A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Ashley Rufo, a local yoga teacher here in Philadelphia.
There’s always some nerves that get the best of me as I arrive to a shoot, but Ashley made it easy to brush them aside. She and I instantly clicked. Maybe it’s because we’re the same age, or maybe it was her easy going attitude. Either way, I had so much fun exploring Fairmount Park with her the other day.
Just recently, Ashley quit her corporate job in order to pursue yoga as a full time career. After having discovering it while she was studying at Penn State, she realized it was something that always needed to be a part of her life. Now, it is her life, and she couldn’t be happier. Get to know more about her journey from desk to mat below, and follow along as she walks us through an easy routine that will have your core looking and feeling stronger than ever!
Where did you grow up? How has this shaped the person you are today?
I grew up in a small cul de sac next to the woods in Delaware County, and I was lucky enough to spend every summer at the beach. Between the two, I spent much of my childhood outside. I explored those woods a million times with my sister and brother, and those days cultivated my capacity to imagine, to create, and to experience the endless ability to find wonder in the world. I was also extremely fortunate to have parents who believed that childhood days were for being a child. I spent my days playing outside, dreaming, thinking, believing, being whoever it was I decided to be that day. They gave us a lot of freedom to really be ourselves and make our own choices and mistakes. We were never forced into playing or keeping with sports or clubs; we were never required to have a job as kids; we were never pushed into a college major. They provided unending guidance and support, but they allowed us to grow into our own decisions and answers. It was wickedly frustrating and confusing at times, but that autonomy has allowed me to evolve into who I am today. I didn’t really hold a job until I graduated college… so I have learned to stretch a dollar. I would babysit once or twice and make $60 last me all summer. I was free-spirited; I didn’t want to work, I just wanted to live. Those were the very best summers. And that probably blessed me with the most invaluable quality of all: contentment. It’s not that I don’t want things, I just don’t need things that I don’t need. It’s one of the most liberating ways to live.
What were you doing before yoga became a focus in your life?
I graduated from Penn State in May 2013 with a BA in Journalism and a distaste for reporting. I set my sights on law school, and three months later I was working as a legal assistant in Center City. It was pretty plain to see that I was not cut out for the legal world. Honestly, I could have done that for the rest of my life, and I know that I would have been happy with my life. But I also knew that I wouldn’t be living up to my potential. It felt like living in a cage, and I knew I could do so much more if I could just break free. I needed to be outside, flitting around like a butterfly from flower to flower. That being said – I am infinitely grateful that I have the experience. I think having that knowledge allowed me to realize the extraordinary meaning and impact on my life, and I feel it makes me, as a teacher, more valuable and accessible to the working and corporate yogis. I know the frustrations and anxiety and high energy that circulates through corporate America, and therefore, I also know how yoga can avail those raw emotions from first hand experience.
What was it that ultimately made you quit your job and go down a different road?
I knew I eventually wanted to make yoga my career. But I didn’t know how, where, or when, so I tried to be patient. I kept waiting, but I worried whether I was really being patient or if I was just being lazy. I knew there wouldn’t be this explosive event or colossal shift in my life or job that would just leave a gaping hole for me to dive in and come out a fantastically flowering yoga teacher. So, I saved up enough to get me through the next few mortgage payments, and I jumped instead. I know that I have a message I need to spread with the world. I am bubbling over with ideas that I just can’t put the lid on anymore. I firmly believe the universe will help you out if you are open to it. And the universe just kept putting on my turn signals for me. So I decided to follow the turns.
Has it been hard to transition?
NO! Haha, it has only been a week and a half and I LOVE everything about what is going on in my life. I feel elated, uninhibited. Not only am I no longer bound to a job that didn’t fulfill me, but I see the pay cut as an opportunity to once again live simply. I no longer spend carelessly or act frivolously and it is so relieving! I don’t have to keep up with trends or fads or fancy living. It feels like I shaved away a layer that may have looked nice aesthetically, but was way too heavy to wear forever! I’m already just loving it.
Have you learned anything about yourself in the process?
I have definitely learned a lot about myself over the past year or so. I have become a lot more aware of how I arrive in my life every day – my patterns of thought, my reactions, my conditioned behaviors. That might sound a little eccentric, but it’s really interesting when you learn to observe yourself without judging and without criticizing. I have become a lot more open to everything and everyone. I change my mind every single day.
Do you have any advice for others who might be scared of change?
Drop your hold on life. Stop trying to manipulate and predict your future. Stop seeking out signs and waiting for monumental life events. We are always looking for the peak moments, but life happens in between the happiness, sadness, success and failure. Be open to uncertainty, be brave and be vulnerable. Say yes to lots of things, but stay true to your core values. Most important – be open minded. I think it is the very best thing you can be in this life.
What does a typical day in the life of Ashely look like?
I think that is what I love most about teaching yoga full time. Everyday is a new opportunity, everyday is different. I have some routines that I do every single day, but hardly ever in the same order. Almost every morning, I wake up and watch the sun rise from my bedroom window. After that, I meditate. I like to TRY to spend the first bit of my morning phone-free (but it is my alarm!). I have coffee with my man every single day. Drinking coffee is a patterned behavior that I could, but just don’t want to, give up. I love it, and I indulge in the things that I love. Then I may teach morning class or I may run errands. I usually eat fruit and some nuts for breakfast. I’ll eat fruit all year round just because I love it and it makes me happy. I usually prefer to practice after breakfast and after my body has had a chance to open up a little. Now that it’s spring, I have been taking my yoga practice outside. It feels instinctive to be outside during yoga to me. I usually spend some time just being in the sun, lying on my yoga mat after a practice. I am a sun worshipper. I know people don’t like to hear that, but I love the sun and it loves me back. I told you I don’t like to refuse myself my loves. And after all, we are all made up of the same ingredients as the sun, right? I like to eat a light lunch, mainly because I like to be on the go. I will usually teach an afternoon or evening class or 2, or 3… but my favorite afternoons are the empty ones where I can relax and do yoga at my leisure and cook dinner. I love to cook. And I love to eat. I certainly admire vegans and vegetarian diets, but that just isn’t for me at this point in my life — that’s not to say it never will be! I eat well, but I don’t restrict my diet to any particulars. I end every day on a good note: dessert. Because what is life if I can’t have my cake and eat it too? I just love cake and cookies and ice cream. Dessert is only evil if you see it that way – instead of calories and fat, I see deliciousness and bliss.
