Episode 013

St Pete X features business and civic leaders in St. Petersburg Florida who share their insight, expertise and love of our special city. An initiative of the St. Petersburg Group, St Pete X strives to connect and elevate the city by sharing the voices of its citizens, and to bring awareness to the opportunities offered by the great St. Petersburg renaissance.

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08/30/2017 | Episode 013 | 51:00

Rachel Miller, Body Electric Yoga Company

Body Electric's Rachel Miller talks personal reinvention, nude yoga, and female entrepreneurship.

On this episode of SPx, we sat for meditative tea with local yogi, Rachel Miller. She shares how tea has transformed her meditative practice, helped her break down perfectionism and conquer the fear that once restricted her life. Miller opens up about taking leaps of faith and keeping herself "unstuck" by living life as a perennial student. In this light-hearted, yet poignant conversation with our host Ashley Ryneska, Miller talks her latest ventures in rock climbing, her foray into bath bomb making, and her newest passions, nude yoga and Jyotish astrology. Rachel is using her role as a yoga instructor to guide her students to self-acceptance, empowerment, and levity (with some help from Whitney Houston).

Key Insights

  • Rachel's meditation practice has moved beyond the traditional approach of complete stillness and absence of thought, rather, she says, "My meditation practice at this point is I quiet down my brain let's say, or the ego-self so I can hear myself, so I can hear the small whispers of who I actually am a little bit more clearly."
  • In her meditations, Rachel looking at a concept and seeking to understand it fully. She uses the example of fear of failure: "when you fully understand what something is, what the concept is, that's how you can start to remedy it. So that's how I can start to-- okay, that's why I have a lack of self-confidence. And now that I understand that, now I know how to get it back."
  • Rachel started out her career in a cubicle, with a 401k and great benefits. But she found herself incredibly unhappy. She made the decision to leave her job, and when she did, her mother cried.
  • Reflecting on this experience, Rachel says that getting herself "unstuck" and take a leap of faith was paramount to finding where she was meant to be.
  • Rock climbing has been Rachel's latest physical venture, which she does at St. Pete's Vertical Ventures. There she has found a diverse group of women with whom she has been building a climbing community.
  • Creating a strong female community at Vertical Ventures has been an especially rewarding for Rachel: "really giving ourselves a place and a right within this community to make ourselves known, that we're equally as strong. And it's been really cool to bolster each other and to lift each other up, and because of these little clinics, now all these other women are getting to know each other in the gym, and they're starting to climb with one another, it's awesome!
  • Rachel recently took a foray into bath bomb making, selling her holistic, organic creations at the local Indie Market, alongside her friend Katie of Katie's Goods.
  • As a yoga instructor, Rachel takes her role very seriously - but never too seriously for a quick Whitney Houston, Bette Midler break. She says finding levity in a serious practice creates balance.
  • Finding that balance, Rachel says, has been difficult: "It honestly was very scary for me to take the transition of I want to teach what I want to teach, not just what I think it's expected of me to teach. And again, that fear came up and I was like, 'I can't be held back by this fear, because I'm gonna constantly be chipping away at who I am and what I want to offer."
  • Rachel has taken on an interesting challenge at The Body Electric: Nude Women's Yoga. She says the experience has been incredibly liberating.
  • After attending the Women's March in St. Pete, Rachel found herself wanting to do more empowering, women-oriented workshops, including nude yoga, and women's climbing clinics.
  • A champion of not only women, but the environment, Rachel is involved with the Surf Rider Foundation and their movement, Rise Above Plastics, trying to raise awareness for single use plastics.
  • In her most recent escapade, Rachel has been studying Jyotish (or Vedic) astrology.

"I start every morning and I actually wake up an hour earlier than I have to wake up just so I can sit for tea. And it's totally transformed my meditation practice, and it's totally transformed who I am. And it's given me this really nice opportunity to connect with myself in a way that maybe I didn't have the opportunity to do before."

The Body Electric Yoga Company is well-known for keeping yoga weird and accessible to everyone who walks through their doors. They’re also famous for harnessing some of the most powerful personalities in the mind/body space here in St. Petersburg. Instructor Rachel Miller is one of those personalities. Miller has carved out a special place at the Body Electric, lauded by students and teachers for her authenticity, fallibility, and affirming self-expression. She and the rest of the Body Electric crew have been weaving themselves into the fabric of St. Pete’s small business community since the studio’s inception, focused on taking yoga into the world by partnering with other like-minded small businesses. A climber herself, Rachel infuses yoga with sport by partnering with Vertical Ventures. She and her fellow instructors flow in breweries and bike shops like Green Bench, 3 Daughters, and The Bikery. They even make a splash with poolside yoga at the Hollander Hotel and the newly open Hyatt in downtown St. Pete.

The Body Electric is also known for taking risks. Risks that include nude – yes, nude – yoga. Not for the faint of heart, Miller opted to teach the women’s nude yoga class, using the strength she has harnessed from own personal battle with disordered eating to inspire other women to embrace self acceptance. Since its genesis, Miller says the class has taken on a life of its own, “It’s evolved into something so much more than just this naked yoga class, where women have an opportunity to accept themselves for exactly who they are in this body that they’re in….In a day and age where we’re compared to what the ideal of beauty is, it’s really challenging to accept yourself, flaws and all.” According to one of Rachel’s students, the class was more than just yoga, it was sisterhood. Maria wrote:

“Nude yoga was less about yoga and more about healing and magic. I feel like some of it should be kept a secret–an experience for women to have on their own terms when it’s the right time.”

Find more information on Rachel’s upcoming workshops, as well as Body Electric’s special events, workshops, and retreats here.

"Usually it comes down to that fear of failure. And it's not good enough for me. That's not a good enough reason to not do what I know I'm supposed to do. So instead of looking at fear as this, 'Hold on, don't go any further,' I look at it as, 'You're on the right path and you have to do this.' And I do have fear behind it, but I'm not held back by it anymore."

