Where do I even start with this review?
Well, Rachel started at the end and ended with the beginning, so I’m going to flip that and tell you how I got here in the first place.
Truthfully, it begins earlier than this, but I think this is a good starting point. First, I’ve talked about my yoga journey in a few different places: The Weight Loss Blog, Yoga Mat Reviews, and Cultural Appropriation in Western Yoga. The tl;dr of it is that I started practicing yoga in December 2010, and it saved my life.
And no, I’m not being dramatic.
I wish you could see when you started following someone on Instagram, but alas, a quick Google search tells me there’s no way. It honestly probably wasn’t too long before this picture, but who can really say for sure. When I first posted about Rachel Brathen on Tumblr, it was February 2015, but that was when she was still doing video bundles on her website and wasn’t even close to launching the Kickstarter for oneoeight, so I’d guess maybe 2014? 2013?
Either way, it’s been a long time. When she released her first book, Yoga Girl, I was ecstatic. It was coming out a few days before my birthday, and the signing closest to me was going to be in CT (about 2 hours drive). My brother bought me the book for my birthday, and gave it to me the day of the event. My dad is an absolute saint and drove me through rain and wind to CT where we sat in a church and waited while Rachel got stuck in traffic. These were back in the Snapchat days, and I religiously checked her Snapchat for updates, which meant I started freaking out when I saw her Snapping that she was running up to the church. I spun around, smacking my dad in my excitement, and there she was, beaming as she walked in.
I completely blacked out when it was my turn to talk to her, but my dad filmed it, so I definitely did talk to her. I’d made her a green dreamcatcher because she’d been going through a lot lately, and I wanted to give her something the color of the heart chakra, to maybe help a little. She told me that Dennis was absolutely going to roll his eyes when he saw that she had another dreamcatcher. I felt like I was on a cloud. She gave me two incredible hugs, I told her she was such an inspiration and thanked her for everything that she did, and then I was on my merry way.
It’s still, to this day, one of the most memorable nights of my life. We drove home through the worst fog ever, so bad that I had to stick my head out the window on a dark, winding road to make sure my dad didn’t drive off the road.
A few days later, she would go on to become a NYT bestseller, and I honestly didn’t even have to look at the picture to remember it.
I remember having this overwhelming sense of pride. SHE DID IT! I was so excited, and so proud, of Rachel for accomplishing something so amazing! And the book deserved it. It was unlike any other yoga book I’ve ever read, and still is unlike any of them. Truthfully, I’ve not read a lot because they usually amount to the same thing–here are a bunch of poses, with no modifications offered, and if you can’t do it, then you’re not cut out for this.
Rachel is also about inclusion and respect, and it’s one of the reasons I adore the work that she does. Yoga Girl is all of that, too, and I felt so lucky that I was able to meet her and let her know what an impact she was having. I mean, she lived in Aruba, and here I was, driving two hours from MA to CT just because she’d spoken that loudly.
I kept following her story, liking every picture on Instagram, and never thinking that I’d get to see her again.
And then, just like that, she posted about how she was going to be teaching a class in New Jersey. I don’t know how I missed the original announcement, but it was late at night when I saw it, the date was only five days away, and I did some quick math. I could afford it, the drive would be hellish, but probably doable, and you know what? I was going.
To get to NJ was a five-hour drive, and with the class at eleven, I gave myself an hour of getting lost and pee break time. I left at 5AM, and it was kind of an incredible ride. I listened to the radio, just letting whatever came on sweep me away. I watched the sunrise as I drove down the highway. Though I’ve been to NY a few times, I’d never been to Manhattan, and as I was driving along a bridge into NJ, I looked to the left, and there Manhattan was, a little peninsula sitting away from the state proper. It was pretty neat.
If I’m remembering correctly, it was a 90-minute class, Dennis & Ringo were there, and I got two assists during child’s pose and savasana. It was such a wonderful experience, even with the 6-hour drive home the same day. Yes, I know I’m insane.
But you have to understand–in a world where a lot of Instagram yoga instructors shove brands in your face, talk about weight loss constantly, or tell you that you’re not doing it right, Rachel Brathen is a beacon. She is a big advocator for yoga for every body, and one of my favorite things about her is how real she is when it comes to life. She’s just a human being, like every single other person in this world, and she has good days and bad, and she’s not here to be fake, or filter her life, or give you anything but love.
