How to Live Passionately, Love Deeply and Thrive: The Rachel Brathen (Yoga Girl) Interview
BY JUSTIN FAERMAN & MEGHAN MCDONALD
rachel brathen (yoga girl) dives deeply into life in her home away from home, aruba. photo: ben kane
Rachel Brathen is the New York Times bestselling author of Yoga Girl, a motivational speaker and world-renowned yoga instructor residing in Aruba.
Justin Faerman: So yes, to jump right in: One of the things thatwe find really inspiring about you is that you’re being true to yourself, and you’re living your passions and enjoying quite a bit of success doing it, and we really think that, on a certain level, that’s everyone’s dream. And so we we’re hoping that you could offer some insight and encouragement to people who may be looking to do the same thing.
Rachel Brathen: Absolutely, I feel like it’s really important to first of all figure out what the dream is. I get that question a lot… “Oh I would love to travel the world, and I would love to have this kind of lifestyle”, and I find that when it comes to actually manifesting your dreams, you have to first identify them. So I’m a big believer in writing down what it is we want to create, and then not sitting on our butts waiting for it to land in our laps, but actually taking the active steps for making that happen. It helps to know what you want to create before you start, you know?
JF: Yeah, absolutely.
Meghan McDonald: Another one of the things that we love so much about you is your authenticity, and we’re curious what are some of the ways that you stay connected to your authentic, vulnerable self that comes through on Instagram, and what practices or insights you can offer to the people who will be reading this?
“If we never do anything that scares us… we’re never going to evolve, or grow, or change.”
Rachel Brathen: Even though sometimes it’s scary, or it can be a little bit terrifying to be vulnerable with people, especially with people that we don’t know, I’ve realized with time that the more I allow myself to do that, it’s like giving permission to other people to do the same. I get a lot of comments and emails from people that, for instance, they’re sharing their own pain, or grief, or insecurities after seeing that I have shared mine. It’s kind of like allowing everybody to be human, and that’s a really big part of the community and of what I want to share at least.
MM: Yeah, definitely. I think one of the things that you say in your book Yoga Girl is: “If something new doesn’t scare you, at least a little, it’s not worth doing,” and that’s such a great idea. Could you elaborate on why you think that is?
living a conscious lifestyle to me means living with what the day brings. rachel brathen going with the flow at the beach in aruba. photo: ben kane
Rachel Brathen: I mean it’s what brings us out of our comfort zones, right? If we never do anything that scares us even a little bit, we’re never going to evolve, or grow, or change; we’re going to be stuck in the same place—which is maybe fine for a while, but I feel like as human beings we are meant to evolve and to grow and learn. So I feel like instead of being terrified of that little voice that says, “This is scary,” learning to take that for what it is and see that that’s an opportunity for you to grow. It means that it’s exciting, and you’re onto something.
JF: Yeah, so maybe we can turn that question on you: what’s something right now that’s on your edge, you know, maybe a little bit outside of your comfort zone that you’re leaning into to grow and expand?Rachel Brathen: For me it’s public speaking, and it always has been, so it’s something that I’ve taken kind of gradually. I was really nervous to teach, and I write about that in the book as well. When I was a new teacher, just speaking in front of a crowd was never in my comfort at all—and I know that’s the case for many people. But I feel like now I keep continuously pushing that boundary. I used to be nervous teaching small classes, and now I teach these huge groups of a thousand people and that’s not a problem, but I’m still nervous about the idea of standing up alone in front of a crowd and just talking. So I’m taking that one step at a time… I do a lot of talks and moderated talks right now, and I have done a few talks on my own, but there’s still fear left there, so I’m heading into that direction.
MM: That’s awesome.
JF: Yeah, it’s interesting how with everything you’re doing you’re kind of just thrust into the spotlight, and it’s like ready or not here it comes.
Rachel Brathen: I know, I know it’s crazy! I just now came from an AOL event that was live-streamed to ten million people. It was like the biggest thing ever [laughs] and for it I was speaking and talking. It’s always nerve-wracking beforehand, but it turned out beautiful and really nice. I feel that sharing your voice is a big thing, so I think it’s a fear everybody wants to overcome.
“Creating any type of change, even if it’s positive change, is really hard from that view—from a place of non-acceptance.”