Table of Contents

(0:00 – 1:06) Introduction

(1:06 – 2:22) Tea Meditation

(2:22 – 6:50) Meditation in General

(6:50 – 9:01) Relationship with Failure

(9:01 – 11:00) Keeping Yourself Unstuck

(11:00 – 14:53) Rock Climbing and Vertical Ventures

(14:53 – 19:37) Bath Bombs

(19:37 – 24:58) Yoga Practice as an Instructor

(24:58 – 29:04) Nude Women’s Workshop at Body Electric Yoga

(29:04 – 31:42) Social Activism

(31:42 – 34:02) Involvement in Environmental Causes

(34:02 – 38:36) Astrology

(38:36 – 42:13) Mind Body Industry in St. Pete

(42:13 – 47:25) Organizing Retreats

(47:25 – 50:24) The Greatest Lesson Learned

(50:24 – 51:03) Conclusion

Full Transcript

Ashley: Hi, this is Ashley Ryneska and I’m here today with Rachel Miller. Welcome to the show!

Rachel: Thanks, it’s… super rad to be here! I’m stoked.

Ashley: This is our fourth attempt at podcasting. Yesterday we attempted and your philosophy is it was a “Murrcury” retrograde thing…

Rachel: Yeah, Mercury. Well, that was your philosophy. My philosophy is Mercury retrograde, and you said ‘Murrcury’.

Ashley: Do you really believe in that?

Rachel: Mm-hm. Here’s the thing, I didn’t believe in that almost at all before. I did it whenever I wanted to blame something, and then when I started in with the astrological studies I was like, ‘Oh! No, this is a thing.’

Ashley: Talk to be about what we’re drinking.

Rachel: Well, it’s a treat is what it is.

Ashley: It sure is!

Rachel: I buy all of my teas from Ashley Smith, who is a very dear friend of ours and she owns Into the Heart. And she does tea meditation. And she does many other things, but tea meditation is one of them. And she sells her teas, and her teas are from an organic farm. She’s been on the farm, she’s talked to the owner, she’s seen the farmers. They spend a lot of time with the tea. They sing to the tea, they really nurture the tea when they work with the plant itself. No pesticides, 100% organic. And you can really feel it when you drink the tea, it tastes so good, right? You don’t need to put milk or sugar in it.

Ashley: So, I’m curious as to your opinion about tea meditation and how that has folded into your meditation practice.

Rachel: It’s pretty much… I don’t wanna say it’s 100% of my meditation practice, because I have so many different modalities of meditation at this point. But I will say that it is a daily practice for me, I start every morning and I actually wake up an hour earlier than I have to wake up now just so I can sit for tea. And it’s totally transformed my meditation practice, and it’s totally transformed who I am. And it’s given me this really nice opportunity to connect with myself in a way that maybe I didn’t have the opportunity to do before.

Ashley: So for those that aren’t familiar with meditation, how did you come about it and learn about it and what have you gleaned from the practice over the years?

Rachel: Man… Meditation is… It’s so evolutionary, it really has been this process of seeing what comes from it. My meditation started with not meditating, of course. And then it started getting in… I started doing yoga for physical purposes only, and yoga just sneaks up on you. Eventually, before you know it you’re like, ‘Why am I sitting on a meditation pillow five years later and sitting here doing breathe work?’ But so, I started with the physical component of it, and then it was like, ‘Oh, well I can kind of meditate while I move, this is cool.’ And now it’s become… My meditation isn’t so much the physical practice of yoga anymore, it is taking time to be quiet. And I think it’s quiet in a different way, right? So for me, I don’t meditate to just quiet everything so everything becomes still, and I don’t focus on anything… It’s not that at all. My meditation practice at this point is I quiet down my brain let’s say, or the ego-self so I can hear myself, so I can hear the small whispers of who I actually am a little bit more clearly. Because when we’re living in our everyday life, a lot of what we do is ego-driven. And I don’t mean that in an egotistical way, I just mean in a way that we have to survive on a day to day basis, and that’s a really loud part of ourselves. When we sit down to meditate and to quiet that louder aspect of who we are, we’re able to get more into the self and really get into the nitty-gritty of who we are, you know what I mean? And my meditation practice did go from, ‘Okay, I’m just gonna sit here and I’m just gonna focus on my breath and I’m not gonna think of anything else.’ But that’s honestly ridiculous, and there are even monks out there that say that’s not what meditation is. My meditation practice at this point is taking a concept– and we spoke about this yesterday, but taking a concept and meditating on that concept until you fully understand what that concept is. So if I’m to come into this place of meditation of love, I meditate on love until I really understand and really connect with what it is. Because people can say the word ‘love’, you can say a word over and over throughout your life. It loses its gravity of what it truly means. So we have this idea of what we think love might be, but when we really start to look at it, when we really examine it and we dissect it and we sit with it, you understand it on this bigger level that you never could’ve comprehended before had you not sat down with that concept. So for me, recently… I’m a big-time perfectionist when it comes to certain things, I always want everything to fall in line. And it’s the same thing with my classes, I have a tendency to be a perfectionist with my classes or workshops that I put on, or my retreats, I’m like– I want it to be perfect. And it always feels like I’m falling up short, because nothing can ever be perfect. There can always be stuff that you can improve upon, but it’s not going to be perfect. And I kept getting bogged down by that, and then when you constantly feel like you’re coming up short that start to affect you. So my meditation practice became, ‘Alright, why do I feel the need to be perfect? What is this drive behind it?’ And so I meditated on that for a long time, and what it came down to was this lack of self-confidence, or an insecurity and not trusting in the process and trusting in what it was that I was doing. And that takes you away from fully being present in what you’re doing, right? So now I got down to that, ‘Okay, I’m insecure,’ or ‘I have a little bit of a lack of self-confidence.’ Because if I was confident I wouldn’t care if it was perfect or not, I would know that it was right. So now that’s where my meditation practice is right now, it’s looking at okay, what is this insecurity? And what is this lack of self-confidence that I have? And going into that until I fully understand what it is. Because when you fully understand what something is, what the concept is, that’s how you can start to remedy it. So that’s how I can start to– okay, that’s why I have a lack of self-confidence. And now that I understand that, now I know how to get it back. And I think that that’s a concept of meditation that we sometimes forget about, or what the misconception is behind it, because everybody imagines meditation: you sit there for hours, you don’t move and you only breath. And it can be so much more than that.

