You know more than you think you know. Trusting your gut or intuition should come first when dealing with any conflict or big decision making. While it’s important to get second opinions and guidance from people who you trust, at the end of the day when having a charity or business, you need to be able to stand by your actions and usually we know how to solve a problem just by tapping into our already existing inner wisdom.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jordan Katz. While embracing New York City’s fast-paced and driven yoga culture, Jordan Ashley recognized a need for service-based yoga; a need for experiences which give perspective to the self through selflessness. Feeling extremely blessed to not only be given the opportunity for education, but to have a voice in society, she felt it was imperative to raise both awareness and funds for girls all over the planet who are denied such essential human rights. By teaming up with yoga teachers from around the world, Souljourn Yoga is dedicated to raising global compassion and peace. Drawing on her experience of travel and being a full time yoga teacher, she created Souljourn Yoga as an avenue for the practitioner who wants more than just “down dog” and to expand the need for equal education across the globe.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I returned to New York after living in Southeast Asia as a journalist and went to a yoga class where I had an a-ha moment when I realized how everyone was completely isolated by the perimeter of their mats. You might go to the same class week after week and never know the name of the person who is next to you, but that connection of being in the same space moving as one, regardless of class, creed, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic standing is what creates community.
Through global travels, I met many people — women and children in the world who have not had the same luck in the lottery of life to know the privilege of yoga, let alone have their basic needs of shelter, sustenance, and safety met. By fusing together yoga, travel, and women’s empowerment, I was able to create a multifaceted platform that could take the physical practice of yoga out of the studio to places where access to education wasn’t always a given.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Well, I think with any kind of travel, memories are made and interesting stories are created. One thing that has been truly incredible is how my journey with Cambodia in many ways has gone full circle. When I was at college, I did a study abroad program in Siem Reap and stayed with this all-inspiring and amazing woman (CNN Hero) named Ponheary Ly who has provided education and supported over 2,800 students by putting education at the forefront of her life’s work. She very much became my Khmer mom and someone I have, over the years, confided in and also have been extremely inspired by. So now, coming back and staying with her when we run our Cambodia retreats (and supporting her organization, the Ponheary Ly Foundation), as well as doing yoga with her students (she’s become quite the yoga teacher as well) has been absolutely life affirming. You don’t know what seeds you plant in your youth that will then flourish into flowers and trees as an adult, so that’s been really powerful.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
On our very first retreat to Peru in 2016, me and the other retreat leader (the ever-inspiring Chicago-based teacher, Alison Riazi) got violently ill before having to go on a massive hike. We literally let our entire group go ahead of us and laid on the side of the mountain contemplating “Into the Wild” and asking one another if we thought the group would send help if we didn’t make it up the mountain. We were the fearless leaders and this was the first-ever Souljourn retreat so we had to stay strong and keep our game faces on, let alone no one could know that we were sick. Somehow, we made it up the hill and one of the women in our group had trail mix which magically revitalized us and we got to enjoy the incredible view with the rest of our crew. Lesson learned: when traveling there is no shame in being human whether you are the leader or not, everyone needs some TLC sometimes, so rather be honest then literally try to climb up a mountain all on your own.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
This year we launched our very first “On the Ground” Yoga Teacher Training Immersion. By training 9 members of the staff and facilitators from our partner organization, Komera in Rwanda, they are then able to teach their teen mom population and primary school students yoga and mindfulness without having to rely on volunteers to come in and lead classes. Not only did the participants learn about the physical yoga practice such as the shapes and sequencing, but also meditations, breathing techniques, as well as a series of self-care workshops such as journaling, writing, and art, not only for themselves, but for their communities at large. Many of these women are survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi, and so it is imperative for Souljourn Yoga to keep running these empowering teacher trainings in post-conflict areas. The goal is to leave these women not only with new skill sets for themselves, but with the potential for a new source of income, career path, and means of familial support.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
While the wellness industry continues to expand, Souljourn Yoga uses the platform of travel, women’s empowerment, and movement to support on-the-ground girls’ education in the destinations that we visit. For me, when yoga is taken out of the studio and into the world that is when the greatest shift in consciousness occurs because we have the opportunity to realize and see through first-hand experience for ourselves that we are, in fact, all one. Winning the lottery of life by not having to second guess where our next meal will come from or where we will be sleeping, makes it our global responsibility to stand up and give voice to make sure that these girls are heard.