JF: Well beautiful, congratulations on that by the way, that sounds like a huge step.
Rachel Brathen: Thank you.
JF: At one point in your book you talk about your yoga practice moving from your body to your heart, and that’s something that you can’t really force and happens differently for each person, and so we were just hoping you could maybe elaborate on what the shift was like for you and maybe help some other people get some insight into what that is like.
Rachel Brathen: Yeah absolutely, I feel that so many people come to the practice these days and it’s from a purely physical standpoint, which is absolutely okay. It’s a lot easier to begin with the body and then work into the heart from there. But whatever takes you to the mat, if you practice long enough, is going to eventually bring you to deeper places. And I’ve found that things that we hold onto emotionally, and things that are stuck—maybe from our past or fears, and maybe patterns that we have that aren’t true to who we actually are that come from fear—going into the physical practice is going to bring that up. But we can also choose to end there and to not delve into that, or we can choose to go a little bit deeper and explore. And I’ve found that the hard moments in life—you know the times where crap happens, if it’s loss or death or disease, or drama, which is always going to continue to come our way—those are all big opportunities to go deeper into that part of the practice. Instead of being freaked out or terrified when bad moments come our way, I feel like as a yoga practitioner, there’s an opportunity to take that onto the mat. It won’t be about the chaturangas or the down dogs anymore, but maybe a little bit more about the feeling of it all, and the emotions and the heart, and growing as human beings, not just in the physical way.
JF: Yeah, I think that’s important what you said about how these things show up for us and there is really wisdom in them. But if we’re running away from that, we’re missing the merit, and they’re really leading us to a place where we can go deeper into ourselves and perhaps understand where we’re not healed. They’re really gifts because they’re showing us those parts of ourselves that need the most love, and you can’t give it that love if you’re not aware of it, right?
Rachel Brathen: Absolutely, and if everything is always butterflies and rainbows you never learn those lessons.
it’s a lot easier to begin with the body and then work into the heart from there. yoga girl puts her own words of wisdom into action. photo: dennis schoneveld
MM: In your book you talk about acceptance of yourself, and that’s such a profound concept that a lot of people can really benefit from, can you tell us how you apply that daily in your life?
Rachel Brathen: I feel like in a way our whole society has kind of been turned backwards almost. Everything is so centered around [the idea] that we always have to change; we’re never adequate; we’re never told that it’s okay to be the way we are because we always have to be smarter, or even if you’ve lost weight, you have to lose more weight, or you have to be fitter, or you have to do this and this and that, and I feel that creating any type of change, even if it’s positive change, is really hard from that view—from a place of non-acceptance. We’re always going to keep slipping back into those patterns of imbalance… in whatever we’re struggling with if we don’t begin with finding that acceptance first. I feel that once we’ve accepted who we are, and we truly love ourselves for what we are, it’s much easier to make those decisions. It’s easier to care for the body if we actually love the body that we have. It’s something that I see with young girls and people that come to retreats, and classes all over as well, is that finding a truer happiness, something that’s easier to actually attain, begins from the heart. It doesn’t begin with losing weight or changing anything that’s physical or material, at all. But it’s a big concept, and I feel like it’s really foreign to many of us.
MM: Yeah, it’s definitely one of those things that sounds so simple but then when you actually work into that phase and go into that, it’s very complex to really come out with that true love and acceptance, so thank you for that insight.
JF: Yeah, I think another interesting thing there too is the whole idea of what you resist persists. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, and you don’t like yourself, and you’re resisting that part, it’s just going to keep going, but when you move into acceptance, that’s when you’re actually free from it, and you let go. I always like to use the analogy of a little kid with his hand in the jar trying to pull out a piece of candy or something, and he can’t get his hand out of the jar—he’s holding onto the candy, right? And as soon as you let go, then your hand can slip right out, and you can just dump the candy out into your hand. I feel like that’s the principle of acceptance: the problems are only created because we perceive them as problems, right? If we just let them go, and just accepted them not as problems, but just as what’s happening, there’s wisdom there, and that’s really like the zen moment.
Rachel Brathen: Absolutely, yeah, and what we focus on magnifies, right? So it’s better to focus on the love or the light that we have present as opposed to focusing on everything that’s difficult as well.