Ashley: We talked about your relationship with failure and it was interesting your perspective around when you are present and not as vested in the outcome, and not as preoccupied with failure, you really circumvent fear and in turn you don’t fail.

Rachel: Mm-hm.

Ashley: Talk to me about that.

Rachel: Yeah, so I go into anything that I wanna do, first of all. If I’m like okay, I wanna do a retreat. And then I’m like, ‘I’m scared’. I’m kind of scared shitless to do that, right? And it’s like, ‘Why am I afraid?’ And then I list out the reasons that I’m afraid, and it’s usually… it comes down to that fear of failure. And it’s not good enough for me. That’s not a good enough reason to not do what I know I’m supposed to do. So instead of looking at fear as this, ‘Hold on, don’t go any further,’ I look at it as, ‘You’re on the right path and you have to do this.’ And I do have fear behind it, but I’m not held back by it anymore. When I used to be, very much that I used to be like, ‘I’m not gonna do that, nobody is ever gonna show up– onto the next thing!’ And that suppresses yourself after so long, it’s chiseling away at your self-confidence over and over again.

Ashley: It’s also confirming those fears, and you get to be right in some degree, that insecurity that’s budding beneath all of the issues that you’re looking at, if you don’t act on and overcome that fear, then that insecurity gets to be right. And then you’re a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. For sure. It’s like if you don’t move through it one time, how are you ever gonna do it? It’s taking that first leap. And taking that first initial leap and moving past the fear, after that it gets so much easier. So now it’s like because I’ve moved past it, I haven’t failed. And that’s what I’ve noticed, I’m like, ‘Oh, actually I’m not really failing.’ And not to say that I haven’t in the past, but recently I found that whatever I really wanna do and what I genuinely put my mind to, and even if it scares me I know that that’s right, that’s my validation now that I’m supposed to do it. And if I’m validated in what I’m supposed to do, then I’m like, ‘There’s no way that I’m gonna fail.’ So now instead of seeing fear as this restriction, I see it as a validation. And now I’m able to do what I wanna do with fear, but now I know how to manage it, right?

Ashley: So when we talk about you moving toward that fear and exploring what you’re called to explore, you and I discussed some of your ventures over the last year, including a small business around homeopathic treatments, to training certifications in climbing, and most recently your new interest in astrology. And you are a perennial student. And I’m curious as to how you keep yourself unstuck?

Rachel: That’s a really easy thing is to get stuck, is to fall into that stuck-ness and feel like we can’t move from that place, to feel like, ‘Okay, well this is where I am.’ You don’t have cement on your feet, you know what I mean? You can unstuck yourself, you can move away from anything that you feel that you are immobile from. And it’s really about flipping the switch and looking at it and being like, ‘Well, what makes me stuck?’ And then you realize nothing makes you stuck, nothing real. So I’ve gone through several different paths in my life and I started out with being in a cubicle, which was fine, and having this really high-end job and to… it wasn’t for me. And I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with those jobs, thank god people like to do those jobs, because we need someone to do them, right? But to realize that it’s just not for me, and I’m not happy doing this thing. And I could’ve said I’m stuck in it because I have a 401K, because they’re paying for my health insurance, vision insurance and dental insurance.

Ashley: Didn’t you tell me that your mother cried when you announced that you were resigning from that position?

Rachel: Oh, yeah! And not like a, ‘Ha-ha, that’s funny. Oh yeah, my mom cried when I left.’ No, she literally bawled, she was not stoked about it. Ultimately she was just worried about, ‘Well, what are you gonna do then?’ So I just knew it wasn’t right and I left all those things and the stuck was thinking that I had to do that in order to live my life. And I didn’t believe that, and I detached and I took a leap of faith, and it’s lead me into exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Ashley: I remember after you left your full-time job, you spent several hours a day involved in climbing, and you’ve continued to receive certifications to now even teach climbing. And I know you’re working with a group of women at Vertical Ventures to continue that skill of yours. Talk to me about why that was such a calling to you.

Rachel: Rock climbing is fun, first and foremost. I used to spend so much time at the gym, and then I injured myself. And I actually took a few years off, because it was this injury that kept re-tweaking. And thank god it happened, because that injury led me to yoga, right? But coming back to it, I was smarter and I was wiser, because I knew not to over train, and I knew what to do and what not to do. And I also understood that as I got older, I had to take care of myself physically in these ways that were very different from when I was young. So taking care, like that self-care, like foam, really, and all that stuff. But the certification I actually got– and it wasn’t so much a certification as it was a training, actually. I studied with a gentleman by the name of Steve Bechtel, and he is really big on the climbing scene. And he started his own brand, basically, called Climb Strong. And it’s teaching self-care techniques to climbers, to rock-climbers, and also strength training for rock climbers. Because in the past if you were a rock climber all you did was rock climb, and that’s all that you did. And we’re starting to see that you can’t just do your sport all the time. That you have to supplement it with some kind of cross training in order to be at your peak level for whatever sport you really like. So I studied with Steve Bechtel. I learned a lot from him. I’ve studied from other mentors as far as that. I’m not a naturally strong person, but I’m a hyper-mobile person, I really would never consider myself to be super strong, and when I started rock climbing I felt strong, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool, man!’ I was super stoked. So I wanted to give the opportunity to anybody else who also wanted to get strong for rock climbing. And so I do a lot of personal training one on one sessions with people in any capacity, but really rock climbing has become this new venture and this new passion of mine in getting people stronger for that, to show them what their potential is. That’s my favorite part of actually training people, to show them their own potential.

Ashley: How large is that community right now of women at Vertical Ventures?

