As a fellow Caribbean Yoga instructor, I found myself to be greatly inspired by Rachel’s sunny, free, loving and down to earth yoga style.
Her practice emits strength and joy and the bits of truth she puts out really resonate with me. She’s the starter of the whole #yogaeverydamnday movement, so clearly I’m not the only one who digs her!
I recently set up a Skype chat to learn a little more about her (and to discus potential future collaborations!) and voila, I present to you my interview with the SUP yoga + Instagram Queen herself.
Swedish native Rachel Brathen has been practicing yoga since she was a young teen. After graduating school ,she traveled to Costa Rica and it was here that she found the joy of incorporating yoga into her everyday life.
Deepening her yoga practice and also taking her first steps towards teaching, she ended up moving to Central America where she spent years exploring the intricate studies of yoga and spirituality. After moving to Aruba in early 2010, she now teaches yoga full time on this Caribbean island; her classes are a mix of Hatha and Vinyasa Flow, integrating alignment, core work and breathing techniques with basic poses and creative sequencing.
Each class is designed to energize the body, cultivate a meditative consciousness and give greater vitality and health.
Rachel is one of the first people in the world to take yoga from the mat and onto a paddle board and she now teaches SUP Yoga (Stand-Up Paddle board Yoga) on a daily basis. As a leader in the SUP Yoga community, she also hosts SUP Yoga retreats, master classes and workshops.
What prompted to to leave Sweden?
I was really young like 17 or 18…18. My plan was to go on this long trip—I really wanted to just get away. Sweden is cold and I was always kind of this lone hippy there—the weird one—and none of my friends did yoga or meditation. I was really lonely. I spoke Spanish already, so I decided to go to South America—Costa Rica.
I was supposed to have this long backpacking thing and I just never left the country! Ever! I fell in love. It was a huge awakening for me.
What drew you to Costa Rica?
I have some family in Columbia and I was going to go there at first and then I heard a scary story from a friend of a friend about something bad that happened there. Even though I now know it’s not dangerous at all, I changed my destination to Costa Rica, because I thought it was the safest place—but I never planned to stay there. I wanted to travel the whole world but I just loved it so much I didn’t leave!
Living on an island I find I miss proper society sometimes. Do you ever miss your family or feel lonely on the island?
My boyfriend has such an amazing group of friends that I felt at home right away. I hadn’t been living in Sweden for years—I was in Costa Rica for three years, spent a year traveling and then I met Dennis and moved here (Aruba).
So, I had already been away for a long time. I have sisters and brothers who are really young (my youngest sister now is 12 )and I feel like I’m missing this kind of vital part. I have one sister that’s 14, another 15 and another 16 and they are all going through their teens years and that’s the one thing I wish I could be there for
But, they come visit me every year and I go back there every year so it’s ok.
Did you go through a teen hell?
Oh, f*ck yes! We had a lot of rough stuff in my family and when I hit my teens, I just let it all out but that was also how I found yoga.
Because of that hell, I found another way.
Can you think of a specific major turning point in your life?
For me ,when I was going through the worst in my teens, my mom sent me to this meditation retreat. She had been there too and it really helped her and gave her a lot of tools to deal with stress.
I was drinking like crazy, doing all sorts of stupid stuff to my body and I was in this weird relationship forever that I wasn’t happy with. So, I kind of had to go to this place and also wanted to because I wanted the change.
I remember I was in a cab going to the retreat and I changed my mind, like, ‘I cannot do this, it’s too crazy; I’m going to be in this strange place for an entire week and I don’t know anyone!’ I started crying and I told the cab driver to turn around—I think I was 16—and the cab driver said to me, “Hey, I’ve seen a lot of people go to this place. I’ve never been, but it always seems like they come back without the sadness. I think you should give it a try. If after the first day it’s so bad just give me a call and I’ll pick you up and take you back to the train.’
So I went and It totally changed my life. It really, really did.