JF: Yeah absolutely.MM: What I love too is that social media can often be like this place and this platform of comparison and judgment and negativity, but you have really managed to align it so well with a yogic philosophy and lifestyle. How do you balance both? How do you balance that side of social media that doesn’t really include people in that space of acceptance?
Rachel Brathen: I feel like social media is really special because there’s two such different sides of it. It can be absolutely horrible and full of ego, and narcissistic, with negative comments and sites, and that is a part of social media that I really don’t resonate with at all. But I’ve also realized that it is what you make it, so what you send out you’re going to get in return. And even though I have this huge following, I very rarely have hateful comments or people that are just judgmental of me for no reason. There’s always going to be a few crazy people out there of course with a following that big, but I am continuously surprised and just blown away by how wise people are, even on the Internet. And I feel like the more I direct awareness towards the light and towards this type of thinking, it just resonates with people, and that’s the people that I attract. I’ve actually compared a couple times with other people with similar-sized accounts that I have on my Instagram account, with one or maybe two million people, who are celebrities, or models, or actors—and just the hate that you can find in those comment feeds it’s absolutely insane, it’s a horrible thing. But even though sometimes I get some negativity, it’s a very pure community that I’ve created through the yoga girl account.
“I really believe in that idea of what we send out, we attract.”
MM: Yeah, I think that’s definitely a good point that the energy that you’re putting out is attracting a like energy, and then even who you’re surrounding yourself with on social media can make such a big difference in your day, and your life really, of how positive or how uplifting your day-to-day interaction is on your phone.
Rachel Brathen: Yeah it’s so true.
JF: I think one of the things that I’ve noticed is like almost bringing a spiritual practice into social media. Usually your feed is a reflection of where you’re at. There’s that thing that people say, “you’re the sum of the five people you spend the most time with,” and I think that the whole Facebook and Instagram thing is like a spin on that. So if you want to know what you’re most focused on, you just take a look at your feed and that really gives a picture of what you’re accepting and what you’re letting into your life, and so it’s kind of just an interesting way to self-reflect. But I also imagine it must be interesting for you with so many people that you’re following that it maybe gets kind of diluted at that level, I don’t know…
Rachel Brathen: You know, there’s all kinds of people that follow me, but I’m definitely very picky with who I follow. So if I ever see something in my feed that I don’t resonate with, I unfollow immediately. I’m a very silent Instagrammer, personally. I don’t comment; I very rarely like things, but I feel like your phone can become like a vision board of what do you want to create: do you want to feel inspired or motivated? And there’s a very thin line between inspiring someone and inspiring jealousy. They are two different things. I feel you can either show a real side to life, which is good things but also neutral or bad, or you can show this kind of unattainable perfection, which social media is so filled with that.
JF: Yeah, and I feel like it’s one of those things where it’s neutral; it’s whatever you make of it. It can be a tool for positive change, or it can be a tool for getting lost further in ego drama. And I think what you’re doing is really cool because you’re creating a space for positive change. People see you really stepping into your power, and living your dreams, and doing what you love—it’s inspiring. I think that is so important as we go forward, really as leaders especially, with what we’re doing with the magazine and what you’re doing with your whole movement and your tribe, it’s like we have to really be the change that we want to see in the world.Rachel Brathen: Mhhm, yeah it’s really true. I feel now is a crucial point in time too. I feel like the world can go either way: it can spin off into shit [laughs] or it can spin off into light. It’s really important what we do with our time and our energies right now.
MM: Yeah, totally. Another thing that you talk about in Yoga Girl is this idea of a complete trust in life, and I believe you say, “Life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us.” Again, this is a really powerful concept that we’d love to hear you say more about.