Rachel: It’s growing. So yeah, that’s a… Kelly Jackson is the general manager of our Vertical Ventures and she and I started a women’s climbing clinic, basically. So we meet once a month, and we usually have very specific things that we’re gonna address. So this past Sunday actually it was all about training, and training for rock climbing. But then in the past it’s been more sports specific stuff, like technique and learning how to belay people on the rope and that kind of stuff. And we actually had a social two months ago, in which it was just women-owned vendors coming and being present in the space. If they wanted to sell some stuff, cool, otherwise we had Mother Kombucha there, Squeeze Juice, a whole bunch of other local businesses that are female-owned. And then we opened it up to female climbers, like the gym is gonna be closed to dudes, it’s only ladies. And we had capped it at 60 and we had to remove the ceiling from the cap, because so many women wanted to get in on it and be a part of it. And it was overwhelming, it was so rad! And to see that many women in there and really lifting each other up, genuinely getting to know one another and supporting one another in this really super strong environment that can sometimes be really intimidating, because it can be very male dominated. So really giving ourselves a place and a right within this community to make ourselves known, that we’re equally as strong. And it’s been really cool to bolster each other and to lift each other up, and because of these little clinics, now all these other women are getting to know each other in the gym, and they’re starting to climb with one another, it’s awesome!

Ashley: Trying to find a natural transition from rock climbing to bath bombs, I’m unable to do it. I feel like we just dived right into that. There was a period of time where you got into creating bath bombs and selling them in Indie markets, and I find that story to be really entertaining, I’d love if you’d share it.

Rachel: So… maybe over almost a year ago it was around winter time, which is perfect, but I was going through a really rough time and at the time my main meditation practice was my bath time at night. And it started with me just getting a hot bath. And then it started solely progressing from that into oh, candlelight, yeah. Get that candle, girl! And then I was like oh, let’s play some Sade. Oh, Sade yeah, that’s good. Oh, let’s get some crystals up in here.

Ashley: You were straight up romancing yourself.

Rachel: I was so romancing myself, I was like I wanna get lucky tonight. I was good. But it was this time that I carved out and that I could expect every single night that I gave back to myself. And that I was having some pretty intense meditations within the bath, just closing my eyes and listening to music and having these really major breakthroughs of realization. And I would hop out of the bath and– I don’t journal normally, but I would run to a journal and write down all of these major breakthroughs that I was having. And it was a big shift for me, I started to feel better after I just started giving myself that time. So as I was in the… I was telling a friend about all this romance that I was giving myself for my bath time meditation, and she’s like, ‘Oh, so you use bath bombs?’ And I’m like– I had no clue what a bath bomb was, I was like, ‘That sounds aggressive. I don’t even know if I want that in the bath with me.’ And then she explained to me what it is, and I’m like, ‘Oh, no, that sounds very lovely.’ So I bought a bath bomb and then she bought me a bath bomb, and then all of the sudden I’m bath bomb rich. I started taking baths with the bath bombs and it enhanced the experience even more, it was so nice. Because there’s oils in there… It’s really special. So then I Googled how to make bath bombs, because I’m the kind of person that I want to know how something works, I want to know all of the knowledge behind it, I want to absorb it.

Ashley: Did you take a homeopathic approach to your bath bomb creations? I think I saw a post from yours that had a coyote skull next to your bath bombs, and you said, ‘Yeah, of course, there’s a coyote skull, why not?’

Rachel: Yeah, duh!

Ashley: What was your formula?

Rachel: Basically, I knew that I wanted to make… And some of the bath bombs that I had found had a whole bunch of weird dyes in them or fragrances and some stuff that I couldn’t pronounce. And I feel like if I can’t pronounce it I probably shouldn’t be either eating it or placing it onto my body. So I wanted to make really holistic bath bombs that were really good for people’s physical body, for the skin… So I took the concept of what recipes I found only and I just made it as organic as possible. So the whole idea and the whole reason that I did this is because it was so special to me and it was something that was so meaningful to me and that I truly believed in, that worked for me, that I wanted to share this with other people. If I had the ability to sell a bath bomb to someone, and they take that time for themselves to sit down with it into a bath– even if it’s just five minutes, but just to nourish themselves and give themselves that little bit of self-care… boom! That was success, that was awesome. So I wasn’t originally going to do much with it, I was starting to crank them out, and then my friend Katie– and she is the owner of Katie’s Goods here in St. Pete, she makes beautiful cookies and pastries and pies and breads, just incredible stuff. But she wanted… at the time she hadn’t done a market, and she’s like, ‘I kind of wanna do this market.’ And I’m like, ‘Girl, if you do this market I’ll do it, I’ll just sell some bath bombs.’ It was me to I more wanted to support her and I knew that she needed a catalyst to get to that point, so I’m like, ‘I’ll sell bath bombs.’ And it ended up that we could share a booth, so half the booth she was selling cookies, and then naturally, of course, on the other side of the booth, because the two go well together, I was selling bath bombs. And I think for the first batch I made over 90, and I completely sold out. And I only had, I think, two or three different fragrances that were bath bombs that I made, and they all went. And it was hilarious too, because our setup– it was raining that morning, so I was like, ‘Oh my God! This is the worst product to have in a thunderstorm right now.’

Ashley: Was there fizz action…?

Rachel: There were– a couple did get sacrificed to the Gods of the rain for sure. I was like, ‘Oh no!’ It was slowly decomposing on the ground in the cardboard box, and the water had come up through the cardboard box and that was kind of sad.

Ashley: Just take your meditative moment there, somehow, it’s something of that moment.

Rachel: Like a moment of silence for the fallen bath bomb soldier.

Ashley: I think that’s really unique, though. You took a need that you have for yourself and that you fulfilled for yourself, and then sought a gap in the market and obviously it was one that took well. And you’ve been able to also parallel that same process into your yoga practice as an instructor.

Rachel: It’s so wild to see where I’m at right now as compared to where I started when I started teaching. Because when I started teaching I was looking to external sources to validate me, or to validate what I was doing in there, right? So it went from what did the people want, and that is very important, but how do I impress them? How do I show them I’m such a cool instructor and I can do arm balances? And that’s coming from a place of selfishness. And as an instructor I started realizing it’s a huge responsibility and I don’t take my position lightly as far as teaching a class. I do and I don’t, I always make a terrible joke here and there. But ultimately, I take it as a very big responsibility, and I cannot be selfish in that process. Because it’s not about me. I’m not there to teach me, I’m not there to try to teach and validate myself and my skills as a teacher. I am there to offer guidance to people who are meant to be there to receive that guidance. And it was a major shift for me to go from that selfish place into, ‘Okay, I want to start teaching this.’ Because I think that this is really what the people deserve, because I think that this is– maybe sometimes, not necessarily what they want, but sometimes what they need and then afterwards they realize they want it. Does that make sense?

