I met Rachel Brathen in 2013.
I had just turned 24 and was working for an online health and wellness network. I was working on a piece about the power of online communities.
Rachel was coming to San Francisco, and I had a ticket to her class. At the time, she had around 300,000 followers and was using her personal social media following as the primary tool to generate business.
Now, in 2017, this is a common strategy. But at the time she was one of the first to be doing it. And she was killing it. Not to mention, she was posting primarily about yoga. Which, hi (basic white girl here), I was immediately sucked into.
But once you looked past the perfect yoga poses set on a beach, there was someone real. She was giving people a glimpse into her personal life, and was using Instagram as if it was her private journal. And man could she write. I couldn’t wait to meet her. But I was skeptical. Could this person be as great in real life and she is on her social media accounts?
The answer: No. She was better.
Her class was everything. I had never left a class feeling that way. Actually, to this day I still have not left a class feeling the way I do after one of her classes. She has a gift. Her classes feel good in every way. When Rachel gets in front of a class, something moves through her.
One of the most powerful savasanas I’ve ever had was at a workshop she taught in Los Angeles in a room packed with over 500 people. She never plans her classes, only her playlists. She puts so much intention into her music. When she gets in front of the room, she just feels the energy and teaches from her heart. I never understood her ability to do that until I became a yoga teacher a couple of years later.
After her class, I approached her to give her my card and request an interview. She was wearing these purple yoga pants with white polka dots, thick socks, and a baggy shirt. She immediately gave me a gigantic hug and, for a split second, I felt all of her energy. It was as if everyone else melted away and despite the crowded room, she saw me.
I would ask her a few years later how she does it. Oftentimes, people are in tears when they meet her. I’ve watched people literally collapse in her arms as they bear their soul to her.
“Isn’t it exhausting taking on all that energy?”
“It can be. But I have to be able to take it in and let it go just as quickly. My heart is open, so blocking it out would be impossible. So I let it in for a few moments, I feel everything, and I am totally present to them in that moment—and then I let it go out the back of my heart.”
We barely interacted that day. I told her I’d follow up and that was that.
Two weeks later, she wrote me out of the blue. Said she’d be available to do the interview in about an hour. The interview went well. We connected. I called the article “The Brathen Effect.”
Three months later, my boyfriend of 10 years and I broke up and my boss at the network called to tell me we were running out of funding—on the exact same day. F*ck. I had to move back in with my parents. Unemployed and heartbroken, I emailed Rachel. She wrote me back right away. She said come to her retreat in Aruba the next week. One spot had just opened up. I said, “Great! Where is Aruba?”
The retreat was everything I needed. It was incredibly healing, and it was the first time I had felt like myself in a long time. On the second to last day, Rachel overheard me talking about what I wanted to do next. She turned to me and, casual as could be, said, “Why don’t you stay here?”
She needed an assistant. It was only her and Dennis, and they needed help. We met on the yoga deck after breakfast and as she explained everything she needed help with, I thought to myself, “She needs a Krista.” I moved in with her the next day. I only had a week’s worth of clothes. The first thing she did was give me some clothes to tide me over. Sitting on top of the pile were the purple yoga pants with polka dots, the same ones she was wearing on the day we met.
Turns out, we needed each other. I like to think I helped her as much as she helped me. I know I did. But this isn’t about what I did for her, this is about what she did for me. The real “Brathen Effect.”
Here are the five life lessons I learned while living with Yoga Girl.
1. Business with a heart.
Rachel currently owns the largest yoga studio in the Caribbean, is the CEO and founder of multiple companies and nonprofit organizations (with dozens of employees), she is a New York Times best selling author, public speaker, global yoga instructor, and now a new mother. According to some, Yoga Girl (Rachel’s nickname) is the biggest yoga platform in the world.
But in 2013, it was just Rachel, Dennis, and me—and their dogs.
I was sitting at the dining room table (which also doubled as my office), working one morning when Rachel came down from her room, poured herself a cup of tea, and sat down across from me. She said calmly, “I want to talk to you about how you’ve been responding to the emails.”
I looked up somewhat startled. I was killing it on the emails. Wasn’t I? Some days I was getting through up to 200 a day. What could she possibly have to talk to me about?
“This is yoga. What we’re doing is yoga. We’re in a business of love. These people that reach out to us, even if I don’t want to work with them or if I can’t help them, I am still grateful they reached out.”
At this point, I had only worked in Los Angeles. I could send business emails in my sleep.
Dear XX, Per my conversation with XX, we are not interested at this time. Attached please find XX.
For years I had been operating under the belief that it’s not personal, it’s business.
“But this is business too,” I said.
“Yes, but it’s possible to do business with a heart. I want you to work on that.”
And then she got up to make breakfast.
This conversation is one of those conversations that I went into as one person and came out as someone else. My entire perspective about success and business shifted in that single moment. Four years later, practicing business with a heart is at the core of what I do now. I have turned down clients and lost friendships because of it. Practicing business with a heart is everything to me.
