10 questions with Asheville author + therapist Omileye Achikeobi-Lewis

Photo courtesy of Omileye Achikeobi-Lewis

This is a part of our Q+A series. Know someone we should interview? Nominate them here. 

Asheville is home to many talented creatives, and today we’re talking to one of them: Omileye Achikeobi-Lewis.

Omileye is a clinical mental health counselor + author. Her latest work, the picture book for children about yoga, meditation, and self-love that she wrote + illustrated, My Heart Flies Open, comes out today.  Read on to find out which locals she most admires, how she hopes to see Asheville change, and the role yoga plays in uplifting the local community.

What’s your name, title, and 3-5 things you want people to know about you?

  • Omileye Achikeobi-Lewis, M.Ed. and LCMHCA I am a mom, artist, author, trauma-focused counselor, kids yoga teacher, mindfulness teacher, and diversity facilitator.
  • My name means “Water Gives Me Joy, Honor, and Dignity.”
  • I was born in London to a Jamaican mother and Trinidadian father. 
  • I have 2 kids (15 years apart), and I am doing my Masters and Doctorate in Daoist Chinese Medicine. I’m also currently reading 4 books simultaneously, but I’ve not had time to finish any of them.

When did you know you wanted to be a therapist/writer and how did you make a career of your calling?

  • I can’t remember exactly when I realized I wanted to be a therapist, but it’s related to a time in London, working as a journalist, when I met a wellness facilitator who seemed so happy. Meeting her, I knew I wanted to use my writing to help heal others, and to be of healing service to others. This decision was also influenced by the fact that my brother committed suicide back in 2004. When he died, my whole family was devastated, and I remember saying to myself, “I never want to see another person die like that again.” So that sealed my walk on the Healing Path.

If you’re originally from Asheville, why have you stayed here? If you’re not, what brought you here?

  • Asheville’s natural beauty and eclectic creativity brought me here. I feel so at home here.  It lacks the diversity I need in my life, but in terms of just pure creative raw energy and the holistic healing field, I love Asheville. I also love the friendliness of the people here.

What’s an improvement you’d like to see in Asheville ?

  • I would like to see more diversity in Asheville and the African American and Hispanic communities to be more seen and honored.

 What do you hope Asheville is like in 10 years? 20 years? 

  • I hope Asheville retains its creative vibe, becomes more reflective of the diversity that is truly here, and that the prices of things stop escalating. The high prices of things are pushing creativity out.

What’s your favorite book?  

  • My all time favorite book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Your children’s book My Heart Flies Open comes out today. Tell us about the book and your vision around it. 

  •  My Heart Flies Open came out of a deep passion to see more diverse and representative issues of children of color within the yoga and mindfulness communities. I want children of color to see the peace and love they are, reflected back at themselves. I want the adult care-takers of  these children to see the love that they were. I want all children to see the love and peace within themselves and each other. My Heart Flies Open started from this premise. 
  • When I was teaching mindfulness to kids before starting my own private practice, I was frustrated because I could not find the kinds of representative images I knew would inspire children of color into mindfulness and yoga practices. I knew images were important to make them feel included.
  • Then I heard this small voice say, “paint what you wish to see.” I was so scared to follow that inner voice, because I am not a trained artist. I didn’t even call myself an artist then. I still remember feeling this surge of anger and frustration, and I picked up a paint brush with a trembling hand and sketched my first image, “I Am Love.”  This huge sense of satisfaction washed over me. I thought that was it, I have accomplished something, I painted that which I wished to see. But about once a week I would see another image, normally before going to bed. I knew I had to paint what I was seeing. By the 4th image, I had this aha! moment where I realized I was painting yoga poses. I ended up with 20 of those images and had nowhere in my house to put them! 
  • Life is a really funny thing – I had no idea that an Acquisitions Editor from North Atlantic Books was following the paintings I posted online. When she saw that people were asking me to turn the images into a book, but I could not find a good self-publishing route, she contacted me and said, “I think I know the perfect publisher for your images, do you have a story to go with them?” The rest is history, which I am still marveling at.

Name 3-5 other local leaders/influencers/movers + shakers you’re watching. 

  •  Katie Dalton of TAPAS
  •  Copland Rudolph of Asheville City School Foundation
  • Honey, founder of DIFFERENT WRLD 

How can we get rid of the stigma around mental health? 

  • I think that is happening more and more. As more and more celebrities and professional athletes come out to talk about their stresses and issues, the more normalized it all becomes. People reawaken to the fact that it is normal to feel. 

How can yoga play a role in supporting and uplifting the local community? 

  • Yoga, especially when practiced with lots of breath work, is an overall tool for finding peace, discovering wisdom, and a place called home within ourselves.