Our retreats, our projects and charity is all about putting action and positive change not only for the places we visit, the on-the-ground NGOs we support, but also for ourselves. When going to get your travel-sized cosmetics at the pharmacy, how much extra energy and money is there to grab some notebooks, pens and sanitary napkins to distribute on your travels? Zero. By taking the hiding out of “retreat” and using the platform of yoga holidays to be one of social activism and women’s empowerment, that is when the key differentiation occurs.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Creating a work environment where learning is on the forefront begins with you. I used to try and do everything on my own and would fake my way through situations because I felt like I looked incapable if I did know something or wasn’t able to complete a task.. Admitting my own ignorance in any situation has been extremely empowering because it opens up the opportunity to learn from someone else and make a connection. If you don’t know something, ask one of your colleagues to explain or demonstrate it to you because it makes for a space of equality.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Souljourn Yoga is a small team, but I think regardless of how big a team is, delegation is essential. It’s important to have people onboard with your vision and in alignment with your company’s values and by focusing on people’s strong-suits and allowing those pre-existing skills to get stronger and more confident. I have found that by carving out clear tasks and goals, everyone feels more confident and grounded and it tends to create more creativity and productivity amongst the group.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mom has always been my best friend and one of the inspirations behind starting my own charity. She’s always been a huge animal lover and advocate for animal’s rights and from an early age she showed me through her actions of perpetual dog and cat rescue (she has her own charity called the Forgotten Dog Foundation in Los Angeles) how important compassionate living is to truly make for a full existence. From helping her bottle feed kittens to bathing stray dogs that she had rescued from the streets, it never felt like a burden to step outside of myself to try and offer a little comfort to someone or something that might need it.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I honestly never feel like I’m doing enough/I always could be doing more, so “success” always feels like it’s something I’m striving toward. However, I think by using yoga for social activism has created a ripple effect. Firstly, we have no idea when someone steps onto a yoga mat what experiences led her up to where she is at that very moment. Most people come to the yoga practice because of wanting to fix something, even if it’s physical. But, it’s in the subtleties, the way the breath syncs with the shapes that we get to witness these moments of bliss. It has been Yoga — this idea of “union,” that we can begin to create balance from the inside out. So offering that experience in the guise of a cultural immersion has been absolutely transformative.
Secondly, these retreats fund girls’ education on the ground which is imperative to the planet. By including a $300–500 tax-deductible donation in the tuition, we have helped fun new dormitories, scholarships, books, uniforms, sanitary napkins, etc to truly change the landscape of a young woman’s life. And the best part is, it’s an annual commitment to our partner organizations who in my opinion are doing the real work to continue to make the future female leaders of our world.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Saying no. Putting up boundaries and knowing your limitations are just as important as being open and receptive to saying yes. So often, we over extend ourselves and then become tired, stressed, resentful, etc., so saying no to the things we are lukewarm about, will then prioritize the activities and people who we are most excited about!
- You can’t make everyone happy. In my humble opinion, being a successful entrepreneur means surrendering to the idea of being able to make everyone happy around you. Being a woman doesn’t mean you are the perpetual hostess, putting on different outfits depending on the company, it means accepting that not everyone is going to “dig your style,” but if you can stand strong beside your choices, that’s what matters most because IT’S YOUR CHOICE. Still stay open, receptive, and available for dialogue on ways your business can improve as you gain more from staying curious.
- Prioritizing vs. Outsourcing. I can’t do everything on my own. I have some skill sets that I’m confident in (like writing and communication), and others that I need support in (like graphic design; I can barely even make a flyer), so I think prioritizing my strengths and leaning into what I know I can do well versus outsourcing areas that I’m not so well versed in has been really empowering and has allowed me to get more done for both myself and Souljourn Yoga.
- You know more than you think you know. Trusting your gut or intuition should come first when dealing with any conflict or big decision making. While it’s important to get second opinions and guidance from people who you trust, at the end of the day when having a charity or business, you need to be able to stand by your actions and usually we know how to solve a problem just by tapping into our already existing inner wisdom.
- It’s all about connections. Something I have loved about creating this charity is how many new friends and colleagues not only I have met, but who I have connected to one another to grow these fantastic, intellectual and supportive global networks just by offering introductions and have people intro me. Staying open and inclusive have been vital for myself and Souljourn Yoga to thrive in ways I didn’t know were possible.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That’s very kind to consider me someone of “great influence” as I feel like most of the time I’m hiding in my apartment with my dog listening to Radiohead and working. Really simple but I think the “one random act of kindness a day” movement would really change the way not only we live with one another, but how we live with ourselves as well. Just some small action of selflessness then doesn’t benefit you whatsoever is the first step to making positive waves of change.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
This is one of my favorite quotes (it’s even in my senior yearbook) and I think it’s become more and more vital as time has past. I was someone who wanted to get everything done and grow up fast. I moved to New York the day after I graduated high school, finished college in 3 years, I moved abroad at 22, and while it’s all been amazing to have that kind of drive to get things done, it also burns you out. At the wise old age of 30, I can’t even begin to explain how important it is to pause, not rush, and really try to savor each and every moment. Indulging in lazy mornings and taking my dog, Maya on meandering strolls have been crucial in my overall well-being and quality of life.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Christiane Amanpour has always been a hero of mine. I wrote my whole college essay on why I wanted to be a journalist because of her fearlessness and authenticity. She’s such a force of nature (and has the best voice ever) that it would be an honor to meet her over a cup of tea. The other person would be Angelina Jolie as I know Cambodia has been extremely pivotal for her (as it has been for me) in truly changing the landscape of the career and life, so would also love to talk shop with her.
Thank you for all of these great insights!