At 25 years old, yoga instructor Rachel Brathen has caused quite the stir. If you are on Instagram these days, I’m sure you have come across @yoga_girl at some point. With over 300,000 followers and growing, she inspires people all over the world every day through her eye catching photos and eloquent words. Just this year she started the largest yoga challenge in the world, and coined the popular hashtag #yogaeverydamnday. People travel from all over to have the chance to meet Rachel in person and attend one of her classes. She recently returned from a two month tour across the United States where she was able to meet and practice with thousands of her fans and followers. Rachel currently resides in Aruba and is the yoga director at Manchebo Beach Resort. She hosts 8 retreats a year from Bonaire to Costa Rica.
My sister and I attended one of her workshops at The Yoga Loft in San Francisco. The room was packed full and the energy was incredible. After taking her workshop and witnessing the Brathen effect first hand, I was eager to interview her and learn more. From her inspiring words, to her healthy recipes, travel, and to her practice both on the mat and on the water, Rachel encompasses wellness. I had the opportunity to talk with Rachel one on one about what inspires her, what brings her to the mat every day, and the role social wellness plays in her everyday life. Throughout everything, Rachel remains completely authentic and her focus remains with her practice. We are all capable, and she reminds us of that today in this interview.
What role does Community/Social Wellness play in your everyday life?
It’s funny that you ask that now, because I recently got engaged and planning a wedding means going through every single relationship, all your circles of friends, and your community. I am just now realizing how hard it is.
In Aruba we have a great community of friends, if we didn’t have that we wouldn’t live here. It’s a beautiful space where we are. I have family in Sweden, they are really really far away– we skype all the time and I miss them a ton. I’ve come to terms with the idea that family is what you make it. It plays an important role in what I do, especially when traveling this much, the feeling of coming home to our friends and being in this normal space with people that really know me is so nice.
You’ve managed to create this platform of followers all over the world. Not only do you reach them, but you affect them. That’s really powerful. How does that sit with you? What does it feel like to be able to have so many people all over the world being touched by your words?
It’s weird… I have a hard time grasping and understanding the impact that some of the things I write or post have on other peoples’ lives. Its extremely overwhelming, especially now with the travel I’m doing, I keep meeting people from all over. I had a girl fly from Paris to LA to take my class and then flew back. In Canada, there were people who had driven 22 hours in a car to take my class and just say hi. It’s an overwhelming feeling understanding how this works, and I am getting it more and more now. It’s a huge blessing.
Is there anybody that affects you in that way?
Not in that way. I’ve had some classes where girls actually break down crying. Everything from that to people going through chemo, to people who have lost loved ones or are going through a divorce. I am realizing it’s way beyond my reach. I’ve come to terms with whatever I write or post, people have a hard time understanding that what they resonate with is in themselves. It has very little to do with me at all, I am just an outlet for them to resonate with something that is true for themselves. We have to make things make sense and people put all this weight on “this person helped me”, “this person inspired me”, and really it’s not about me at all.
You’ve talked about your back injury and the healing process and the role yoga played in that. What kind of support does it take to get from where you’ve been to where you are now?
It all comes from that pain. It’s such a valuable realization, if you don’t have that pain you cannot have that growth, that motivation to change or to inspire. My back stuff comes and goes, but it’s not the end of the world anymore. My own practice is really restorative and gentile. I love a good ass whooping, sweaty class but its not what I do on my own at home. I think it’s really nice to have that pain or issue grow and blossom into something really really valuable and real, which I love.
There is a lot happening right now with your brand, including sponsorships, a DVD coming out soon, as well as online classes, and a book deal in the works! What is your ultimate goal or purpose? Where do you plan to focus your time??
I have a recent bigger plan that has blossomed throughout the summer. All these brands on the side are a good way to make money. As teachers, we don’t have a set monthly income. The sponsorships are a fun way to get some profit on the side. I have an agent now helping to manage all the stuff that I do, but I have no interest in any of that. I think its nice to make money from your passion and spreading love and doing good things. I would love to have my energy directed back toward helping people and focus on what I really care about, which is the connection, the community, and all of the people that are constantly reaching out.
There are so many questions and comments coming in about your personal life from your fans. How do you decide what to keep personal?
I don’t answer everything. All the little questions like, “where did you buy those pants?” or “what kind of makeup do you use?” I never answer that stuff. But I get these serious questions about life or death or love or loss, and I have no shame or fear in sharing my own pain. I think its really important to tell your own story, and not make it so personal anymore. I try to find the humanness in all this crazy stuff. For a long time I didn’t post any photos with alcohol, I didn’t want to offend anyone. Then I realized, it wasn’t 100% true. So now I just post everything as it is and I attract way more people that way.
SUP yoga takes balance and yoga to a whole new level. What prompted you to start practicing SUP yoga? You have become a leader in that community as well, what’s that been like?
Its a lot of fun! People tell me all the time it is the best shavasana they’ve ever had! People love to connect with nature and be outside on the water. Here is Aruba, the conditions are ridiculous– its turquoise, crystal clear, warm water. We’ll be in down dog and someone will be like, “Look at all the starfish!” We fall in, and it’s so nice. I like to get people out of their routine. It’s so challenging, and you have to stay so mindful to stay dry on the board.
What’s the most important message for you to spread to your community?
I always come back to my favorite yogi tea quote, “To love what is ahead you need to love what has come before”. People walk around with a heavy past or with patterns that have been carried with them from a young age that people don’t even know they’ve taken on. It affects everything, how we live our life. Forgiving what has been before and realizing everything is here because we really need it– it means nothing can be really bad anymore. If you fully trust that life takes you where you are supposed to be and that everything, even the bad stuff, is happening for you not to you, it just changes everything.
Visit www.rachelbrathen.com for more info about her upcoming retreats and schedule.
All images used in this piece © Alea Warner Photography