Ashley: Absolutely. At what point in your instructor journey did you think it was a good idea to start injecting Whitney Houston, ‘I want to dance with somebody’, into the melodic yogi tunes that we are so accustomed to?

Rachel: Yeah. Oh, man! I’m a very light-hearted person, I’m a complete goon and goofball. I don’t take myself seriously, but I do. And I think it’s that fine line that keeps the balance. You can’t always be so serious about everything, you have to find the levity in life. And I do inject a lot of unexpected moments like that into my classes. We’ll be talking about a deep ass subject and we’ll be really using that moving meditation to maybe look at something called love, or whatever. And then I think, ‘Okay, how can I add levity to this now, so they understand that it doesn’t always have to be such serious work?’ And I’m like, ‘Whitney Houston, duh.’ It came very clearly. I’ve had Whitney Houston… One of my favorite ones that I put in there was Bette Midler.

Ashley: ‘Wind beneath my wings’? Yeah.

Rachel: Yeah. It was for a heart opening class, and…

Ashley: I think I remember halfway through that song the whole class started to sing it, in unison.

Rachel: Yeah, I encouraged the karaoke to happen.

Ashley: Probably some tears here and there. There’s a cathartic element to it, and I think you’re right, I think that levity etches-sketches things out, so they’re processing all of the meditation and all of the philosophy that you’re pontificating throughout the practice, and some things reset and you come down to Earth and realize that it’s digestible to a degree.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s the way that I teach, it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s take this serious topic, let’s find some levity.’ And that’s the balance, that’s life, we can never take ourselves too seriously. If we do we’re gonna drive ourselves crazy and we’re gonna miss out on all of the joy that’s around us, and that’s a terrible thing. So I always try to interject that joy in there, and it’s been scary. It honestly was very scary for me to take the transition of I want to teach what I want to teach, not just what I think it’s expected of me to teach. And again, that fear came up and I was like, ‘I can’t be held back by this fear, because I’m gonna constantly be chipping away at who I am and what I want to offer.’ And I decided to move through that fear and to start teaching from a place that I really believed in. And doing that is challenging, because in a lot of ways… I’m not gonna say I’m– no, I am gonna say it. I feel that my classes are very unique and I feel like they’re very different, and the way that I approach a class is very thoughtful. And I’m not saying that nobody else is thoughtful in their approach, and I’m not saying that I’m better than anyone, that’s not the case whatsoever. But I know that I’m different, and I know that I have a unique gift to offer. So I can’t modify that for someone else’s expectations. So there was a fear of nobody’s gonna wanna come to this class. But then people came to the class and people continue to come to my class. And I feel good about it at the end of the day, because I’m teaching from what I know, and I’m teaching from a place that comes directly from my heart. And it makes me feel good and it makes everybody else feel good, because if one of us feels awesome, it spreads around. You know what I mean? So in a position, especially as a yoga instructor where there’s so many of us out there… And this can go into any industry for that matter. There’s a lot of accountants out there, there’s a lot of servers out there, whatever. What makes you, you? And don’t look at someone else and what someone else is doing, because now you’re too busy trying to catch up with them and they’ll always be a step ahead of you, instead of doing what you innately know to be right and forging your own path, and possibly even exceeding, more even so than just trying to tail end someone.

Ashley: Over the past year you were brave enough to raise your hand and volunteer to take on a new workshop for the Body Electric Yoga company, a clothing optional, nude women’s class, one that has been sold out or at capacity through its duration, maybe a surprise to you. I’d love to hear your experience coming into that ownership and what you’ve gotten from it.

Rachel: I have gotten so much out of it, I think. And this sounds terrible, but I think I’ve gotten more out of it than some of the ladies have gotten out of it. I mean, I hope that’s not true, but I have learned so much from them and from this whole experience, and it was intimidating. Because I had never really been a naked person. I can walk around my house naked and stuff like that, but I’d never been a naked person, and I think the reason being is because I had a very distorted view on what my body looked like. And as I mentioned before, I came from a history of eating disorder for many years, and all of the different eating disorders. I didn’t want to just pick one, I wanted to try them all out, because I’m curious. I like to be educated, you know?

Ashley: The perennial student, yeah…

Rachel: Really going above and beyond. So yeah, I had never accepted my body for a long time. And finally, when I did that was a magical moment and I think back on it often, about how I actually appreciate my body. And for all of its flaws, for all of its positivity, for all the things I love about my body, but even the things that I don’t really love about my body, I’m like, ‘But that’s who I am, this is a part of me, why would I be ashamed of a part of me, physically? That doesn’t even make sense.’ So we had a few women request clothing optional at the studio, and we had a teacher who was going to teach it and she ended up going back to school, so she didn’t have time, which worked out perfectly. But there was a gap for a while where nobody wanted to touch it, everybody was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’d love to teach it!’ but then nobody would actually step up to the plate, right? And I hesitated and I put it off for a while and I was like, ‘I wanna do it.’ I was like, ‘For sure, I’m gonna do it.’ I’ve never been naked in front of a big group. I’ve never really practiced naked. I definitely did a couple of times leading up to the class, to make sure I wasn’t gonna put in an inappropriate pose in there that might expose a little too much. And I really liked it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is actually super liberating, this is gonna be awesome.’ And I didn’t really know why I offered to do it, in the sense of where my pass was for sure. But it was intuition and so I did it, even though I couldn’t understand why. And it’s become and it’s evolved into something so much more than just this naked yoga class, where women have an opportunity to accept themselves for exactly who they are in this body that they’re in. And I have plenty of women who have had anxiety about taking the class and they’re nervous leading up to it, and they’re like, ‘Ooh, I don’t wanna do it,’ and then afterwards they’re like, ‘Oh my God, thank God I did it!’ And these women that maybe couldn’t even walk around their house naked are like, ‘I’m walking around my house naked now!’ And that seems so silly, but it’s not if you think about it. Because being comfortable in your own body, that can be very challenging. In a day and age where we’re compared to what the ideal of beauty is, it’s really challenging to accept yourself, flaws and all. And a couple of times there were women that had literally said out loud to either friends or to me, ‘I would never do that class, that’s crazy, I could never do it.’ They signed up and they did it, and they followed their intuition in a way, right? Because their mind was saying, ‘Don’t do this!’ And something kept nagging them. And they’re like, ‘I’m so happy I did that class!’ It is a very liberating experience to be able to appreciate yourself, and I think if all women can come to this place of acceptance, that that would eradicate a lot of anxiety and a lot of self-loathing that we can sometimes put upon ourselves.

