Bompa Blocks began by accident, says founder Ashley James, of the company she started with her grandfather that makes wood yoga blocks.
As Ashley’s passion for yoga grew, she began selecting a mat, clothes and props that would reflect her style and practice, but she couldn’t find her ideal yoga block. Then something clicked. Her grandfather, whom she called Bompa as a child, had the skills to craft the wooden block she envisioned. Ashley’s grandfather, Edward Leisinger, is a wood contractor who lives in the Midwest and creates custom furniture and home designs.
“Growing up, my family would ask my grandpa to make anything random—a cabinet or a table—and it would be amazing. I really wanted wood blocks that reflected me and felt simple, natural, and really cool. I trust my grandpa so much—everything he makes is beautiful. He didn’t know anything about yoga! He just said, ‘Give me the specs,’” Ashley said.
Wood yoga blocks, from grandpa
Grandpa Bompa’s delivery exceeded her order. Ashley received 10 handmade wood yoga blocks in the mail. She only needed two and decided to share the leftovers with fellow students in her yoga teacher training class. In a snowball effect, Ashley began receiving requests from other yoga students and their friends throughout the community. The demand grew rapidly.
Ashley was working in the field of marketing when she began her yoga teacher training, and had been contemplating a career change. So, as her time was increasingly pulled into Bompa Blocks, she decided to dive into the business full time.
Now, Ashley’s grandfather has seen her practice with the blocks and has even learned a few poses, too. Wearing the design hat, Edward is in charge of the material research and ensures that all of the outsourcing is true to their mission of natural production. He still hand creates every single block.
Bompa Blocks selects the woods used to create the blocks based on how the wood is forested, its availability, and the expense. Bompa Blocks doesn’t want to put too much pressure on any one resource, so they alternate wood types. As a result, some of the blocks are seasonal, such as the Zebra.
In 2014, Ashley was diagnosed with breast cancer. During her treatment she met other women who were seeking “something else” to supplement their healing. Many women asked Ashley for guidance on yoga practice. She began helping patients learn yoga and tailoring poses with props to their physical therapy.
“We’ve been putting together ways to help [patients] throughout physical therapy and how to use blocks on the road to recovery after cancer treatment. I’ve been documenting the process and incorporating my recovery process into how to use the blocks,” Ashley said. “There are other aspects to going through recovery—a loss of identity or self…I saw [my experience] as an opportunity to have a perspective shift.”
Up ahead, Ashley is also developing an ambassador program with yoga teachers and creating video tutorials on how to use yoga blocks in various poses. From Ashley’s perspective, the entire growth of Bompa Blocks has stemmed from a community effort and a love for teaching.