“I’m twenty six years old. I live in Aruba with my husband and our ginormous pack of dogs. I teach yoga. Originally, I’m a yoga teacher. I’m also a writer and an author and I travel the world doing yoga classes, doing retreats, and writing about my experience, and sharing that online.”
It sounds like quite a normal existence, until you realise that Rachel Brathen’s social media following is in the millions, the writing includes a bestselling book and the travelling a packed-out book tour. One of the original Instagram yogis, Brathan aka Yoga Girl, is a yoga teacher turned entrepreneur. Beginning with pictures of Aruba and yoga, her following really grew as she talked openly about losing her grandmother, best friend and beloved dog, all in the space of a year. We asked her for her views on social media, yoga, what she’s learned about business and surviving grief.
On social media:
How to build a social media following: “whatever it is that you’re offering, it needs to be something that you’re really, truly passionate about. It shouldn’t just be, ‘Oh, here’s an opportunity. I should try to do that.’
I think that if it’s something that’s genuine to the path you want to be on, it’s much, much easier and you’re going to have fun every day working as opposed to feeling like it’s a job and you have to force yourself to do it. I think the most important thing is to find what that passion is and then pursue it. I think all those little things just kind of fall into place if we’re doing what we’re meant to do.”
Why authenticity matters: “I realized that the more authentic the words that I would share every single day, not just the picture perfect stuff, the more my following would grow and the more people would resonate with what I said. I try to gear it towards that more genuine direction”
The dangers of believing everything you see on Instagram: “everyone has a normal life but [on social media] no one shares the normal parts of life. You only share the highlights and the best angles and the filters... it becomes a very unobtainable thing to live up to. If you just look through social media, you’re always going to feel inadequate. Like your life is never as exciting as everybody else’s and everybody is fulfilled except me.”
Who you work with matters: “I learned it’s really hard to do business with family and friends, which everybody told me beforehand but, when I started all I could think was, ‘Why would I want to hire anybody else? I have all these qualified people around me that I love,’ but it’s really hard to mix emotional ties with professional ties and that’s something that I learned the past three years.
Why we need more honesty in business: “I’ve had other ventures with other friends where it’s been like friction and then, because you’re friends, you can’t talk about it honestly. I mean, I think doing business should be a very spiritual practice as well. You know, the more authenticity you bring into it, the easier it is for things to flow and run.”
Know where home begins and work ends: “I work with my husband... If we didn’t know where that ends, we would have a really hard time staying married I think. We have to have really clear rules, like before ten in the morning , especially at home, we don’t use computers or phones or social media. We try to just be really at home and then, at six, we stop and then we talk about other things and close our computers. It’s hard sometimes, especially when we’re traveling when it all kind of mixes together, but you need to know where your private space is.
On yoga as a business:
“I think it’s good that we’re adapting the practice to fit modern day life because it is an ancient, ancient practice and for it to stick and continue with society, it needs to evolve a little bit - but it’s also easy to get lost in all of it. I mean, now there’s horseback riding yoga and there’s crossfit yoga and there’s hip hop. There are all sorts of crazy things. I think it doesn’t really matter how you find the practice or in what way. I get a lot of people in class that just want to learn the handstand. That’s it. They don’t care about breath. They don’t care about any spirituality. They just want to go upside down and that’s fine. They’ll start that way and then, if they stick with the practice, inevitably they’ll find some of that with time.
How do you cope? “You try to survive. You try to stay afloat and kind of wait for time to pass. I think, for me, part of it was I shared it all online and I didn’t really have a choice. I couldn’t fake it. I couldn’t pretend like everything was still great when it was absolutely not... I could have just disappeared completely and just shut all my things down but writing, for me, is a way to heal. It’s a way to cope and process and I’d never really shared those kinds of things like that before online so, I didn’t know the response I would get.”
The response online: “It was kind of like taking my whole community through a washing machine and all the creeps and perverts that wanted to see a girl in a bikini and in a handstand. They are not interested in following someone’s process of that grief so, they all took off. It was a really good thing. It really cleaned out my space but everybody goes through this in life.... then it becomes one of those things we kind of put away. We don’t talk about it and it becomes worse and worse. You know, we box it away somewhere and we put on this big smile and ‘I’m fine, I’m fine’. Then, if we’re not, it eats at us... A lot of people started reaching out and sharing their own stories of their own grief and sadness or whatever they were working though so it became almost like a collective healing process.”
Her proudest moment: “I think surviving all of last year.”