Ashley Bell sees hearts everywhere.
Sidewalks. Nature. Onion rings.
It soon became her thing. Friends would text and tag her in pictures showing their heart-shaped discoveries. It made people feel more connected to her, and to themselves.
It's not that hard to feel connected to Ashley, really. The way she ends an appropriate amount of sentences with "dude" and "man" can make you feel like you've known her for years. You would correctly assume by her thick, voluminous black hair that she's fun and easy-going. She is refreshingly real, and that relatability is a huge reason why she's such a popular yoga teacher around Charleston. The other reason would be her 13+ years of experience. And that's why it's time for her to create Reverb, a yoga center opening at Pacific Box & Crate later this year.
"I could not figure out a name for this place," Ashley laughs. "I just knew I didn't want to call it a yoga studio."
She did know she wanted it to be on the upper peninsula, where more people could access it. She also knew she wanted to make it easy for people to participate through pay-what-you-can, pay-it-forward, and other outreach membership options. And she knew—from having worked at practically every studio in the city—that it needed to make yoga more inclusive.
"I knew I wanted to connect more people not just to yoga, but to their bodies and themselves. If we're going to grow yoga as a wellness practice, we've got to be able to open the door further to let more people in, so anybody can do it."
Anybody regardless of his or her physical or socioeconomic limitations, she means. Yoga Reverb will specialize in common yoga styles, but also more entry-level yoga classes. Additionally, she's offering adult's and children's art classes, blending Ashley's art education and fitness backgrounds. A born visual person (hence the hearts), the yoga and art teacher noticed an instant similarity between the way people talk about themselves in both disciplines.
"People tend to think 'Oh I can't touch my toes' or 'I suck at drawing.' That's not what it's about, man! I want people to have the same freedom and empowerment I get out of moving and painting. It's really not about perfect poses or pretty pictures."
Ashley isn't claiming to have all the answers, nor is she even overtly challenging the status quo. She feels deeply compelled to do this work, both as a teacher and a mother. Reverb will be a resource for everybody, not just to stretch and feel better, but to be who they are.
"Whatever story you've got, whatever body you're living in right now, you are not stuck in those circumstances," Ashley says passionately. "The freedom to be ourselves is the reality."
Words by Jessica Kenny
Photo by Melissa Toms