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Why I’m Putting My Body First

Out of all of my intentions I’m setting for 2018, the desire to put my body first is at the top of my list. In a way, this intention encompasses all of the others and is the driving force behind everything from slowing down, to spending more time in nature, to simplifying all facets of my life.

Using my body as a compass is something I’ve been able to do since I can remember. I’ve always had a direct connection to sensation and felt experience. As a child I literally felt the world around me, the environment, the people, plants, energy, and animals. I developed a strong connection to minerals, the woods behind our home, and was able to sense even the most subtle emotional and energetic cues from the people around me.

I am grateful that I was fortunate enough to be educated in my early years in an incredible Montessori school in the woods where my unique gifts were encouraged and supported. My brother and I also had a woman who took care of us who was in many ways, the reason I chose to be a creative space holder in this life.

I was very lucky to get involved with ballet at a young age. Between the dance lessons, attending a highly imaginative school, and having all of that creativity reinforced by a woman who was genuinely invested in supporting my brother and I, the foundation had been set for a baseline of feeling safe and at home in my body. I took risks even when I was scared, I felt for others without absorbing their emotions, I enjoyed the process more than the destination, and I explored myself and the world with an open heart and a curious mind.

As I got older and life got hectic as it tends to for many of us, I started to have a tough time navigating my openness in a world that shamed me to close and in a family that while they loved and nurtured me as best they could, had a difficult time understanding the depth of my empathy and sensitivity. It was around this time that I went through those awkward coming of age years that made me want to disappear in a way I hadn’t yet experienced that would stay with me for years to come.


At some point in middle school I learned that in order to earn the attention of my parents and keep myself from absorbing everyone’s unresolved issues, I had to force myself to close down. It was all becoming too much for my system to handle. What was at one time an amazing gift of empathy had turned into a lack of boundaries that started making me sick and disrupting my nervous system. It was no longer fun or interesting to feel what other people felt or have to reorganize myself to try to receive the love and attention that I longed for. It became my personal mission to not get close to people, to drown out my thoughts and feelings, and to retreat to my room in order to survive.

Sometime in eighth grade I started smoking pot with friends and drinking when I could get my hands on alcohol. I completely cut off all ties to my body and began treating it like someone I had no respect for, like someone I was ashamed of, like someone I wished would go away and never come back. When I wasn’t high or drunk I was depressed or full of anxiety. Because I was also going through intense hormonal changes at that time I felt like I was on a roller coaster. I never knew if I was going to laugh or cry and by the time I was in high school I was on the hunt for more experiences to get me even further out of my body and away from the memories I had of being happy, comfortable in my skin, and connected to myself and the earth.

Many of you know I got sober in college and suffice it to say that the rest of my high school and early college experience was a mixture of high highs and low lows. When I landed in rehab at 21 I took the biggest breath I’d taken in years because for the first time in ages I felt my body soften just a tiny bit and heard a voice inside say thank you.

I wish that I could tell you I stopped running once I got to rehab but I didn’t. I slowed down to a degree or two because I wasn’t using or hiding from my shadows, but I was still moving quickly because that was my new baseline. I never imagined I would be able to get to a deeper, more regulated state. The slowing down has been such a long process for me, and truth be told one that I am still in. The process of coming back into my body and feeling safe and strong there is also a journey I am on and one that is more important to me than it has ever been.


In my early recovery years I got very involved in Hatha yoga. I loved it because it reminded me of ballet. It was measured, precise, and I liked being able to follow the formulas of the asanas. My body felt right at home in those classes even though I had no clue about sanskrit or what the poses meant in my early practice days. I connected to the energy of the asanas though my body and my breath and it had a major impact on my life moving forward. Yoga gave me access to my body again after all of the years of denying myself, overriding my needs, and treating my body as an enemy instead of an ally.

In those yoga classes I learned where my body stored pain, trauma, and the grief I had been stuffing for too many years to count. From there I went on to study the body, breath, trauma, meditation, and energy patterns and eventually got to a place where I could guide others into their bodies and experiences the way my past teachers and mentors guided me into mine. This journey of returning home to myself has been one that continues to unfold and one that I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for everyday.


The intention to put my body first comes at a time in my life where I am being called to make some big decisions about where I want to put my energy and where I want to pull it away from. A few things that are on the table right now are having a child, buying land in the woods, and committing to nourish myself on a deeper level. This deeper level of nourishment has everything to do with taking the time to feel what’s happening in my body and honor it.

Over the years I’ve had times where I have put my body first and times where I let my ego or fear run the show. When I look back and reflect on the times that I felt the best in my life it was never when I was running, hustling, overriding my body to achieve a goal, avoiding emotions, or ignoring my intution. The times that I felt the best in my life I was at ease, grounded, present, practicing vulnerability, taking risks, and trusting myself.