And so, when Rachel started talking about her new book, I was immediately excited. Nothing else mattered but that she was writing something new to share with the world. I silently cheered her on, and I told anyone who would listen how excited I was. I preodered it seconds after it went live, and I dropped everything to read it.
Going into To Love and Let Go, I knew what it was about. In a time of confusion and upheaval, Rachel experienced three enormous losses–her best friend, her grandmother, and her first dog. After years of childhood trauma and trying to figure out who she was as an adult, she was finally starting to feel a little settled when all three followed on the heels of each other.
Going in, I knew this. I knew Andrea’s story. I’ve read about it through Rachel’s Instagram. I knew Pepper’s story. He’s the whole reason behind her animal nonprofit. I even knew a little bit about her grandmother. None of this was news to me.
So why did I cry every hour while reading this book?
Because though my best friend did not die, he did walk away from me. He did hurt me beyond words. He did take my heart and rip it in pieces until it would heal with scar tissue and darkness and anger. He didn’t die, but it feels like he did.
And honestly, just even writing this right now, I want to cry. I did so much goddamn crying yesterday. I started crying at about page 20, when five-year-old Rachel thinks it’s her fault that her stepdad died. I cried when I read about twenty-something Rachel collapsing on an airport tarmac at the same moment her best friend was in a head-on collision with a truck. I cried when Rachel held the cold feet of her dying grandmother. I cried when Pepper stumbled and woke up blind. I cried when Rachel suddenly burst into tears in the middle of a class, and the student she was assisting said, I know. I lost someone, too. Crap, I’m crying now, too.
Because friendship loss is one of the most difficult things in the world to experience. You chose this person, and you love them more than anything, and you want nothing but happiness for them. You want them in your life always by choice, and to lose that? It’s the worst. The absolute worst.
At one point, Rachel wonders how many more times she can expect her husband to keep picking her up off the floor. She wonders if people think she’s crazy when she breaks down in an airport and just sits on the floor to cry. She wonders how much pain is too much pain. She wonders if this is all worth it, or if maybe she should just walk into the ocean and let it all end.
I wonder those same things.
How many more times can I talk about Jack before people get sick of hearing about it? How long am I allowed to grieve the loss of his friendship before people start to label me? When does the grieving end? When is the pain over? Is it ever going to go away, or am I just supposed to sit here with this ache in my soul for the rest of my life?
A lot of these questions ran through my head while I was reading, right up until the airport chapter. Andrea, her grandmother, and Pepper were dead. Rachel was returning from Costa Rica after visiting with Andrea’s family and settling Andrea’s house. She has Ringo with her, but there’s a new form that he needs, and she doesn’t have it. They won’t let her fly until he’s seen a vet and has been cleared for ten days. “You can’t go home,” the security offer says, and everything just breaks.
Rachel’s knees give out.
She’s been keeping up appearances for so long, and all she wants to do is go home, and now she can’t.
She sits down in the middle of the airport, and she starts crying hysterically. She wraps around Ringo, holding him close, and just sobs against his heartbeat. She can’t do this anymore. She needs a break.
She cries, and she cries, and she cries, and when she finally musters up the strength to look back up, the security guard is handing her back Ringo’s papers. “Go home,” he says, “Whatever you’re going through, it’s going to pass. The only way out is through.”
She stares at him for a second, and then she collects her things and walks away. She goes home.
But that line keeps ringing in my head.
The only way out is through.
I made a promise to my students the other night. I shared a little of my story, and I told them I was going to start working on heart openers again. I told them I was ready to start healing, to start doing it myself instead of relying on others. I was going to put in the damn work.
I’d forgotten what Rachel’s book was about, or even that it was coming out soon. That happens to me with preorders. They just show up in the mail, and it’s like surprise books!
But I told them to hold me accountable. If we don’t work on heart openers, I said, feel free to yell at me. I’m done hiding.
And then To Love and Let Go arrived in the mail, and wouldn’t you know, when you tell the universe you’re ready to start letting go and loving again, it throws all of that energy straight in your face.
So, we’ve arrived at the end. (For now.) When I first started yoga, I just thought it was a cool addition to this new Buddhism thing I was trying out. I never thought it was going to change my life. I never thought it was going to save me over and over again. I never thought I was going to drive eleven hours in one day just to take a yoga class. But here I am, nine years later, and I’m still learning more and more from this practice every day.
If you’re ready for it, To Love and Let Go is a phenomenal book.