Feel the Vibration
For Ashley Neese, wellness requires so much more than what Western medicine has to offer. Here the energy worker gets real about addiction, self-love, and how we can heal ourselves
With sunlight-yellow walls, a vintage teal settee, and large windows that open onto a cozy street off Sunset Boulevard, Ashley Neese’s Silver Lake office is vibrant. When the 35-year-old wellness maven, a trained yoga teacher and nutritionist who focuses on breath and energy work, emerges to greet me, she looks like a Woodstock goddess, her long brown hair setting off her glowing, milky skin. She’s kind rather than nice—a worthy distinction in Los Angeles—but she also has a fearless, probing way about her, as if she’s scanning me gently for an auric opening. Which is why, when she starts our session by asking what’s going on in my life, I spill it. All of it. The next 45 minutes are a veritable blur of inexplicable and rapturous psychedelia. One minute, I’m lying on her massage table, following her breathing instructions as she anoints my forehead with lavender oil; the next, my entire body is tingling. I cry, I laugh, I let go of some specter of childhood trauma as Neese guides me through core-engaging declarations while gently touching various parts of my body. When it’s all over, I’m dizzy, but I also feel wide open. The world is a wondrous peach, the heart is an infinite maze, and I have a shit ton of questions.
What is energy, and how do you work with it?
My definition comes from Eastern traditions. They describe life-force energy as something that permeates each individual and all levels of the universe. It’s the vibration that flows through the body but also that forms a field or sheath around our physical bodies. So it creates a bridge between our bodies and our minds—between the physical and nonphysical. Our natural state is one of health and wellness; energy is free-flowing. But our busy, stressful lives block the energy, which can result in emotional, mental, and physical issues. Breath work is preventative and restorative; it removes the underlying causes of the blocks, allowing you to sink into a deeper state of consciousness so you can shine a light on your inner wisdom. Reiki is another way; [I use the practice to] redirect the flow and encourage a person’s body toward its own healing balance.
What does holistic healing look like for you?
It looks like seeing the whole picture of someone—I’ll read their energy, look at their skin, their eyes. For a while I worked strictly as a nutritionist, so what a person is eating is still really important to me, but now I look more from an energy perspective. I ask a lot of questions, too: How’s work? How are your relationships? What’s your stress level? That’s where Western medicine went totally wrong, with compartmentalizing. For example, clients will tell me they’re having heart problems, which tells me we need to look at their relationships with their parents, or relationships where they’re giving too much and not receiving—that’s all part of the picture.
How do you see the relationship between self-care and mental health?
They are very related. Self-care is a nonnegotiable. If there are certain things you’re not doing—sleeping, eating, having fun—you’re not going to have the mental health that you want. One of the biggest issues I see is that people are always stressed—but the question is, What’s underneath the stress? So often, people aren’t taking a risk to do what they really want to be doing, or they’re not speaking up for themselves. I’m always looking a couple layers deeper. My goal is to get them to feel their feelings—even if they don’t realize at first that that’s where their anxiety is coming from—because that’s how I can create a space for them to heal themselves. That’s why I love breath work so much; once you learn the practice, you can do it on your own.
How did you get into energy work and wellness?
I started when I was 21 after I quit drinking. I had moved to San Francisco and was in graduate school for art. I was creating work as a social engagement performance artist, going out into crowds and talking to them about gratitude or healing. So I was already on my path in terms of working with those themes. I’d heard about yoga, but [when I was] growing up in Atlanta, there hadn’t been a lot of opportunities to try it out. San Francisco was another story. I decided to go to this Bikram class, and when I came out of savasana I was like, “Yes. Give me more of that.” That was the beginning.
How has your history with addiction affected how you approach wellness?
In a big way. I’ve been sober almost 15 years, and in my own experience, so much of addiction has to do with a lack of self-love; you’re just trying to make yourself feel better. My addiction and recovery have helped me be way more compassionate. I’ve lived in some dark, shitty places, and I’m not scared to go there with people and help them come out the other side. And they’re not afraid to go there with me because they know I get it.
What’s the relationship between energy healing and physical healing?
What I’ve found is that by focusing on energy healing, most people will have less physical healing they’ll need to do. Based on our lifestyle and whatever our constitution is when we come into the world, we’ll probably need physical healing, too. But that physical healing also heals energetically, like with a deep tissue massage, for example. Which is why yoga is so amazing. Unfortunately with yoga, and especially through the Western lens of yoga, people are very focused on the external: what you look like on the outside in a yoga pose. But really, yoga is energy work. It’s about moving energy through your body, changing your breath, changing your thought patterns, changing your life. It’s a tool for healing your energetic body while also healing your physical body.
Before our session, you talked about relationships as nourishment and heartbreak as a stepping-stone toward wellness. Can you expand on that?
Self-love is the basis for relationships. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand—they think their partners are supposed to make them feel a certain way, when actually, they themselves are the sources of those feelings they’re looking for. So that sets us up for heartbreak, and like most people, I’ve had my share of it. I was always trying to fix my partners, or I wanted them to fix me. The way that I look at it now is that people come into our lives to teach us something. Especially in relationships, there’s always a polarity that’s happening. That polarity is important because that’s what creates the tension; that’s what makes you get excited about a person and want to have sex with them. But the flip side is that it also makes it hard to be with that person, and it brings up the difficult issues in you that are a part of your struggle. Every heartbreak I’ve had has been so useful and so deeply healing because when we’re hurt, we’re the most vulnerable and the most willing to be open and messy—that’s where the magic is.
The ancient practice of smudging, or clearing the energy of a room with the smoke of sacred herbs, is an easy way to up your self-care game (plus, it smells amazing). Ashley Neese shares how to make the most of one of her favorite rituals.
Smudging is a very effective practice for changing the energy of a person or space. To invite in more healing energy, I find it powerful to say blessings and prayers before, during, and after my smudging session. They don’t have to be fancy, just pick a phrase or words that resonate for you and say them out loud during the process. When working with these plants, it’s very important to make sure you have good sources. Plants that are commercially grown do not have the same energetic qualities as plants that are grown at your home or in the wild.
Palo santo, or “holy wood,” is a wild tree native to the South American coast. The rich smell of the medicinal smoke helps to clear the mind and energy, allowing more space to connect and create. Palo santo also raises our vibration, so it’s great when you need a little kick-start to your day. Light one end of your palo santo stick using a candle or match. Let it burn for about a minute, and then gently blow out the flame. Holding the stick in your hand, walk around the space where you are clearing energy.
White sage has been used for ages by healers for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. It has the ability to clear negative energy when burned. The main thing is to smudge with intention and mindfulness. Holding a piece of sage, light the end with a match or lighter and let it burn well for a few seconds. Once you have a steady stream of smoke, gently wave your arm to allow the smoke to envelop you.
In Native American culture, sweetgrass is considered the hair of our Grandmother Earth. It’s typically braided, and the three sections represent the mind, body, and spirit. Burning it cleanses all three, as well as attracts good spirits. To work with sweetgrass, light the end of the braid with a match or lighter. Wave the smoke over your heart, head, body, and then your heart again. Alternatively you can place it in a shell or other natural container and allow it to slowly burn out on its own, enjoying the pleasant smell.