Yoga Guru Rachel Brathen on Purpose in Life’s Challenges

They told her she needed spinal surgery when she was sixteen, but as it turns out all Rachel Brathen needed was yoga. After finding her practice and healing her body, Rachel began teaching yoga to a handful of people on a beach in Aruba. After Rachel opened herself up on social media, her practice grew exponentially and she became an internet sensation. Now known as Yoga Girl, Rachel spends her time traveling the globe to bring yoga to others. Conscious Connection had the good fortune of chatting with Rachel during her current tour across the United States.

Conscious Connection: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, Rachel. You’re In the middle of a big tour right now for your new book, Yoga Girl. How did this happen? How did Rachel Brathen become Yoga Girl?

Rachel Brathen: It was fairly quick, and certainly unexpected. At first when I came to social media I was solely oriented on the physical aspects of yoga, but when I began to share a little more of an in-depth view of my life, it got a huge response. It suddenly became about a lot more than yoga.

That’s when I realized that this was something that was really lacking in social media: people being really real with what they feel, and not just the good parts, but the insecurities and low points in life as well. I think when that is shared it makes people feel that they are less alone and that they can connect with you on a deeper level.

Conscious Connection: What inspired you to write Yoga Girl?

Rachel Brathen: I wanted to share an in-depth look into the journey I traveled in finding my practice. I learned through my social media following that many people think my life has been all butterflies and rainbows, that yoga has always been part of my life, that it came naturally to me and that it has been easy, but it definitely wasn’t that way. I wanted to people to know the true story.

Conscious Connection: You actually faced quite a bit of adversity and overcame major obstacles and challenges in your life. Tell us about how you overcame those challenges and came out on the other side.

Rachel Brathen: I had a lot of back pain growing up, and I was actually supposed to have reconstructive spinal surgery at the age of sixteen. It was all really intense, and thankfully I found meditation to help with that. Then through meditation I became interested in yoga, and someone told me that yoga could help my back pain.

When I started the physical aspect of the practice, I couldn’t even touch my toes. Simple things like twists were extremely difficult for me, and it took a long time and a lot of patience to find a practice that I was comfortable with. In Yoga Girl, I tried to share as much as I could about of these challenges in hopes that my story will inspire readers with difficulties to keep searching until they find success as well.

Conscious Connection: Is there any particular yoga pose that seemed to help you the most?

Rachel Brathen: Viparita karani, which is legs-up-the-wall pose, is a very restorative pose, and it was a really big pose for me when it came to healing my back pain. It’s something that I still do every day.

Rachel Brathen Viparita karani pose
Rachel in her favorite (most restorative) yoga post: Viparita karani, which is legs-up-the-wall pose. This position has been instrumental in healing her back pain.

Conscious Connection: Rachel, it seems like the hardships you faced with your back were instrumental in helping to shape you into the person that you are today. What is one piece of advice you could give to someone who is currently facing hardships?

Rachel Brathen: I feel we never get more than we can handle; I really do believe that is an absolute truth. And we learn with time. The first time you go through a big moment of crises or trauma or pain, it is really difficult to see the bigger picture, and everything feels like it’s the end of the world. But it’s those trials that essentially shape us and make us grow, and we get them at a point in our lives when we need a spurt of personal growth. It’s often when we’re at a fork in the road and we don’t know which way to turn that something happens, and it forces us to reevaluate our lives and make some big decisions.

It can take quite some time to find the clarity of hindsight, but after most of our difficult times, we can look back and realize that the difficulty served a purpose. My most important moments in my life have all been horrible, but very valuable.

Conscious Connection: Are there any major decisions you have made that you wish you had made differently, or do you think that truly everything has happened for a reason and there’s really nothing you would change about it?

Rachel Brathen: That is a huge question. I really do believe that everything happens the way it is meant. Something I’m currently struggling with now and is that my dog passed away in August. I’ve lost a lot of people in my life, but for me it was different losing my first pet, because I feel responsible. Right now, if I could change anything, I certainly would have taken my dog to another vet. But I’m also sure that in another few years I’ll look at that question differently.

Conscious Connection: As you went through some of your pivotal life moments, how did meditation help you get through those moments? How has it contributed to who you are now?

Rachel Brathen: A huge lesson I have learned from meditation, and something I actually believe is more important than the physical aspect of yoga, is learning to find peace in the present moment. Once you can do that, you can learn to distance yourself a little bit from things that come your way; you can put some space in between events and how you react to them.

Taking time to step back and see the bigger picture rather than acting in the moment can significantly change how we lay our lives out. It makes us less dramatic and less aggressive, and it changes who and what we attract in our lives. It’s easier to be a good, calm, kind person if you can see life for what it actually is.

Rachel Brathan offers yoga retreats & paddle boarding in her adopted home of Aruba. Photo by Dennis Schoneveld.

Conscious Connection: Thank you for sharing that. Speaking of other people you attract, you recently married your soul mate, Dennis Schoneveld. So many people out there are struggling to find the right one – what do you see as being beneficial to helping people find their soul mate?

Rachel Brathen: I think that the idea of two halves making a whole when searching for your soul mate is misguided. People are always looking for someone to complete them. They think, “When I finally find the right person, I’m going to be content, I’m going to feel loved, I’m going to feel beautiful, I’m going to be happy.” But if you think of yourself as a half and you’re looking for someone else to make the rest of your life complete, you’re ultimately looking to fix something that’s flawed. With that mindset, you’re not genuinely searching from a place of love, but rather a place of fear – fear of being inadequate or alone.

So I feel that before you can find a soul mate, you truly need to find yourself first. For anyone out there who is saying, “I can’t find a boyfriend, I want a husband,” I say, “How about going to find you, and see where that takes you?” I know it sounds cliché to say, “Find yourself, find a partner,” but I truly believe that we’re not presented with the partner we’re supposed to have until we’ve found compassion for ourselves.

Conscious Connection: You’ve traveled to many exotic destinations with your practice. What has been your favorite?

Rachel Brathen: I really enjoyed Greece. Greece is wonderful, but I was there for my honeymoon, so probably anywhere we were would have been wonderful!

Honestly, when I travel, I find that the pleasure stems more from the people I meet rather than the place I go. I’ve had some really amazing experiences in New Jersey and in small towns in Connecticut, two places that are generally not referred to as exotic. It’s more about your state of mind than anything else. When you take an open mind with you, you can have exotic experiences wherever you go.

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