Putting my body first means that I not only feel my feelings, it also means that I respect the wisdom of my body and the insight it is here to give me. All day long our bodies are receiving and processing information, much of which we discard, ignore, or simply don’t take the time to hear. And I know why. I see it in myself and I see it in my clients. Doing the work of slowing down and listening to the information we are being given by these incredible bodies we get to inhabit is the most confronting work we will do in this life. It’s one thing to say you’re going to slow down and pay attention, it’s another thing entirely to commit to that as a practice and way of life.

When was the last time to you heard the soft voice of your body?
Did it have to yell to get you to pay attention?

When we begin the practice of listening to our bodies it can feel unnerving. This is often because our bodies have been trying to tell us something for a while and we were not listening. Sometimes our bodies want to share something that is difficult to take in, like that pit in your stomach when you know a relationship is over yet you can’t seem to break up with the person. They could be asking us to take a break while we’re pushing them too hard to accomplish something that might actually benefit from a little time away. In all of my years of working with the body, both my own and supporting clients, I have never experienced a body steering anyone in the wrong direction, ever. Our bodies know and it’s up to us to cultivate our relationship to them and commit to co-creating instead of pushing, forcing or being demanding of them.

I’m not saying we all need to move at a turtles pace 24/7. This doesn’t work for everyone nor is it everyone’s path. What I am suggesting is that we are all, everyone of us, capable of accessing and integrating more depth, wisdom and resource from within ourselves and that it is essential to do so for our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. And the way that we access those gifts is by honoring our bodies in their time which is slower than the pacing of our minds or what’s considered acceptable in modern society.

Part of the reason my partner and I are looking into buying land in the woods is that our bodies love it there. As soon as we drive out of the city and inch toward the Redwoods my nervous system starts to unwind. By the time we’re up north in the trees my entire body feels open, grounded, present, and full of vitality. It’s like I am a different person. I was talking with a friend about this experience recently and she said she loved that feeling of just being grounded when she’s in the woods, that it takes no effort. She said it was the opposite for her in L.A. where she has to work to be grounded. YES! I said to her, that is exactly it. I love being able to simply be without having to do all of the energetic work that it takes for me to survive in a city full time. While my heart is still in L.A. and probably will be for the rest of my life, there is this other part of myself, a part that I haven’t wanted to accept until recently, that longs for a quieter, slower, more grounded existence. This is the part of myself that has been waiting for years for me to get to a place where I could handle leaving the city and all its glamour behind to explore deeper levels of creativity and healing out in nature.

Sharing all of this with you is incredibly humbling and at the same time affirming. It seems I am having another one of those coming of age moments and the choice to do what I’ve been doing or to grow into this next chapter is upon me. And while we won’t be taking off to the woods just yet, the intention is there and that intention is all about putting my body first.

Our bodies are the most efficient, complex, and brilliant instruments of creation. They are like antennae, transmitting and receiving intelligence around the clock and it’s up to us to take good care of them. To listen to their whispers, to become aware of their needs, and to devote ourselves to giving them rest, nourishment, and plenty of time for play. Some people say their bodies are like machines and that has never resonated with me. My sense of my body is that it is a living, breathing being, home to my spirit that has big things to do in this world but who chose to do them in this body and all the wonder and limitations that come with it.

As I sit in mediation for this new year and contemplate putting my body first I decide that from today on I am going to ask my body this question each morning in my breathwork practice: How can I best take care of you? This feels like an accessible entry point that will allow me the space to listen, honor my body’s wishes and explore my body further as the year progresses. I look forward to sharing more of this journey as it unfolds and I encourage you, if you’re interested, to join me in the practice of inquiry and honoring the needs of your body this year.

All my heart.


photo x Anaïs and Dax


  • Rocio

    This resonates so much with me Ashley. Thank you from the depths of my heart. I am going to commit to asking the same question. All my love and gratitude for your vulnerable sharing. x

    • ashley

      Hi Rocio,
      Thank you for being here and sharing in the conversation. I am glad this resonated with you so deeply and I look forward to hearing how this practice supports you. Please keep me posted! Wishing you a nourishing week ahead. x

  • […] came across my dear friend Ashley Neese’s post this afternoon (check it out, she’s wonderful) about putting her body first, and the title […]

  • AM

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and wisdom Ashley.
    I’ve slowed down for a while and now learning to listen to that subtle tone of my bodily wisdom. Your essay gave me words and enhanced my ability to listen. Thank you from the bottom of my heart x

  • […] Listening to our bodies and asking, How can I best take care of […]

  • Jasmin mani

    Thanks for sharing your story. I have been trying to set a consistent routine but again I tend to do it in cycles which defeats the efforts. Every time i reach closer to my goals, I give up due to boredom and laziness. Trying to tackle it.

    • ashley

      Thanks so much for being here and for sharing what you’re going through. x

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