Originally published by AOL here.
For Rachel Brathen, aka “Yoga Girl” to her 1.5 million Instagram followers, Yoga isn’t just a hobby or a way to get in shape. It’s a lifestyle. While we all love to live vicariously through Brathen as she takes on the caribbean seas one Instagram pic at a time, it’s her refreshing perspective on the practice that deems her a Yoga icon for so many followers.
Brathen seeks not only to inspire, but also to spread empathy through her acclaimed Instagram account. She may have taken the path less followed with her life, but the difficulties she’s endured are universally human. She fuses her Yoga studies into every aspect of her life.
Living in Aruba, Brathen offers a breath of fresh air many Yoga enthusiasts don’t experience in their daily lives. She ditched the typical college route in favor leaving her home in Sweden to take on as many beautiful, interesting places as she could. From moving to Costa Rica completely alone to living with her new husband and nine stray dogs in Aruba, the Yogi’s life is anything but ordinary. She’s even a New York Times bestselling author with her hit book, “Yoga Girl.” People are lining up to read her book, take her 500-person Yoga classes, adopt a dog from herdog adoption program, and experience Yoga on the open waters with her SUP Yoga technique.
We were lucky enough to chat with the social superstar in order to gain more insight to who she is, how she got there, and why the whole social media sphere is completely in love with her.
Your website says you found your love for daily Yoga when you traveled to Costa Rica after high school. What was it about that environment or that time in your life that inspired you?
I had been wanting to move away from Sweden my whole life because Sweden is very cold in more ways than one. I think a lot of it was also being on my own because I was living on my own for the first time in a new country and I was just inspired to try new things. Within a year I became vegan, I found Yoga in a real way, and I changed my whole life.
How do you incorporate Yoga studies into the rest of your daily life and interactions?
Yoga really translates well to every area of your life. It’s not just what we do on the mat a lot of it is what we learn on the mat. It helps us learn how to cultivate presence and to become present even when things are hard if you’re having a stressful day or going through a rough time. Yoga can really teach you how to sit back and take a deep breath and realize that it’s usually not the end of the world. It’s really more of a lifestyle than anything.
It sounds like it’s very therapeutic for you also.
It is. A lot of the emotional tension that we hold in the body gets really stuck in different areas. Physically releasing sometimes in the hips or in the shoulders can release emotional blockages as well which is why a lot of people get really emotional when they first start practicing Yoga.
What is it like to teach huge Yoga classes all over the world?
It’s amazing! It’s a dream. It’s really really wonderful. Some people are nervous and they wonder how you can you ever keep a class of 500 people intimate but it’s sometimes more intimate than a regular small setting class. Having huge groups of people breathing together and coordinating their movements and their intention. Everyone’s there with the same purpose and it’s very powerful.
You have 1.5 million Instagram followers. When did you create your Instagram account and why do you think you’ve cultivated so many followers?
It was around three years ago. I think a lot of it is that I live in a really beautiful place. The Caribbean lifestyle is very inspiring and people want to be motivated to stay healthy and to move and to feel good. I tried really early on to find a balance between inspiring but also allowing myself to stay really genuine and human even on life. If I’m having a bad day I’ll say so. If I’m having insecurity issues I’ll share them. It’s just much easier to resonate with a person who’s a real human being rather than someone who pretends to be perfect.
Yeah, empathy definitely goes a long way on social media.
And it’s so needed!
Do you ever experience negative social media interactions? How do you deal with the haters?
I do but not to the extent that other people do. I think I get less hate and judgment because it’s a Yoga-centered account so the people who follow me tend to be a little bit more mindful than the people who follow an actress or a model. There’s always going to be hateful people who are there for the wrong reasons. I think it’s okay for people to have their own opinions. If it’s super nasty or people start arguing I sometimes moderate a little bit in the comment section but a lot of it is just realizing that it’s not personal at all. Sometimes just being yourself can tick other people off. But mostly it’s just very loving and positive.
You’re clearly a role model for thousands of people all over the world. If you could give them one piece of advice for living a healthier and happier life, what would it be?
I think to just really trust that you are where you are for a reason. A lot of times we tend to completely doubt everything around us when we find ourselves in a tough place and I think once we’re out of that space we can realize that the things that we learn when times are rough are the most worthwhile lessons that we can learn. Trusting that everything happens for a purpose has really helped me along the way.