What kind of yoga do you specialize in?
I teach Power Vinyasa Flow. I teach a powerful, fluid class. I personally love to work the body to its limit, really earn that savasana (the final resting asana). I like to challenge people to take their practice to their own limit, challenging both the body and the mind. I like to create a supportive environment for my students to grow and not be scared or embarrassed to try and, more importantly, not afraid to fail. Yoga is all about self-observation and self-growth. I weave a lot of meditation and mindfulness into my classes because it is personal to me and imperative to my yoga on and off the mat. I love a powerful class, but I think there is so much more than a lean body to take away from asana!
What’s the most rewarding thing about teaching?
Teaching yoga is one of the very best feelings in the world to me. It brings out a very real version of me. I honestly used to hate speaking in front of crowds or groups, but I feel elated when I am teaching a huge crowded room of yogis. It’s intoxicating to share in an experience with like-minded people. And the very best part is coming across those people who are truly and deeply moved by the practice – that is what I aim for in my teaching. I love the asana practice, and it is an extremely important part of my own yoga practice, but I think there has to be something more that keeps bringing us back to our mat. Touching people beyond the physical dimension is by far the greatest feeling.
What does being “free” mean to you?
I think being free means being uninhibited, open-minded, malleable. To me, being free requires a fearlessness, a brash acceptance of uncertainty. Freedom is living fully and openly in the present moment, moving dynamically and fluidly with the constant changing of the present moment. Life is not a series of events, a combination of static moments flashing one after another. Life is continuously changing, shifting, deviating – an ever-flowing river of existence and experience. When we are free, we organically unfold with the natural flow of life, unscathed by our past and untroubled by our future. We are not bound to definitive ideas and unrelenting opinions, nor are we caged into categories that serve as temporary comfort. We are unrestrained and able to shift and change and redefine every minute, every second with the pulse of universal energy.
Ashley now walks us through the poses that will help lead you to a stronger core, just in time for summer!
Navasana (boat pose)
This is a very foundational core posture. Start sitting with feet on the floor, knees toward the ceiling. Lift through the torso, opening the collarbone towards your thighs. You can start by grabbing behind the thighs and lifting the shins parallel to the ground. Keep pulling the chest closer toward the thighs while lifting through the sternum. You can keep the hands behind the legs, or you can release the hands and stretch the arms straight out in front of you parallel to the ground. Option to straighten the legs forming a V with the body. If available, you can grab the big toes with the peace fingers. Keep pulling the belly in, opening the chest, and trying to close the gap between the thighs and chest. Breathe here for 1-2 minutes.
Parivrtta Navasana is an optional twisting version. This can be done in any variation of boat pose – feet on the floor, shins parallel to floor, or straight legs. If you have the big toes, on an exhale release the right arm, squeeze the belly in and reach as far behind you as possible. Return to center and repeat on the other side. This can also be done with hands behind the legs. Repeat 10 times each side.
Plank pose (uttihita chaturanga dandasana)
Plank pose works the entire body. The goal is to maintain a straight line from the crown of the head to the heals. From hands and knees, step your feet back so that your shoulders are stacked over your wrists or fingers and the heels are right on top of the ball of the foot. The key is to find the hips lifted, not too high or low. Feel as though you are pulling your front ribs in towards one another, then broaden through the collarbone. Try to broaden equally through the shoulder blades and collarbone. Option is to keep the knees on the ground trying to form a straight line from crown of the head to the knees. Breathe here 2-3 minutes.
Vasisthasana or side plank pose
Vasisthasana is a variation of plank, and is an excellent way to work the side body. Starting from your plank pose, bring the weight into the right hand, shifting onto the outside edge of the right foot. You can have the feet stacked, staggered or drop the right knee to the floor for more support. Keep lifting the hips toward the ceiling, but try to avoid letting the top high roll open toward the ceiling. You want to try to keep the hips square, right directly on top of left. There is a tendency to let the top hip roll back and open toward the sky. Stay here 30 seconds-1 minute. Repeat on other side.
Starting in Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). On an inhale, roll forward to a high plank pose. Exhale and lower to chaturanga dandasana, making sure to bend the elbows straight back an keep the shoulder above or in line with the elbows. Inhale and come into upward facing dog (urdvha mukha svanasa) on just the tops of the feet and hands. Exhale lift the hips returning to downward facing dog.
Knee to Nose
Find plank pose, shoulders over wrists, try to make a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels. From there, inhale the right foot off the ground, exhale and pull your knee in to your nose. Pull the belly in and try to pull the thigh up towards your chest. Hold here or repeat 5-10 times each side.
Follow Ashley on Instagram, and catch one of her classes this summer if you are in the Philadelphia area!
Priya Hot Yoga – 18th and Callowhill
Thursday: 12pm & 7:15pm
Thursday : 4:45pm
** She’ll also be teaching at Surfside Fitness in Avalon and Sea Isle this summer on the weekends.
More movement posts on the BLDG 25 Blog.