Rachel Brathen on Motherhood, #MeToo, and the Future of Yoga

The teacher who found fame on Instagram shares how she's pivoted to use her platform to serve a deeper purpose.

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I spend a lot of time every day just laughing and smiling with my baby girl. There’s something so beautifully intelligent about feeling your feelings in the moment, the way babies do. There’s no filter or faking it. When she’s sad, she cries; when she’s happy she laughs. I think we would all feel a lot better if we allowed ourselves to feel things when they surface.

In 2014, I decided I wanted to do something good with the influence I had as @yoga_girl. I was sick of posting yoga photos on Instagram. And I started feeling uninspired by the yoga community that grew out of social media, even though I was part of that growth. A lot of people in my life passed away that year, so I started writing about my painful journey. My entire Instagram following changed. I used to get questions about yoga poses or pants, but then people started asking for serious help—with depression and loss, eating disorders, even suicide. I’m not a therapist, so my staff and I began looking for people we could connect readers to. I realized I needed to go way deeper if I was going to actually be of service. That’s when we started (online education), which spurred 109 World (a seva organization), our animal rescue, and eventually Island Yoga in Aruba.

I want Island Yoga, our retreat and teacher training business, to remain a very different type of yoga experience. The work we do is more related to personal development than asana. Our method involves a lot of sharing—in groups and one on one. Our trainings help people feel whole. If we don’t feel whole, we’re always going to feel like we’re not enough. But if you can be a whole person, you’re going to be a good yoga teacher.

For me, yoga is now about connecting people so they can create community. That’s really hard to do online and through social media. I kind of hope everything spins back around and drops off the Internet—that people loop back into the practice of student-teacher relationships and being in a room with other people. Social media still has a place—for example the #metoo movement. I just wish more teachers, especially younger teachers in the online space, would think of social media as a way to help the world, instead of just as a way to become a big name. There is so much work to be done.

See also #TimesUp: Ending Sexual Abuse in the Yoga Community