month I started a series of text pieces on my blog. The text is all about inspiring others and myself. I use my own words and pull quotes as well. Creating these simple works has been really fun for me. I like incorporating my creativity into my wellness work. My blog is one of my main creative outlets and this year I made 4 seasonal ebooks that I photographed and designed myself.
jd: I think this design sensibility is why your site struck me: its tone and language is different than the standard web materials on wellbeing and mental health. Were you consciously aiming for that?
ashley: Yes! I find a lot of wellness sites lacking in the design department and wanted to stand out. My designer, Jason Zimmerman, and I spent many hours going over the site design. Coming from an art background, I am very interested in aesthetics. I wanted to have a website that is full of useful content but one that also shows who I am. I think that comes across beautifully in the design.
jd: Finally, we ask everyone that we talk to for their well list: the films, books, people, websites, blogs, etc., that they look at, find useful and which have resonated with them in some way. What are yours?
I read http://www.freundevonfreunden.com weekly. I love their content and interviews. I was lucky enough to be featured on their site, it was such an honor.
Much of my time online these days is looking at design inspiration. Pinterest is a go-to site for me. I have been having a great time using it and it's fun to search through the images.
Some blogs I love for design are:
And my cousin has an awesome food blog and takes all her own pictures, such a great site for inspiration.
jd: Thanks Ashley!
Ashley has a newsletter you can sign-up to on her site and writes a wonderful blog that includes recipes, artworks, mix-tapes, and exercise routines. Take a look here: http://ashleyneese.com/.