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Meet Ashley Cummings of Agni Yoga in West Hollywood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashley Cummings.

Ashley, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was always very active. As a child I did ballet, gymnastics, and swimming. In middle school and high school I was very involved with basketball, cross country, and indoor and outdoor track. I minored in Dance at The University of Miami. I coached gymnastics during my summers at University of Miami. I still remember it as one of my favorite jobs.

I started working when I was seven years old, just a little Georgetownian. I was born and raised in Washington, DC, and attended high school just outside the city in Bethesda, Maryland. I’ve always loved animals, especially dogs. I would ask neighbors to walk their dogs just to be around their energy. One day a man who had seen me walking five other people’s dogs on a regular basis asked me what my “weekly rate” was.

I was very young, but already starting to feel the pressures women feel today about appearances and aesthetics. My mother was always and still is very thin. She would say, “Look how fat I am!” It was a confusing topic for me. I started dancing for a company in DC called Chrysallis when I was 11, with so much dancing and all that goes with the dieting and staying thin.

We’re always being bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The first lesson of my first “real” Yoga Teacher was: “The first lesson on the path of Yoga is that EVERYTHING IS A BLESSING.” The manifestation of this was my internal readiness to understand and be of service when I was ready to delve deeper into the path of yoga, beyond showing up to yoga studios and classes regularly for a couple years. I teach this same concept to my teachers in training through our Yoga Alliance Certified Yoga Teacher Training course at Agni Yoga, Los Angeles. I also teach it to myself, every single day. Nothing I experience in my life today, of true value, came easily. And I have learned that nothing is guaranteed except change and death. This includes “good” or “bad” circumstances.

This natural system of labeling our external circumstances is the demonstration of a lack of conscious practice of knowing the truth of who we are. The inevitable outcome of conditioning, since we are born into whatever external circumstances we find ourselves in. Our “lives” (ego/ thinking mind) as a species has literally become addicted to mostly negative, unproductive, and at the lowest levels, self-serving, non-stop mental chatter. And without awareness, we lean towards negative or darker thoughts that create neurological responses that directly affect the chemistry in our bodies,  ultimately shaping the “look” and “feel” of our external lives.

Our thinking minds—wonderful tools as they may be—are awful masters that innately label, categorize, and digest accordingly based on each of our very unique stories, our individual histories, our names, and our glories. We each perceive every external aspect of our lives in different ways. We experience it through our karmic manifestations, our physical bodies. We store information, situations, belief systems, mental conditioning and information in our cells, connective tissues, muscles and organs. Our life experiences create our physical pathway, compass for navigation. We are all so different with such varied and different memories and sections. Pieces of us. Parts of our journeys.

We can never control external circumstances. Aside from master manipulators, who sometimes do have tools to alter the natural outcome of external circumstances. All we will ever have a shot at is to really establish an internal state of freedom,  peace, and equilibrium. Then the Yoga. The consistency is practicing to train the brain to dwell more in the places internally with Yoga Asana (the physical aspects of Yoga) and Meditation (entrance is focus and concentration). This nourishes, grows, and strengthens the internal establishment of safety and love. Can we attain true freedom?

I have learned that the one thing we can expect, that we can know for sure is that EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE. The constants in life are that things will change and  your breathing: a bodily function that is both involuntary and voluntary. When we learn to control the breath, we learn to control the mind. When we learn to control the mind we have reached higher levels of consciousness that literally re-wire neural pathways. All of the “obstacles” expected to be listed as a response here are just solutions in the making. Nothing is a “problem”—everything is an opportunity—temporary and guaranteed to change!

This applies to each situation when I engage in mental contrast (good/ bad, dark/ light). The difference is how I choose to label it in my head. How much energy have I truly put into the discipline, the practice of redirecting my focus and concentration from external circumstances that may feel “scary” or “hard” into “love.” And “I got this and something (call it God, Universe, Spirit, Source Energy, Consciousness), has got me,” That is why the many “struggles” I have endured and overcome aren’t listed here. Because they are the same as the “successes,” the “high points,” and the moments I am most proud of as a Yoga Teacher, which I will speak about in next section. Because hearing good creates FEELING GOOD, and good attracts good. The more we talk about LIGHT, FREEDOM and LOVE, the more it is in awareness, global consciousness, and vibration.

