Interview with Lauren Ash, Founder of Black Girl In Om

Photo by Lawrence Agyei

Photo by Lawrence Agyei

Through a blending of her passion for creative wellness practices, black arts, and community engagement, Lauren Ash founded Black Girl In Om to promote self-care and self-love for communities of color. Living in Chicago, the third largest city in the US, Lauren has worked with BGIO to remedy what she described as an invisibility of  individuals of color shepherding wellness movements. Her desire to bring consciousness to and nurture creative self-care for personal and collective benefit is fiercely beautiful and an important reminder to us all on the power of self-love in restoration and creation.   

First off, can you tell us what BGIO is all about and how the group works to carry out its mission? 

Black Girl In Om promotes holistic wellness and inner beauty for women of color. Through our online publication and pop-up yoga and holistic wellness experiences, we encourage self-care and self-love for communities of color. We affirm through our work the consistent, preventative actions that cultivate a clarity of mind, a strength of body, a prosperity of spirit, and an inspiration in our environments.

We love: movement, food, growth, music, art and any and all things life-affirming to us and our communities. We learn and share wellness practices with one another, and through this work cultivate richer understandings of what it means to be healthy and beautiful from the inside out, and from the outside in.

We carry out this mission through our online publication, certainly, but also through our events! From our monthly Food Church series, where we partner with a health-conscious foodie who guides us through a healthful, holistic meal, to our weekly Wednesday Recharge yoga session when we gather to practice yoga and dialogue about how to practice yoga off the mat, we cultivate our mission dynamically and are always looking for new ways to activate our mission!

What kind of support system did you have when you first started the project, and who has continued to help support you through the process of growing BGIO?

My support system included really great mentors that I serendipitously met within my first year in Chicago. In particular, cultural curator Janice Bond, entrepreneur and arts advocate Eric Williams, and artist-educator RJ Eldridge. Each of these people served as sounding boards for my ideas and helped push me, in varying ways, to manifest! Also, my Mother has been a personal and financial investor in me and my ideas. She's the best. Taking the leap from a 9-5 to full throttle entrepreneurship was quite the transition! But well worth it.

Can you describe that transition a little bit to our readers or offer any advice for someone who may be looking to make a similar transition?

The transition I took was literally a leap of faith. Some people might deem it spontaneous, I believe it was the right timing. When you know, you know! Visualizing it helped. I literally took any and all visual reminders in my phone for my day job out so that when I looked past the month of January all I saw was blank space. This blank space equated to potential, possibility, beautiful and limitless.

When will the first issue of the online publication be released, and what types of content can we look forward to?

Our online publication launched on March 20th, in time for the Spring Equinox. It features essays, poetry, interviews, spotlight articles, photographic art, and more. I rode a natural high all day. So much excitement and positive energy buzzed around Black Girl In Om that day. And I ended the day with a New Moon Circle with women of color involved with Black Girl In Om. Crystals, intention setting, healthy dishes, and Erykah Badu. Yes, it was as glorious as it sounds.

What kind of offline experiences does BGIO offer to support its mission of self-care and self-love?

BGIO currently offers a diversity of sessions for Chicagoans and we look forward to expanding in several cities and offering even more kinds of sessions that relate to holistic wellness. Our current offerings include reiki, yoga, meditation, vision/manifestation workshops, Food Church (communal, healthy meal), and more. I'm blessed to have an amazing collective of healers and wellness practitioners who facilitate these sessions! It started with just me guiding yoga back in November and has rapidly expanded based on community requests and amazing women who approach me with their desire to offer something to our community.

In your mission you talk about utilizing "consistent, preventative actions that cultivate a clarity of mind, a strength of body, a prosperity of spirit, and an inspiration in our environments"...can you elaborate on some examples of preventative actions?

The preventative actions that I personally have adopted, or currently practice include seeing a therapist who understands me and my identities, journaling, yoga, and a healthy, holistic diet.

Photo by Brad Ogbonna

Photo by Brad Ogbonna

At She/Folk we really believe in the transformative power of art and creation. Would you say this is something BGIO believes in too? 

Absolutely. We recognize art as a healing tool.

What artistic hobbies do you most enjoy and why?

I'm enjoying getting into the healing arts. I made my first elixir last week. I'm looking forward to learning about, and making, tea blends and body balms. I think it's a beautiful thing to be able to recognize what you need and then make it for yourself. I am surrounded by people who do just that and want to cultivate it as my own practice, as well.

You recently were part of a visioning workshop series "Get Your Life!" in collaboration with Rebuild Foundation - a Chicago-based nonprofit that aims to rebuild cultural foundations in under-invested neighborhoods - can you tell us more about this workshop, what it entailed, and what your partnership with Rebuild Foundation looked like?

Our partnership with Rebuild was truly amazing. BGIO Art Director Zakkiyyah and I facilitated a three-part workshop on Saturdays in February to women of color in Southside Chicago. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am incredibly passionate about the power of manifestation and intention setting. Of seeing the space between where I am and where I want to be as a space incredibly rich with potential and possibility rather than fear and lack. I've been offering workshops on manifestation and intention setting since December and it gives me so much joy to see women of color, in particular, get excited about manifesting where they want to be in ten years. With this series in particular, we were able to weave in art, dialogue, journaling, and even planted seeds on our final day together. It was a beautiful experience. We look forward to more programs with Rebuild Foundation.

What are some things that inspire you daily?

I am inspired daily by my team. Zakkiyyah is an amazingly kind and creative soul. I always say that she is the ying to my yang. We are very different, but have the same values and share the same vision, and all of these things make us a dynamic duo. Morgan Hickman is our digital strategist. She has an incredible mind and helps us bring things to the next level. And two women who have been a part of our wellness collective as yoga and reiki instructors since the beginning: Angelique Nelson and Tiffany Chimaroke. They deeply inspire me with their depth of knowledge and passion for holistic wellness. I purposely surround myself with people who inspire me! My jaw stays on the floor. I like it that way.

What or where is home to you?

Home is now Chicago. I love this city. So many amazing creatives of color who push me and inspire me. I am originally from a suburb outside of St. Paul, Minnesota. I lived in Minneapolis for a couple of years and that place has a special place in my heart. I moved to Chicago because I knew there was more for me. I encourage everyone to get away, to move beyond the known. I have grown tremendously because of jumping into the unknown. I moved to Chicago without a plan, without a job, without an inkling of becoming a yoga instructor or starting my own business. Fast forward 1.5 years: Black Girl In Om. 

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I consider myself a womanist and absolutely love how Alice Walker poetically phrased it: “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” We're deep.