Ashley Watts was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles from a mother who was Mississippi nurtured. She was raised in a single parent home, and was later raised by her grandparents.
“My dad’s dad pretty much played the dad role, and my grandma gave me wisdom that my mom just couldn’t pass down. So for a while, I considered my grandparents my parents due to both of my parents insensitive methods of parenting,” Ashley said.
A few years ago, Ashley decided to rename herself Ama Kuroki while on her journey to self-discovery.
“Ama comes from West Africa, meaning girl child born on a Saturday, who is also so deeply human and acutely sensitive as well as intuitive,” she says.
Ama is the head curator and impact director of Yogi Bare, a yoga instructor, and an intermediate through advanced pole instructor for Epic Dance and Fitness in Jackson, Mississippi.
She began teaching pole fitness and dance four years ago and began practicing yoga in 2014.
In 2015, Ama began to go deeper into her yoga practicing by studying the work of Mahatma Gandhi and when she studied abroad in Kazakhstan.
“Although I did not attend any yoga classes there, I needed some reflection time, more peace, and I didn’t have a pole to exercise which made yoga my focus,” Ama says.
Ama said she went through some tough times in her life, which eventually led her to practicing yoga.
“I was very much depressed. My world felt completely upside down, and I did not know where or how I would be able to regenerate happiness to continue undergrad. I just wanted something to bring me peace, so one day the tears had to stop, and I thought of some of the most peaceful influential people I could think of, and poof! There was Gandhi,” says Ama.
Ama admitted that she is a self-taught yogi, and she would have liked to be trained but not through American studies.
Ama said, “Not all programs introduce the background to where yoga originated and use historical terms. A lot of them seem very Americanized to the point they do not use historical yoga terms.”
Alongside Ama’s career as a pole fitness coach and yoga instructor, she works as a service member for an organization called FoodCorps.
“The sole purpose of FoodCorps is to expose children to healthy food through hands on learning techniques by the means of gardening,” Ama said.
Q & A Session with Ama Kuroki
Jar: Who or what inspired you to do yoga?
Ama: When I began doing yoga, and I researched Gandhi, his teachings, his purpose, and yoga in general, I felt as though no matter what, this is what I needed. The meditation part of yoga is what really inspired me to stick with it. To be able to clear my mind, welcome happiness, reflect on the simple things is what continues to inspire me as well as those who find inspiration from me practicing yoga.
Jar: A lot of people ask, “What’s the point of doing yoga? What do you get out of it?” Can you explain what yoga is and how important it can be in one’s life?
Ama: Yoga goes so deep. There are so many types based on breathing or poses. Yes! Yoga is a variation of stretches but to simply explain it, yoga uses a variety of poses and breathing methods to penetrate specific (or multiple) chakras in the body that can help balance ones life, heal, relieve stress, and grown mentally as one understands their inner self. I love it. Yoga is important in one’s life because it allows one to reflect during that stand still moment when you are alone. When the room is silent, your mind is resting, one could feel their heart rate at rest, one can hear and feel life around them, and at that moment one can think with no interruptions and the mind is not subconsciously led by outside forces. Yoga allows you to be exactly yourself, and you can learn a lot about yourself during the journey.
Jar: What is your favorite yoga pose and why?
Ama: My favorite pose is the Goddess Pose because it totally loosen up the hips but actually great for the whole lower body. This position stimulates the pelvic floor and great for the spine.
*The goddess pose aids deep relaxation of the body. It helps open the chest and ribcage, which enhances the intake of oxygen and overall breathing. This pose is excellent to uplift one’s senses.* Source: www.oto1.com
Jar: I know for many yoga beginners, they do not always feel comfortable or confident being in the a studio where others are already advanced. What are some ways you get your students to become comfortable and confident in yoga class? What advice would you give to an individual who wants to start yoga?
Ama: (Laughs) I definitely understand. I am actually redesigning my approach to get the nonbelievers to try yoga. There are myths that one must be super flexible to even try yoga when that is just not true. Yoga can help someone become flexible over time. At times I believe yoga creates believers. I begin my classes with icebreakers as I want everyone to feel welcomed with good vibes and like-minded individuals. I love that my classes are open, which allows students to be themselves. All of my classes are beginner friendly which tends to set the tone for curious yogis. My recommendation for those who want to start yoga but just do not, I always ask, “What makes you want to try yoga? *waits for answer* Well, when are you going to finally try? *waits for another answer*” and then I am finally like, “Stop thinking about trying something and just do it!” The sooner you open up to it, the sooner you will love it.
Jar: What are five tips you would give to your students or anyone who is just beginning?
Ama: One. Go into class with no expectations
Two. Take your time with each pose.
Three. Do not worry about outdoing others. This is your journey.
Four. Be yourself during meditation. Allow everything to be about you during that moment.
Five. Try a pose that you find easy and another that you think will challenge you. The challenging pose should be the start of one’s journey.
Jar: Can you give me tips and/or advice on mediation techniques? Breathing control, etc.?
Ama: One. Begin in a quiet environment where one can be undisturbed. Start inside for beginners.
Two. Meditation is great for the morning or at night, really anytime. Taking ten to 15 minutes helps set the tone for me in the mornings. It is rejuvenating, builds up confidence, and positivity.
Three. Attempt to meditate outdoors. Hearing nature can help you feel connected to the universe, and this allows you to become one with the environment. Meditating outdoors helps with breathing as well. Different environments have various elevations and air, which can help the respiration system. Streams, lakes are serene! I totally love outdoors.
Four. Soft mellow tone music help the flow of clearing the mind.
Five. Guided meditations are amazing if one is unsure how to meditate because it allows the yogi to listen and depending on the audio, it tells you when to breathe.
Six. Set the mood. Incense, sage, burning oils. These items can send you into a mellow trance while meditating.
Jar: What other type of classes do you offer?
Ama: I currently offer beginner Vinyasa Yoga, Afro Yoga (beginner friendly), and beginner pole fitness classes.
Photography: Optical Photography and Kevion Devanté