Ashley: Practices like clothing optional and giving women a more expansive idea of who they are and who they want to be, and part of that is using that voice… And transcending from this workshop, you’ve also been known to integrate social activism into your rhetoric when working with students. And I’m curious as to why that shift happened for you and what you’ve been able to offer women as it pertains to political or social activism?

Rachel: I think a bunch of women banded together for a certain cause– wink-wink, nudge-nudge. And that really– the Women’s March, I’m talking about the Women’s March. Spoiler alert, I’m gonna talk about it. The Women’s March really sparked something inside of me, because to see that many people and not just women, to see that many people get together and understand our rights as women and our power as women was huge for me. It was something I almost didn’t go to actually, there was this part of me that’s like, ‘I feel like I’m gonna be overwhelmed and I feel like there was gonna be this negative energy attached to it.’ Because people were angry and women were angry, and rightfully so, I was angry, but I didn’t want to further fuel that. And I ended up going out to the March and meeting my husband there, who went without me. But I went out, met him, and I was so happy that I got up off my ass to be a part of that, because it wasn’t angry. It was beautiful, and it was this love and this appreciation, and really coming to a realization of our power as women in this society, and how we really have to band together, and we have to get over the bullshit that keeps us apart or that keeps us low, that just keeps us subdued. And I started infusing that I think more into the nude yoga classes, and then I realize I wanna do this women’s climbing clinic, because I want to keep this momentum going. This is so important and this is huge for women to get together and to understand what it is to be a community with one another, and what it means to lift each other up. And we’re moving out of this– women being caddy to one another. And I have an opportunity and there’s this platform that I have to speak on that. And I feel like it would be irresponsible for me to not talk about it, and to not be a part of that. If I have a voice, I have to make sure that I use it. And whether it falls on deaf ears or not, there will be people that hear what I have to say, or that you would have to say, or that any other woman would have to say. But to be able to understand our responsibility as far as drawing awareness into this particular topic of women’s rights, I think if you’ve got a voice you’ve got to use it.

Ashley: There are some other non-profits too and movements that you’ve been an advocate of, really around the environment and sustainability, right?

Rachel: Yeah, totally. The big one recently is Surf Rider Foundation has paired up with Rise Above Plastics, and we’re just basically trying to raise awareness behind single use plastics and the negative impact that they have on our environment. And it’s much heavier than most people think. We know that there is an island out there in the ocean that is entirely made of plastic bags, and yet we’re still using them. It’s like one of those things, that ignorance is bliss, you know? It’s really easy to not have to think about it, because of the responsibility that comes when we know that it’s out there. So this particular foundation which I’ve tried to be very active in, we’re just trying to raise awareness to people. Like, ‘Hey, this is actually what single use plastics are doing, whether it’s a plastic bag, or even a straw, right?’ And this is what we can do instead. It’s not we’re gonna come up and rip a plastic bag out of your hand, or take a straw out of your cocktail, you know what I mean, and shun you. It’s not that. It’s, ‘Hey, these things exist, but we can do these other things instead.’ You know what I mean? And I think people are a little bit more apt and more willing to discover a change together when we know that it’s not something that’s being taken away from us, it’s something that we can replace. And that education is so huge on it, and we have to take responsibility for what goes on in our environment, for what gets put into our oceans and into our water ways. As human beings, it’s our right to take care of the environment that we live in. Because maybe in your lifetime it’s not as much of an issue, but if you’re having kids and your kids are having kids, what kind of world are you putting them into? And you really have to think, this is taking care of your family long after you’re gone. That’s how I see it. I plan on having kids. I don’t want my kids’ kids to be in an environment where water is questionable to drink. It’s already getting to that place. And I know already, even though I don’t even have a family, I don’t have a baby or anything like that, but I know that I’m gonna want to take care of my family for future generations, not just for my moment here and now and thinking about the here and now.

Ashley: So, speaking of the Earth, let’s talk about the moon. And let’s talk about the stars, and let’s talk about your newest venture, or really curiosity around astrology. I thought that this story as to how you got really turned on to the idea of learning more about it, and potentially becoming an expert in the space.

Rachel: Ooh, I will never be an expert, that would be awesome but maybe not in this lifetime. So, a friend of mine had an astrological reading, and… Not a Western astrological reading, a Jyotish or Vedic astrology reading. And she had recommended this woman, Eve, to me. And I had my reading, my first reading with Eve in January. And I was blown away.

Ashley: Tell me why.

Rachel: The stuff that she knew about me was what I only know about me, what I don’t even share with other people and the tendencies that I know that I have, down to… She put it so great, she was like, ‘You’re kind of an organized chaos.’ I’m like, ‘That’s accurate!’ Because I am, because everybody thinks… I look disheveled on the outside, not my physical appearance, because I take a shower every day, you know what I mean? But it seems like my organizational skills might be lacking, but I always know what’s going on. And it was so true, and just so many other things that we went into, things that she knew about me, which really blew my mind. And not even stuff that she could get off social media, because I know that that’s a big thing for people.

Ashley: So it’s less about things that maybe happened to you and more about your personality profile?

Rachel: Yeah, personality profile, but she also knew some stuff that had happened… I won’t get into everything.

Ashley: So there’s a clairvoyant element to it?

