With one wobbly boot in front of the other, sweaty palm gripping on to my guide’s hand, I’m trekking through Nyungwe National Park. I’m entirely enveloped within 380 square miles of nature, and my senses feel alive with stimulation from the smells, sights, and sounds around me. Above my head, colobus monkeys swing from treetops like trapeze artists. Below, branches crunch and snap as I continue along the trail. After three hours, my group and I emerge from the green fringes of the rainforest, back out to a tea plantation. We pile into a 4×4 and make our way to the eco-lodge we’re staying at on Lake Kivu for a hearty lunch of rice, vegetable stew, fried plantain, and freshly caught fish.
After some downtime, we’ll be back on the deck for evening yoga practice—and that’s just half a day’s experience on a Souljourn Yoga retreat. Tomorrow, we’ll take part in a march to celebrate 10 years of the remarkable Rwanda-based NGO Komera. The organization, whose name means “be strong, have courage,” supports local girls and their families through education, community, and sport.
Souljourn is a nonprofit that hosts unique excursions around the world that fuse together yoga, travel, and philanthropy to offer a visceral experience that goes beyond your run-of-the-mill yoga or wellness retreat. The main objective is to empower young women globally and raise awareness and funds for girls’ education by partnering with charities in the destinations where retreats are held. Built into the cost of each retreat is a $300 to $500 donation that goes directly toward the sister organizations. In addition to the donation, attendees connect with the beneficiaries by volunteering, while also soaking up the local culture and, of course, practicing yoga.
When asked to describe the essence of Souljourn, Ashley refers to the term Seva: “It’s the Sanskrit word and core yogic principle of selfless service.”
Souljourn’s founder Jordan Ashley was inspired to “create a platform that used yoga for social activism” after stints studying and working abroad in Cambodia and India. Prior to creating Souljourn, she worked as an instructor in New York for six years and still teaches when she’s in the city between travels. When asked to describe the essence of Souljourn, Ashley refers to the term Seva: “It’s the Sanskrit word and core yogic principle of selfless service.”
The selection process for choosing which NGOs to work with is key to Ashley’s mission. “I either have a personal connection with the charities we partner with, or specifically choose organizations which go deep instead of wide with their impact,” she says. “This way, I know they will truly benefit from our partnership.” By pairing with these local charities, attendees of Souljourn retreats don’t just benefit from the exotic locations and host communities, they also witness how their donations are impacting lives. As Jordan puts it, “You give back to yourself while giving to others.”
Beyond Rwanda, Souljourn hosts retreats in Cambodia, Morocco, Peru, Tibet, and India. On a recent retreat in Cambodia, Ashley partnered with the Ponheary Ly Foundation, whose mission is to bring equal education rights to young girls across Cambodia. In between yoga and cultural activities like trips to Angkor Wat and nearby floating villages, guests spend time at the foundation’s dormitory, which houses, feeds, and shelters female students. All Souljourn retreats last around 10 days and itineraries are curated depending on the location, but they always provide ample time to dedicate to yoga practice amid plenty of volunteering and sightseeing.