2. If it scares you, do it. Seriously. Do it.
I had been living with Rachel for a week or so. We were getting ready to go to yoga. She was running late and asked me if I could go pull the car out. I froze. I didn’t know how to drive stick. She knew that.
“Rach, you know I can’t drive stick.”
“Why does it scare you so much?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, if it scares you, then it means you have to do it. So go.”
F*ck. I grabbed the keys, threw my yoga mat in the backseat, and opened the sliding gate. I sat in the car giving myself a pep talk. The last few times I had attempted to drive stick didn’t go very well. I felt like I was going to throw up.
I took a deep breath and put the car in reverse. I closed my eyes and released the clutch and slammed down on the gas. The car screeched out of the driveway and dust from the dirt road flew everywhere. I opened my eyes. I did it. I shifted into first, released the clutch, and slammed down on the gas again. The car lurched forward. Rachel was standing there looking totally amused.
“You’ll be fine,” she said.
3. Power in vulnerability.
I was with Rachel on the best day of her life and also on the worst. I was with her the day she got married, and I was with her the day her best friend died. These days were only three months apart. Grieving the loss of her best friend, and planning a wedding to the love of her life, it was an intense few months to say the least. I felt for the first time I had a purpose outside of myself. To help her heal. Instead of thinking of myself when I woke up in the morning, she was the first thought in my mind. How can I help her today?
Watching someone grieve is painful. I felt helpless. But each day things got a little easier. I watched the light come back. I remember the first day she really laughed for the first time again. It was a big day. The wedding planning was actually a blessing because there was so much to do and so much love surrounding the whole thing.
Time went by a little faster.
During this time, she was incredibly vulnerable and didn’t hold back from sharing her experience on Instagram. Up until now, her followers were accustomed to pictures of handstands and beaches accompanied by inspirational quotes and positivity. She lost thousands of followers, but she didn’t care.
Writing was therapeutic for her, and the outpouring of love she received from her online community was helping. Hundreds of emails flooded in every day. People came out of the woodwork to share their stories with her, and thousands of followers quickly replaced the old ones. Everyone can relate to loss. And it was real. And she was real. People all over the world were rooting for her. Social media really is a powerful tool.
Life is a f*cking roller coaster and Rachel embraces every moment of it. It was like her public vulnerability allowed me and so many others to be vulnerable too. There is so much power in vulnerability. It was as if I finally had permission to feel.
When you decide to choose vulnerability, it is freeing. Life and death and everything in between. It’s all beautiful. Feeling is everything. It is a crucial part of the human experience. In those moments that I have allowed myself to truly feel, whether it is love or loss, these are the times that I feel the most alive.
The wedding came quickly. It was a magical day. Rachel looked beautiful. On the morning of the wedding, one of Rachel’s friends taught a yoga class on the lawn. Rach didn’t have any yoga pants with her and asked to borrow a pair of mine. I ran to my room, grabbed the first ones I could find, and laughed out loud when I saw which ones they were. Purple with white polka dots. Perfect.
4. How to build an authentic following.
Be authentic. Period.
In the earlier days of building her following, it would have been easy for her to get sponsors, ads, or buy followers. People were offering her ridiculous amounts of money for a shoutout or posts on her page. It was wild.
I remember one day I got an email from e-cigarette company offering her almost $10k to promote their product on her Instagram. This was clearly off-brand, and an obvious “no thanks,” but others weren’t so obvious.
At first, she was completely against any type of sponsored post or ad. But as things progressed with her other businesses, she saw that if it was the right partner or product, it could help grow her business and define her brand. She was still super selective about which brands she would associate herself with. It was this authenticity that I attribute to the incredible success of her brand today. People trust her. She earned it.
So now when she does choose to promote a product, partner with a company, and so on, you know it is something that really resonates with her and that she believes in. People follow people, and then they follow brands.
5. How to Handstand.
I remember the first time I floated in a Handstand. Gravity disappeared and all that was left was my breath. When I Handstand, my mind goes quiet. All I can focus on is my body working together with my breath to find balance. I had been practicing nonstop. And now that I think about it, I was probably driving her totally crazy with it. But living with Yoga Girl (who at the time was known around the world as the Handstand queen), I was committed. I was taking classes with her and Dennis almost daily and my overall practice was improving dramatically.
Rachel was watching a movie, and I was practicing Handstands behind the couch. At this point, I had been practicing every day for a couple of months, but still wasn’t able to hold it.
Shift forward, shoulders over wrists, press the ground away, find your point of focus, engage your core. Breathe in, bend your knee, kick up.
I did it. I was floating. I held it for maybe five seconds, but it felt like forever. I felt weightless. I came down red in the face and let out a squeal of excitement.
“I saw it,” Rachel said.
Learning how to Handstand took serious dedication. It would be another three years until I could really have complete control and float for as long as I wanted to. Rachel taught me how to Handstand and more importantly she taught me how to find the balance. Between work and play. Between tequila and green juice. Between love and loss. Between effort and surrender. The yin and the yang. The sun and the moon. All of the things.
Balance. Is. Everything.
Author: Krista Lettko
Image: Courtesy of Author
Editor: Travis May
Supervising Editor 1: Callie Rushton