Rachel: In a way, yeah. And it’s not even clairvoyance as far as that’s an instinct or something that you might feel or see. This is like reading a chart and looking at all the different planets of what’s going on when you were born. And it sounds like hocus pocus, and if you’re the person that’s like ‘I kind of doubt that,’ go get a reading. See what happens from a really good reader. But one of the things that she had mentioned to me during my reading was, ‘You would actually be really good at what I do, you would be good at reading charts or reading cards.’ And I never really thought much about it until maybe two months ago, and right before I took my daily nap– that’s self-care, people! Daily naps are not just for kindergarteners. Before I took my daily nap it just popped into my head, ‘I wanna know more about astrology’. Because I’ve been working a lot with the phases of the moon, and the more I know, the less I know. And I’m the kind of person, I’m like, ‘I don’t wanna know less, I wanna know more.’ And I wanna keep feeding myself in that way, and this is something that peaked my interest. So I was like, ‘I’m gonna look for astrology schools.’ And all the ones I found online didn’t really feel authentic, it felt too commercial. And I had looked locally and I didn’t really see anybody that was offering this kind of course. So I was just like, ‘Alright, I’m not gonna look anymore. If it’s meant to be something will happen.’ And two days later I’m sitting in the park by North Shore underneath an oak tree, and I just had this little thought pop up, ‘Hey, go check your email.’ I check my email and there was an email from Eve who did my reading, and she had started a course for astrology for beginners, just a foundational course. And I signed up on the spot. On the spot. I don’t know if I’m gonna even read charts. At this point I’m so overwhelmed with the amount of information that’s coming from it, but I’m okay with being overwhelmed, because I know that the more that I study and the more that I practice, that information will absorb at some point.

Ashley: And what’s overwhelming about it? It’s Vedic astrology?

Rachel: Yeah, Vedic or Jyotish astrology.

Ashley: Vedic.

Rachel: Yeah. And it comes from India, and it’s in a different language more or less. You’re not really dealing with the astrological Zodiac signs, like we do for Western, like Libras or Geminis. It’s Sanskrit, so it’s a totally different language. And then not only are you learning astronomical aspects of the Universe and the planets, and we actually discuss quantum physics… Learning that is already overwhelming, but then learning the energetic properties and all of the stars, and the planets and how they get together and how they line up to form or to shift an energy within ourselves, it’s overwhelming, it’s just so much knowledge, so it’s like I’ve been thrown in the deep end. And at that point it’s sink or swim. I’m either gonna sink or I’m gonna swim, and I’m sure as shit not gonna sink, I just can’t allow myself to do that. So I’m gonna swim, I choose to swim and I choose to be okay with being overwhelmed and just taking it day by day.

Ashley: You know, you’ve introduced some really interesting compliments to a core yoga practice, astrology or tea meditations, or even you’re taking your yoga to the next level and bearing yourself in exploring a different perspective. I’m wondering what you are seeing on the horizon for the Saint Petersburg area as it pertains to how the mind body industry is evolving.

Rachel: It’s growing for sure. I think that much like me, people go into yoga for that physical quality, and that sneaks in and it shows them, ‘Hey, you’re doing this bad thing for yourself and maybe you should not do that thing anymore.’ And it transforms us, without us even sometimes being consciously aware of it. And I think when someone reaches that point, they want more. It feels good to feel better. So I wanna explore that more. And I think that’s when people start getting more into the restorative aspect, or the meditative aspect of yoga, and, ‘Okay, yoga was good for this growth and expansion and now I wanna go a little bit deeper.’ So now let’s say I wanna do tea meditation. And then you learn so much more about yourself. Ultimately all these avenues, whether it’s astrology or whether it’s tea meditation, or yoga, or regular meditation, whatever– at the end of the day we’re doing all of those things because we wanna better ourselves, because we wanna discover that part of ourselves that is what we know can be the best variation of ourselves. And I think when people start to open it up a little bit, they want to explore other avenues as to how they can make themselves love more, make themselves more patient, how they can find more compassion, all of these things. And I think that throughout the years, we’re really gonna see Saint Petersburg blooming into this really mindful community. Because it’s amazing seeing all of the businesses working with one another, and we discussed this yesterday. It’s really amazing to see how many people are actually active in this community. Like with the Sunco Surf Rider and the Rise Above Plastics, it’s incredible to see how many people show up to do that work. And I think that we’re at this place of expansion, especially in St. Pete, where we can just go like there’s no limit to the potential of ourselves and the potential of what we can be as a community. So usually people that are hesitant to take that step, let’s say before class I announce, ‘There’s gonna be this meditation on Sunday. It’s $22, this is the time that it is,’ and someone’s thinking, ‘Oh, I kinda wanna do that, but I don’t know.’ Go with the intuition! I always tell people, if your initial reaction is, ‘I kinda wanna do that’, you have six seconds before your rational mind tells you not to do the thing. You know what I mean? You’re like, ‘Ooh, I wanna do that,’ and then… wait for it… wait for it… ‘No, I’m not gonna do it.’ You know what I mean? So I tell everybody go on your intuition on broadening out, on getting out of that comfort zone, because you’re gonna find a part of yourself that you never knew existed had you not taken that leap of faith to try something new. And that’s how we keep inspiring ourselves, that’s how I keep inspiring myself. That’s how we unstick ourselves from the present situation where we’re like, ‘Ooh, I feel like I can’t, I feel like I’m stuck,’ or, ‘I feel like I’m stagnant.’ Go do all the things that your intuition tells you to do. Because you’re gonna discover a different element of yourself that would have never been exposed otherwise.

Ashley: And outside of the Saint Petersburg area you’ve created opportunities for women and men to come together and have a real shift in perspective and take a trip to… I think you went to Sedona earlier this year, recently got back from Asheville. You had a climbing trip, where was that?

Rachel: That was in Red River Gorge, Kentucky.

Ashley: So, a couple of retreats over the past year.

Rachel: My intention, I can see very clearly in everything that I do, but especially with the retreats– my intention is just to assist people on moving through something and whether they’re aware of it or not. So, Sedona was the first stop. Sedona was magical, I have been there before and it is definitely where I’m the happiest. And I think a lot of people would agree. If you go to Sedona, there’s something magical about that place. It is the home of a lot of vortices, so vortex sites. But it’s just so beautiful. The hiking is amazing, the land offers you this clarity and a sense of peace that you can’t really find in a lot of places. So I knew that I wanted to take a group out there. And when I arrange these retreats I never worry about who is gonna show up. Some people are like, ‘Oh, you’re just doing an open enrollment thing.’ Like, ‘Yeah.’ And they’re like, ‘Aren’t you worried that there’s gonna be one d-bag that shoes up?’ And I’m like, ‘Never.’ And it has always been… Sedona was like we were like a little family by the end of it, because the people that are meant to be there show up, they go. And a couple of them were like, ‘Honestly, I had anxiety before I came on this trip,’ or, ‘I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, but I acted on my intuition and I came.’

