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VisitAruba interviews Rachel Brathen A.K.A Yoga Girl

1. How did you become a yoga aficionado and what does yoga mean to you?

I found yoga as the result of living almost my whole life with overwhelming back pain! When I first started I couldn’t touch my toes, everything was difficult. I felt my back improving right away so I kept at it, and with patience and practice it’s transformed my whole life.

2. You’ve traveled all over the world, where would you say is your favorite place to visit?

One of my favourite countries in the world is Costa Rica. I spent three years there – truly a special, vibrant place! But I adore Aruba. It’s home.

3. Which place do you feel is most conducive to practicing yoga?

Yoga can be practiced anywhere – that’s the beauty of it! The beach, a park, your backyard… Creating a good space in your home, a quiet room or an area where you feel at peace. All you need is a yoga mat!

4. Some people say that yoga has become over-commercialized and that its authenticity has been diluted. How do you feel about that view?

I disagree. This is 2015 and everything is commercialized these days – it’s just the nature of our society. Yoga is a very intimate, personal practice. It’s sacred, but it’s also what you make it. It’s up to each person to experience the magic it brings.

5. What advice would you give to someone who has never tried yoga at all and would like to give it a try?

Don’t wait. Begin now! It’s easy to think “I’ll start when I’m healthier” or “I’m not flexible enough to practice yoga”… We all begin exactly from where we are. Now is the perfect time! Also, try to not compare your journey with others. Find a studio or teacher near you that you resonate with and practice, practice, practice.

6. How large is the yoga community in Aruba and what proportion of your students are from here?

It’s small, but growing! We have several classes a week and it’s a mix of locals and tourists.

7. What are the origins of SUP yoga?

I created the practice here on the island, it was one of those things that sprung up in a few places in the world around the same time. I used to practice yoga on the beach in the morning when my boyfriend surfed, and one day I was in a down dog on my mat and my husband took our dog with him on the board, catching waves together. “If the dog goes on the board I should be able to do a down dog on it!” I thought, but it didn’t work. Regular surfboards don’t have enough volume to carry a person standing up without the momentum of the wave. A few weeks later the first SUP boards arrived to the island. I took one out, tied it to a boat anchor and tried practicing a few poses. 90 minutes later I was ecstatic! There was a whole group of people on the beach wondering what I was doing, and if they could take a class. I had no idea how to teach it but said “sure, why not!” and that was that. Almost six years ago and I’ve been teaching ever since. We have six teachers on the island now working for Island SUP and we are the only SUP Yoga certified teachers in Aruba. I lead teacher trainings, too.

8. You’re a pioneer of SUP yoga in Aruba – did you ever have any doubts that SUP yoga would be a success here?

No – it’s the perfect place! The water is warm and crystal clear, falling in is actually quite pleasant. The biggest challenge we have in Aruba is the wind! We anchor down on a line so everyone stays put.

9. What are some of the unique challenges that SUP yoga has compared to ‘traditional’ yoga practiced on a mat?

Balance, of course. It’s a lot more challenging practicing on an unstable ground than on a regular mat. But that’s the beauty of it too!

10. On average, how long does it take to get used to SUP yoga?

It’s suitable for all levels! We get beginners every day. 20 or 30 minutes into the practice you start getting the hang of it. And your second class is always way more stable than you first!

11. Is there any particular pose in SUP Yoga which is your favorite?

I love Savasana. The very end of class is magical out on the water. Sky above you, sea below you, the waves gently cradling you into stillness… It’s so special.

12. What is the most special or unique aspect of SUP yoga for you?

Being outside. It’s so different compared to a regular studio or gym, indoors, sweating… In SUP Yoga class we have sunshine, the salty ocean air, the wind, the water… It’s a completely different experience. Also, SUP Yoga forces you into the present moment. You need to stay anchored in the now to keep your focus. It’s very meditative.

13. What advice would you offer someone who is interested in SUP yoga?

Do it! And make sure you have a bathing suit that stays put. 🙂

14. You have a large online following, what do you attribute that to primarily?

I keep a good balance between inspiration and honesty. I’m not scared to share the difficult things in life together with the beautiful. It’s part of being human. I think people connect with my words because I tell the truth as much as I possibly can.

15. Clearly there are benefits to a large following, but also certain challenges. Can you mention some pros and cons of having that large an audience?

The community is beautiful, like minded and dedicated. It’s a wonderful thing and many opportunities have come from it. I tour the world, lead sold out retreats and classes thanks to every person that reads what I write every day! The challenge is staying authentic and not get caught up in the idea of “followers” or “likes”. Yoga comes in handy here, as usual.

16. There’s a view that social media is not that social at all, that it can make people more disconnected because instead of looking around them they’re looking at a screen of some kind. How do you feel about that and how do you find balance in your search for happiness and balance while juggling with an expectant following?

I’ve learned to put my phone down. My work and career is so entered around the online world so I make sure to not pick my phone up before 10am in the morning or after 10pm at night. I leave my phone at home when I take my dogs for walks, when I go to the beach or when I’m going for a run. And keep it far away from my yoga room! Life is beautiful but if we get too busy sharing it online we miss the depth of the magic that’s present all around us. It’s all about finding balance.

Pictures courtesy of Rachel Brathen, Dennis Schoneveld, Ben Kane and 28ten Cinematics