Rachel Brathen: Yeah, this is a difficult concept for people to swallow when bad things happen. You know, when everything is good and easy, it’s easier to feel that we’re supported and cared for and that things happen the way they’re supposed to. But the moment we’re faced with a trauma, or crisis, or heavy things that we can’t avoid—and they’re always going to happen—it can be really really hard to feel in that moment that there is something good that comes out of really horrible situations as well. And I feel like that’s something that you have to learn to experience. It is really hard to move through grief or to move through pain and come out on the other side and realize that something good was brought out of that. But if you look for it, you’ll eventually find it. And if you actually trust that things are going to work out the way they are supposed to, they eventually will. And it means that we trust that we are in the right place, and we will start attracting more positivity into our lives as well, as opposed to living with fear and feeling like we’re always in the wrong place or insecure. You know, I always say and I really believe that this trust brings in stability into our lives … I always leave my bags, my purses, my stuff everywhere—like everywhere—intentionally. If I go to the bathroom, I’ll leave it on the bar, even in New York City, and I always just say silently to myself, “everything’s safe”, and then I go. I’ve never had anything stolen in my entire life, ever, so I believe that feeling, that energy of “Oh, can you watch my bag, please, oh someone’s going to take it”—that fearful vibe of something happening is what attracts that type of experience. Am I making any sense at all? I’m not telling people to go leave your purses all over New York City or anything like that, but I really believe in that idea of what we send out, we attract.
“Eventually you’ll see that things are always working out in your favor.”
MM: Yeah, I think we both totally agree, and I love that you make the point that there’s a lesson for everything in every experience because then when it hurts and it’s painful just coming back to those fundamentals, of breath and movement and care for your body and meditation, that’s important. And then you also make the point that really trusting life can be as simple as your action of leaving your front door open and really feeling and acting in that idea of trust.
Rachel Brathen: Yeah, very true.
JF: I totally agree with you about life happening for you. I’ve had so many experiences that in the moment, it seems kind of random or like, “Why would this happen?” But in retrospect, maybe a few weeks, or even months down the line, you realize it was totally a huge blessing. And that’s really the key, right? We’re always so focused on what’s happening right now that we can’t understand that there’s greater things in the works, right? Just because something seems kind of crazy, doesn’t mean that something great isn’t going to happen. And so I think, like you’re saying, you kind of just have to get in that mindset and experience it, and trust it, and then eventually you’ll see that things are always working out in your favor.
Rachel Brathen: Yeah, that’s true, and I feel that the more of those experiences we have, the more we learn, right? So the next time we’re in that horrible place, you might realize, “Okay, it’s worth something”. Before that, we have to learn the lesson afterwards, you know?
JF: Yeah, absolutely. We are starting to round out towards the end so I think we have one final question for you that we like to ask all our different guests, and that is: what does living a conscious lifestyle mean to you?
Rachel Brathen: Living a conscious lifestyle to me means living with what the day brings. So that doesn’t mean that everything has to be scheduled or everyday looks like this, but I feel like learning to adapt and going with the flow of what today is, is conscious to me. And sometimes that means going out of my way to do the opposite of what I was planning, [laughs] but really to keep that connection with my heart and change and adapt as I need.
JF: Right, and so to let that guide you in basically every moment is what you’re saying?
Rachel Brathen: Yes, as much as I can—its not always easy, [laughs] but it’s definitely a practice.
MM: That’s awesome, thank you.
Rachel Brathen: Thank you.
Rachel Brathen is a New York Times bestselling author, motivational speaker, and world-renowned yoga instructor residing in Aruba. After graduating school in Stockholm she traveled to Costa Rica where she found the joy of incorporating yoga into her everyday life. After moving to Aruba in early 2010 she started teaching yoga full time. Rachel is best known as Yoga Girl on Instagram where she shares wisdom, inspiration, fears and struggles alongside photos of the ocean, her yoga practice and her life. She leads workshops all across the globe, focusing on handstands, arm balances, vinyasa foundation and fearless living. Find her on Instagram @Yoga_Girl and online at rachelbrathen.com.
About The Authors
Meghan McDonald is the Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Conscious Lifestyle Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in social psychology from San Diego State University where she conducted award-winning research into the nature of human social behavior. She is an advocate for many environmental and social justice causes and a champion of social impact-focused brands and products that adhere to high sustainability and ethical standards. As a regular travel and lifestyle contributor to Conscious Lifestyle Magazine, Meghan funnels her extensive knowledge of natural products, organic living, and consumer behavior into researching and reviewing brands and products that promote health, wellbeing, sustainability, equality, and positive social change. She has traveled to over 25 countries and loves exploring diverse destinations worldwide while documenting the local artisans and businesses offering conscious, healthy alternatives.