Ashley: Are you finding that the people that do come, that they are in fact in a transition, a life transition of some sort?

Rachel: Yeah, totally. Almost always there is some kind of shift that is occurring, and they gotta get that extra little nudge, or that extra little push. And there were some really big life-changing transformations that happened in Sedona. And it was magical, Alexis Holland and I actually hosted that together and we offered sound healing, yoga, meditation. And some of these people by the way are not into what we call the ‘woo’, right? But we did a Native American medicine wheel ceremony, we did sweat lodge… Some people I was like, ‘Man, I’m surprised that this particular person is coming.’ And they were totally into it. They were totally transformed by the end and they opened up their arms to everything that we had experienced together, and it was awesome. And of course, the hard part, the challenging part is taking those shifts with you when you go back home. But that’s why I like retreats, because you can do it, you can get it a little bit more cemented before you go back into your real life. And then in Kentucky we did a yoga rock climbing retreat, two things that I love– it just made sense to be able to offer this to people. And what I love about rock climbing is that even more so sometimes than just yoga, you have to be present. If you’re on the wall you can’t be thinking about what groceries you have to buy later, or you’re going to fall. You are not going to be able to get up the side of that rock. It forces you to be really present and it forces you to face a lot of fears. A lot of people are afraid of heights, or a lot of people are afraid of falling or hurting themselves. And by physically, not just in this emotional way that we talked about earlier, but physically pushing past that fear and seeing what you’re capable of, that’s incredible. And so many people had fears around rock climbing, and so many people busted through that ceiling and they really discovered what they were made of. And then with the yoga practice we are able to marry the two. The lessons that they learned in rock climbing and bringing that into the practice and then looking at that from that other energetic perspective, or emotional perspective and really tying that all in. And I think some people were very surprised actually as to the shifts that they experienced during that trip, even though they were just going for a rock climbing trip. There is something deeper in them that knew that there was going to be something much more significant. And then Ashley and I recently got back from our solar eclipse retreat to Asheville. We actually stayed in Black Mountain, which was just outside of Asheville, and it was women only for that one, we had 12 women with us. And that was a super powerful experience as well, just being together and being every single morning, going through tea ceremony, and then having time to journal, and then being out in nature and forgetting about technology, forgetting about the fact that you have to be a mom, forgetting about the fact that you have to be an assistant manager, whatever it is. Forgetting about all the things that define what you are, and really getting back to the who you are. And that’s why I love the retreats. It’s not about what you do outside of all these things, it’s coming back to who you are and who you know that you are, and who you may have forgotten that you were and getting back in touch with that. So all three retreats have only inspired me to continue doing this work, and it is way more work than I even realized it was gonna be. There’s a lot that goes into it and I’m the kind of person that I don’t like to half past things. When I put myself into it, I’m giving you everything that I’ve got.

Ashley: I’m curious as to the hardest lesson, but the greatest lesson that you have learned. You are a lady of lessons, and I think that your greatest gift, or one of the greatest gifts that you bring to everything that you do is really an opportunity to teach from what you’ve experienced, and I’m hoping that we’ve touched on that today, but just in case I haven’t.

Rachel: So, I have moved away, I did all these things and I found myself. And then I came home and everything was so good. My mom had passed away three years ago at the end of September and I was kind of a mess after that. And even slightly before my mom passed away I was going down a road that wasn’t super awesome. It’s not like I was doing hardcore drugs or anything like that, but I wasn’t taking care of myself and I stopped being myself. And I started listening to other people’s expectations of me and I tried to fit those expectations, I tried to fit into the box that they constructed for me. I thought that I had to be this, or I thought that I had to be that, that I wasn’t actually looking at what I wanted to be, or who I wanted to be. So I had a very harsh experience in my life that thank God it happened. Had it not happened, I never would’ve woken up to the fact that I wasn’t living the life that I wanted to live. And instead of coming to that in a very soft way and just waking up one morning like Snow White, I mean like ‘Oh, I’m not doing the things that I wanna do!’ I actually had a near death experience in the hospital, and it was a pretty traumatic event. And I went through a lot of hardship after that and a lot of panic, like some severe panic, depression, anxiety that was crippling, I couldn’t even leave my house. I decided to stop running from it and I started confronting it and really looking at why is this happening? And it was because I wasn’t being who I’m supposed to be. I just kept denying over and over again and putting expectations on myself that I wasn’t being honest with myself and I wasn’t giving to myself the way that I deserved. So I healed from that, and it took a few months, and it took a lot of tears and a lot of linked sleepless nights in order for me to get there. But it’s never too late to change the way that we want to live our life. I would hope that nobody would have to go through as harsh a lesson as I had to go through, but I believe that I have to go through these lessons in order to teach from a place of experience. I would hope that somebody could be brave enough and open up their eyes to who they want to be, and to really seek that out and to stop being stuck, and to go give yourself what you deserve. That’s the biggest lesson that I learned. The biggest lesson I learned is to stop being what other people want me to be and to stop denying who I am and really embracing all elements of myself, however cookie it is, however messy it can be. It’s a joy and I’ve had so much fun discovering what I’m capable of doing.

Ashley: Thank you so much for being with us.

Rachel: Thank you.

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About the host

Ashley Ryneska is the Vice President of Marketing for the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group. Ashley believes meaningful conversations can serve as the gateway to resolution, freedom, and advancement for our city. Her passion for storytelling has been internationally recognized with multiple media accolades.

About the St.Petersburg Group

The St. Petersburg Group brings together some of the finest thinkers in the area. Our team is civic minded, with strong business acumen. We seek to solve big problems for big benefit to the city, its businesses and its citizens.