What made you decide to write your book “Yoga Girl”?
I wanted to share a little bit more in depth my own path to the practice. It’s easy for people to believe that it was just really simple for me and a lot of what I share now is a bit more of an advanced practice which wasn’t the case at all for me. I started out with a lot of back pain and a lot of issues so I had to be very patient in the beginning. I really believe Yoga is for everyone and you can begin with what you have and where you are right now. I wanted to share my kind of struggles and obstacles and everything that it took to get me to where I am today.
On that note, what recommendations do you have for people wanting to get into Yoga?
To just do it! Your mind will always tell you 100 different reasons as to why you shouldn’t or why you can’t like you’re not flexible enough or you don’t have time. If something is calling you towards the practice don’t overthink it. Just start. I always tell people to try many different teachers and styles until you find a teacher that you really resonate with and a style that fits your life. Not everybody should be practicing a super hardcore dynamic type of practice. A calm quiet practice also isn’t always enough to everybody. Just find what works for you.
What practice would you say works for you the best?
It’s a mix between Vinyasa flow which is very dynamic and sweaty with all of the inversions that I really enjoy and Yin style practice which is very restorative and slow and mellow. I think that goes for most people when you’ve got balance between high and low.
Have you always considered yourself a writer? Do you think your yoga studies and passion for writing are connected in any way?
I definitely think so, yes. I was writing long before I was practicing and teaching Yoga. I always wanted to write a book. It’s definitely helped me develop a good way to express my emotions which I find now a lot of people resonate with across the world and it enables them to express theirs. When it comes to teaching Yoga, every class is like telling a story. That helps me as a teacher.
Tell me more about SUP Yoga. How are your muscles used differently in SUP Yoga than in Yoga on land?
It’s essentially the same I mean we practice the same type of Yoga which is usually slowed down a little bit more. You have to use your core and legs more than you would in a regular practice. You just constantly have to be balancing and stabilizing yourself as the board is moving the whole time. It’s definitely more challenging but it also forces you to be very present. In a regular class you can lose focus like in “down dog” you can start thinking about dinner or you know your birthday or whatever and when you do that you’re still on your mat but in SUP Yoga if you lose focus you fall into the water.
Do you have a lot of people falling off their boards when they first try it?
Every time! Most people fall off. I like to make people fall off to get it out of the way and then people relax more.
Do you still have times when you fall off?
I do sometimes when I’m trying or learning new things for sure but I’ve been practicing for five years so I know how to work the waves a bit better now. Here the conditions are good the water is clear and warm and clean. I’ve taught in places where it’s not as favorable to fall in like when it’s freezing.
Tell me about your dog adoption program! How did it get started and what are your goals for it?
It’s called Sgt Pepper’s Friends. It’s an animal rescue based here in Aruba where we live. We work with different countries all over the world. Here we have a big issue with stray dogs because people don’t take very good care of their animals overall so there’s a problem with dogs just roaming the streets. All of my dogs except one are all rescues so I’ve always taken dogs in from the street.
Our first dog passed away about a year ago and I wanted to do something strong to honor his memory. The program began just as an Instagram account to facilitate adoptions and rescues through social media. I thought we’d share just one dog and then we got 500 emails from people wanting the dog. I thought, “what if we had 500 dogs?” we could really make an impact.
Now it’s a full on legal foundation and we do a lot. We’ve rescued a ton of animals so far and people are donating their time and money to support us. The dream is to start our own shelter. Maybe by next year we’ll have enough funds so we can do that. We’d like to start more campaigns to address the real problem which is spaying and neutering your animals. Right now we’re just rescuing as many dogs as we can.
I saw your latest Instagram of the eight puppies you guys have over there right now. They’re so cute! By the way, congratulations on your wedding last year! Does your husband practice Yoga with you?
Yes, he does!
Do you guys challenge each other or gain inspiration from each other?
We have a really different type of practice. I practice every day and I like to get really dynamic and my husband surfs and skateboards and dives and has all these other hobbies in addition to Yoga. So I practice a lot more but we have a little space here where we practice together in the mornings. If you haven’t done Yoga with your spouse or husband or wife it’s really really nice. It’s amazing.