Tell us more about your diet.
I was vegan for six years, up until about a year ago. I stopped mainly because it is so hard in Aruba to maintain a healthy vegan diet. I struggled and ended up eating white pasta w/ tomato sauce or fries at every freakin’ restaurant we went to!
If there’s a Whole Foods where you live it’s the easiest thing ever, but here it’s just so difficult. So, slowly my grey area got a little bigger and now I’m a vegetarian but I don’t drink milk or eat eggs.
I avoid animal products if I can, but I’m not so strict with myself anymore. I don’t smoke and I don’t drink coffee in the morning—I don’t need it—but I’ll drink it as a treat if I want it.
I love sugar! I have a serious sweet tooth, so my challenge this month is no sugar—just fruits. I want to get away from that whole “needing” it—sugar is a super drug, it sucks! I love chocolate and dessert—I feel like the whole purpose of eating a meal is so you can have dessert!
I think this will be good for me…we will see how it goes, so far so good.
Have you been to India?
When I was little but not on a spiritual trip, no.
Are you drawn to it?
Not at all. I mean, I would like to, but there isn’t a huge calling. My best friend and I always talked about going and she just booked her yoga teacher training there and told me to come meet her. There is just so much going on now and it’s not pulling my heart enough.
Is there any specific place that does pull your heart?
The whole world! I want to go everywhere—I want to see everything.
What was your teacher training like?
I did my 200 hours on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. I had already been teaching for a year before that and I did it just to have the certification.
It was a nice experience and I made a lot of friends and sure I learned stuff, but it didn’t really resonate with me. I remember the first day the teacher sat down and we are about to have our first class and she looked down onto her mat and smacked a bug and killed it! Like, bam! And I’m sat across from her and I remember just gasping.
I don’t kill bugs, I never have. No one else reacted! Everyone just thought that was normal. At that moment, I realized it wasn’t right. She was nice though and it was all ok, but it just wasn’t a life changing thing for me, like Oh My God—I found yoga here!
Most of my real learning has come from the amazing teachers that we are so blessed to have here at Manchebo every year. When we do retreats with visiting teachers, I take every class so most of my real learning has been just following these amazing people…and Osho!
Aside from Osho, who’s your other favorite author.
I love Eckhart Tolle so much! My mom gave me The Power of Now when I was 16 and the first time I read it I felt nothing. It didn’t resonate at all. Then I read it half a year later and it changed my life. You just have to be in the right place.
So what did you study in school?
I didn’t finish, I left. I started studying sustainable development and environmental stuff and then…Sweden is just too cold and dark and I was really not happy there. So yea, after six months and my first semester…I left.
Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate any day!
Sweet or Salty?
Green juice or fruit juice?
Can I say chocolate? No I can’t…I really like bread—fresh baked bread. Like, little finger foods that you can dip.
SUP yoga or surfing?
So you are doing a lot of traveling now—are you still the retreat coordinator for Manchebo?
Yes—but I am traveling a lot. I have 26 trips booked this year! At first, I thought I was going to have to choose—quit my job or travel—but they are getting good marketing with me now, so they made me a deal where I can travel and keep my position. I have another girl helping me at the resort, so it’s working out really well.
Does your boyfriend join you when you travel?
He tries as much as he can. He’s teaching now too, which is really nice.
I had been trying to get him to practice forever and it was just never his thing until Brock and Krista Cahill came with a group that was half men (who were all normal, cool guys) with this insane—I mean insane—practice. They were doing six hours of yoga a day. Advanced yoga—I could not do it.
The first class I took I could do maybe 60%—I just stopped and stared. Brock was like, ‘Now we’re in half moon and moving into Chapasana variation and you’re kinda already in a one arm scorpion pose so just lift up’ and I’m like, ‘What in the world are you talking about!?’
Anyway, that really inspired Dennis and since then he’s really upped his practice and takes every class with me and is teaching a class a week too. Maybe eventually we can travel and teach together—that would be really cool.