Just speaking and/or writing these words is being of service to the planet, literally. When we choose the path of Yoga, which is NOT a religion, but a trail with tons of options, suggestions, and helpful tools, we choose to take care of ourselves in a very special way. In my opinion, the MOST special way available. When we make this conscious choice day to day, week to week, over the years we are stronger. Our mental muscles are in shape to sustain internal stillness and strength. Within that choice lies the inevitable. That when we choose to care of ourselves, we consciously and subconsciously choose to give permission to everyone we make contact with to care for themselves, too. The most powerful tool that we have as spiritual beings moving as smoothly as possible through this “human experience,” or “Maya” (illusion), is the ability to choose one thought over another. To choose a mental state, an internal state that FEELS better than the initial or preceding thought, and to keep doing that. And keep doing it, etc. So yes, I have had many blessings and more opportunities to grow, and plenty of solutions to create. ”

We’d love to hear more about your business.
My business is an interesting dynamic for my moral compass as it is a spiritual school, if one is seeking that, but a special Instructional School. My business, Agni Yoga in West Hollywood, California, is a Yoga Studio/Instructional School that offers Private Yoga Instruction, as well as Public (Group) Instructional Yoga Classes. We are a Registered Yoga School certified with the Yoga Alliance and offer Yoga Alliance (YA) Yoga Teacher Training Courses for those who wish to simply deepen their personal practices as well as learn about Yoga, history, philosophy, and themselves. Our Yoga Teacher Training Experiences are life changing, every single time.

Last November was my eleventh year of teaching Yoga. I have been practicing for thirteen years. I opened Just Breathe Yoga in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, in 2008, when I was twenty-seven years old. I had no idea what I was doing and I just did what I could with all that I had: a $30,000 check from my father, and five or so years of acquiring knowledge about what this whole “yoga thing” was all about. I was so lucky to have such a strong and intensely traditional, yet fun and funky series of teachers. They taught me “real yoga,” breathing exercises, meditations, and states of consciousness and blissful feelings that I was not aware were available without external stimulation in the form of legal or illegal mind altering substances before my Teacher Training experience at Miami Yogashala in 2006. I became a sponge and a warrior. I started teaching at two of my teachers’ studios the day after passing my written examinations. I was my teacher’s manager for his two studio locations as well as his personal assistant. Yoga quite naturally became my life, and I learned that my life was actually Yoga the entire time. So that big revelation of “Oh, Yoga isn’t just the hour and a half I do upward and downward facing dog???”

I think we are unique at Agni Yoga, and we have survived in the most saturated market for the “product” (I had to learn to call Yoga a product) that we are selling. There is more “Yoga” in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the world, including its place of origin, India. I will not accept anything but true Yoga as taught by my lineage of teachers that came before me, starting with a man named Pathanjali, who authored a very sacred text in Yoga, “The Yoga Sutras,” some two to five thousand years ago. There are rules to the “thing” called YOGA, which is in fact, as it turns out, so much more than up and down dog. It is a sophisticated system designed to liberate you from your thinking mind, to tame the “drunken monkey,” as the old yogis joked.

Yes we will and tone and build every muscle in the body, touch and take care of all of the internal organs, and increase cardiovascular health, but the one thing that makes Yoga different from any other form of exercise is the breath. Without breath, what most people call Yoga, the physical aspects (the important, yet small aspect of this “big Yoga picture,” the yoga asana, the poses) not Yoga as clearly defined my Pathanjali. Going down my lineage of teachers, Krishnamacharya, created the first Yoga School in Mysore, India. “Vinyasa” is a Sanskrit word, “to place something in a special way.” To place the breathe with a special, slow, focused way with the movements of the body throughout your moving meditation experiences.

Vinyasa flow classes, Kundalini Yoga and Meditation classes, any style of Yoga under the umbrella word “Hatha Yoga” (Power Yoga, Vinyasa, Kundalini, Bikram, Restorative, Jivamukti, and Anusara) all fall under Hatha Yoga, which is defined in “The Hatha Yoga Pradapika” (another old and sacred Yogic text) as “Movement with Breath.” My personal commitment, a staunch policy on teaching at my studios, is that every movement has an affiliated breath. Both “gym yoga” or teaching Calesthenics will not be acceptable at our studios. As Krishnamacharya said, “Without the breathe it’s simply physical exercises.”

