If you look at a Western yoga studio’s schedule, it’s not uncommon to see a donation-based or “karma” class listed. While this is a great alternative for lower-income individuals or those unsure about committing to yoga, it doesn’t remove all the barriers to entry.
“Yoga and meditation are practices that assume someone has time or safety. Someone needs to feel safe and secure and be fed first and foremost,” says Jordan Ashley, founder and executive director of Souljourn Yoga and the Souljourn Yoga Foundation—a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization on a mission to equalize education through cultural immersions and training. Even if a practice is free, Ashley adds, “If your basic needs are not being met, you are not going to want to sit and do breathwork.”
Ashley launched Souljourn in 2016 upon her return to the U.S. after a stint traveling abroad. On the road, Ashley connected with some of the over 130 million women around the world who are denied an education due to gender inequalities.
“I hadn’t realized how far girls’ education can go in these regions. Education is something that can’t be taken away from you,” Ashley tells me. “It really does have the power to change the world.”
So, she set out to increase access to education using yoga. Through Souljourn, she now runs yoga retreats and cultural immersions that raise money for female empowerment and education. On each trip, attendees are asked to give a $300 to $500 donation to partner organizations supporting on-the-ground education in the region.
So far, Ashley’s nonprofit has visited Peru, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Morocco, Tibet, Rwanda, and Cape Town, South Africa, working alongside local partners to help close the education gap and provide housing solutions for low-income individuals and their families. Once these basic needs are met, yoga can be introduced as a further force for good in the community.