So you do all of your own marketing and coordinating of trips and retreats?
Yes, unfortunately. It’s insane! Dennis is helping me now. He’s like the guy from “The Office” that wants to be the regional manager but isn’t allowed so he’s the assistant to the regional manager/my retreat coordinator. (laughs)
He gets like 100 emails per day. So, we are thinking now we are just gonna go all in (with teaching and travelling), because next year you never know, it might not be like this anymore…
What about a book or a DVD?
I’m going to Florida next week to shoot a DVD! It’s going to be the first actual SUP yoga DVD, so we are doing something with Boga. You watch it at home to get an idea of what moves you want to bring out onto the board with you and you can practice at home as well.
It will be all about how to care for your boards, how to paddle and it will have beginners and advanced sequences as well.
(DVD has since been created and will be available from BOGA soon!)
Ok, biggest secret tip for the handstands?
Ooohh—I mean the biggest, biggest, biggest tip is core work, but that not a secret.
A secret tip that I like to use is to not open your hips when you kick up, which is the biggest mistake people make.
You want your hands down, shoulders above wrists. With the leg lift, people often think ‘The more momentum I have, the easier it will be to get up’ (which is kind of true) but people tend to lower the leg down, bend the knee and swing it up, which throws the hip open. So, once you are up there, your hips are twisted and all the work you will need to do to rebalance yourself makes it harder than it needs to be.
Finding that alignment that you want in your handstand from the ground. Keep the hips squared off, flex the foot and keep the top leg super straight so no bending in the top leg and no opening of the hips.
This way, you have less to adjust when you are actually up there.
What’s your daily practice like and what style do you prefer to practice most?
For myself, it changes. I’m going through this phase now where I’m dealing with an old injury from a weird white water rafting accident—it usually never bothers me and now the past 10 days, it’s suddenly back.
It’s in the middle of my shoulder blades on the spine and is super painful, which means every vinyasa sucks and I don’t wanna do any handstands or strengthening of the upper body right now.
So, this past week I’ve been doing super restorative stuff, using the bolster, lying down and being really gentle. Normally what I love, love, love is a really rigorous practice. I’ll put music on and just kick my own ass for 90 minutes spending half the time upside down.
That’s what I love—and I like to dance too!
Yes, I play everything: rock, reggae, rap…everything…yoga type music too.
Tell us about the Nike Blast?
It was the craziest thing ever. Ever. It was incredible and a lot of fun.
It was hard to have an intimate connection with the class though because there are 350 people in it and I was on a stage with lights blasting in my face, huge screens everywhere—and if you can’t see the people you are teaching, you can’t tell how they are doing.
So, I had to just keep going—I actually jumped off the stage a few times because I wanted to assist and help and touch and adjust, but I wasn’t supposed to do that—I got in trouble.
It was challenging, but it was nice to have the opportunity to reach out to that many people.
I prefer the smaller classes though.
Still have more questions? Visit Rachel’s FB page, Instagram, or website to get in touch! You can also find her at Wanderlust this year (teaching SUP yoga, of course!) or join her at one of her retreats!
Brittany (Britta) Trubridge (B.A. Psychology), creator of B-Tru Yoga™, is a 500h RYT of the Sivananda Vedanta School, an Ayurvedic Counselor and a Reiki Healer with specialties in acupressure, crystal and chakra therapies. Britta is also an avid freediver and is the yoga specialist for the elite Vertical Blue freediving school. Her synergistic work in combining yoga and freediving has allowed for a great depth of experience with internal flexibility, the bandhas, pranayama and mental artistry, which forms the basis of her methods.
Britta contributes to MindBodyGreen, Origin Magazine, elephant journal and Greenster and is an ambassador for Yogasana Yoga Mats and Ravishing Jewelry—she also currently holds workshops and retreats worldwide.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise