When I was recently offered the chance to take a yoga class with @Yoga_Girl, aka yoga celebrity Rachel Brathen, my immediate response was, "heck yes." Dealing with a full-time job, a fully packed social life, and the kind of financial issues that only come from spending money on things you can't afford, I needed to de-stress and relax, and I knew there was no better way to do that than to spend an hour with Rachel Brathen.
For those of you who don't pay much attention to the yoga world, Brathen is a yoga instructor and inspirational speaker who lives in Aruba and has put together a truly stunning and popular Instagram account, @Yoga_Girl. Every day, Rachel posts gorgeous pictures of herself doing insane yoga poses, or just enjoying her beautiful life in the Caribbean to her 1.3 million followers.
Rachel recently released her first book, aptly titled Yoga Girl, and is currently in the middle of a book tour. She stopped in New York to fill fellow yoga enthusiasts in on what the book was about, and to give a small, private yoga class for a few editors in a random office building in the city (you never knew a meeting room could be so zen). Yoga Girl is a book every aspiring yoga fan should buy — it includes Rachel’s inspirational stories, along with lots of photos of yoga poses and sequences with instructions that show you how to do them on your own, and even a few recipes.
Going into my class with Rachel and the other editors, I was honestly pretty nervous. I’ve done yoga before a few times, but I’ve never even come close to being really good at it. I would love to dedicate more time to a yoga practice, but with a packed schedule, it’s really hard.
I worried that I was going to totally embarrass myself in the class, but the opposite ended up happening. It was a seriously amazing experience that left me feeling more calm than I had in months. I left feeling inspired to really try to do yoga every morning — and I also learned a whole lot from Rachel about how even beginners can get into the practice. No, really, even if you have no idea what you're doing, you can pull off a regular yoga routine in your bedroom every single morning. Here's what I learned from Rachel herself.
1. You don't have to spare an hour a day to dedicate to yoga practice
Rachel says: "I really recommend doing something every day, but maybe changing the idea of what a yoga practice has to look like. You know, if you always have this idea that yoga every day has to be 90 minutes of practice, it’s really hard to fit that in seven days a week. It’s almost impossible for most of us. So coming to your mat every day, just rolling out your mat, and seeing what that day brings [is helpful]. Maybe it’s five minutes before you go to bed. Maybe it’s a little bit of meditation...Then with time, the more you practice, you find that those five minutes become 10, and then they turn into 15, and with time we kind of have that natural feeling of wanting to be on the mat every day."
2. It's OK to be bad at focusing on your breathing
I've always been intimidated by yoga because it's so hard for me to calm down enough to just think about my breathing. Rachel says: "If we think we’re going to be completely present every time, and not think anything… it’s just not really how the mind works. There’s always going to be thoughts and problems that we struggle with. I really believe in continuously bringing the awareness back to the breath without judging or saying, 'oh my God, I’m so bad at yoga, I’m so bad at meditating, I keep thinking of all these things.' Just continuously come back to the breath. It’s the essence of the practice."
3. Yoga is not all about being the most flexible girl in the room
I'm not that flexible, and that's another reason yoga has always been intimidating. When I asked Rachel how to be more flexible, she said, "Keep practicing. That’s why it’s called a practice, because we’re never really finished. I mean, I couldn’t touch my toes when I started. I thought I was the worst person in class and everyone else was so great, but that’s never the case. You’re just focusing on you and taking it one step at a time."
4. You have to let go of your yoga stereotypes in order to succeed
Rachel says: "I think the hardest part is how we judge ourselves. We think that we can’t start a practice because we’re not good enough, or we’re not flexible enough, or we’re not thin enough. Or we have this idea that a yogi has to be a young blonde girl who’s flexible and in Lululemon pants, when the fact of the matter is that we should just take the yoga practice and make it your own, and that’s for everyone, no matter if you’re young or old or big or small, men and women. It’s a personal thing. I think overcoming that is just finding what works for you."
5. Yoga should never, ever hurt
Rachel says: "We don’t want pain. Moving into the uncomfortable, being in the stretch, that’s one thing. But feeling actual sharp pain… there’s a difference between that, and listening to the body helps you tell that difference.”
6. You should set aside a spot in your house just for yoga practice
Rachel says: "Maybe it’s your place where you read, or your place where you have a little corner at home that’s sacred; that when you go there you automatically have that in your brain, 'this is not where I take my phone, this is not my place for the Internet, this is a place to relax and for you.' That helps a lot."
7. If you can take a class, you should
Rachel says: "The class setting is really good because it’s a community. It’s always good to have a teacher to actually look at you and help correct you and help actually see you so you learn the poses correctly. So for you to be in a class is very rewarding."
8. Yoga really could be the cure to your stress
Rachel says: "Learning how to connect to the breath and learning how to really find a sense of calm is something that we can have with us not just when we’re in the class and not just when we’re on the mat, but into our work life and our family life. Learning how to not move into stress all the time is really something that benefits us.”