What were you like growing up?
Growing up my father would call me “bleeding heart” and “The Avenging Angel.” If I wasn’t being around animals or rescuing them or people (two friends hid from mean parents and lived in my closet for a substantial period of time), I was beating up bullies on the playground of our school or extracurricular activities. My little sister is thirteen months younger than me, so we were often together in school, just different classes. We would see each other at lunch and recess on the playground. On one very hot, muggy summer DC day, maybe in June, an eighth grader pushed my little sister down the scorching hot, sun-beaten metal slide. She was crying and her little bum was so red. This kid was easily three times my weight and four times my size. He ended up in the hospital that day, because I beat him so badly.

I was never one to stand being witness to injustice and not at least trying to help. I happen to be a force to be reckoned with but it’s all heart energy. I feel so deeply, and care so completely about those I love, that to this day I am the protector of any “realm” in which they dwell and I am in any reasonable proximity. I have always been a fire fighter, but I always fought for justice and love. I often got into trouble, detentions, suspensions and the like. I was very misunderstood. I feel for so many children then, now anywhere that are just almost too powerful for themselves. But we need people like us. The ones who will risk it all and fight for those they love.

Loyalty is everything to me. Perhaps as a little girl instead of shaming me, it might have been explained to me that there are other appropriate paths to solving problems for others and helping people. I would grant myself the title of the original Spiritual Gangster, at least one of them, we are many. I was always funny and challenging authority, but quite cerebral at home, an avid reader. I read a Webster’s dictionary front to back three times. I was always ready for the opportunity to save anyone, any creature that needed help.

I still feel that girl in me and I still work daily to “tame” the Lion inside. I know that it’s an asset to be so confident, powerful and real, but as a therapist suggested not too long ago, “Sweet girl, you must learn to control this power. People don’t understand. They get scared. Most people aren’t like you.” I can be loud, fast, and impatient. I am often misunderstood and try to do everything myself, knowing that it won’t be done to my satisfaction if I don’t at least start the project or goal myself. It spreads me quite thin and I get tired, but there’s a live, a whisper, a silent guide that I admittedly don’t listen to enough.  I feel “keep going,”,”breathe brave,” and stand tall because you can weather the storms. Be strong for those who can not, that will need you.

This is not in an egotistical way, this feeling of being needed. I just know from so many years and experiences that all of my unique circumstances have given me an ability to make almost anyone in any demographic or place in the world feel comfortable, and get them excited about something that they thought was merely about touching their toes. The system and true connected breath with movement creates a moving mediation, a state of stillness/absence of thought in the mind. This state of non-thought or freedom is sustained by the discipline. The quality, trained teacher explains to the student(s) “redirect the breathe, back to the breathe, stay out of the mind, and so focused and concentrated on the quality of your conscious deep and even breathing.” This conscious breath sustains the state of freedom. And it’s like a muscle. If it’s explained to you it becomes the most beautiful gift you can give yourself. And no one can ever take it away from you. It’s your sahdna, your personal yoga and meditation practice.

I was always curious about things and never took anyone’s word for it. I thought I found secret doors to alternate dimensions when I was about ten. Before that I was at the egg boxes, thinking I was saving baby eggs that just needed to be warm to hatch. I had them wrapped in towels and hidden, lest my parents would find them and get upset. I was sad when my brother explained that it didn’t work that way. Also beyond overwhelmed when I opened the towels, the smell was not nice.

That’s me in a nutshell and I haven’t changing much. Still trying to save everyone, share the knowledge that was shared with me, that freed me, and not afraid to get a little unladylike, even “unyogic” if you hurt my friends or family. I am cognizant of my cadence in stressful or frustrating experiences. But we are all works in progress right? I make amends quite quickly and well, I hope.

Pricing:

  • Only $42.00 for first month!! (LA Residents only).
  • After, we have wonderful low month to month no contract unlimited memberships.
  • Discounts for students, educators, military, LAPD, SAGAFTRA

Contact Info:

  • Address: AGNI YOGA
    7327 Santa Monica Blvd.
    West Hollywood, CA 90046
  • Website: WWW.AGNIYOGA.COM
  • Phone: 310.999.3610
  • Email: ashleycummingsyoga@gnail.com

2 Comments

  1. ashley cummings

    February 27, 2017 at 20:24

    honored.

  2. Sam

    March 1, 2017 at 04:21

    Yesss!!

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