The people are watching. As she slowly raises herself up from the floor and onto her hands, arms at 180, unfolding and then folding herself back into position like a collapsible chair, they stare in awe—then break out into accolades ranging from “beast" to “fuckin' goals" at her majestic display of strength and grace all in her tiny 5'1'' frame.
No, I'm not talking Gabby Douglas, I'm talking Racheal Weathers, an equally extraordinary talent in her own right.
A self-taught yogi, if we want to boast.
To her hundreds of thousands of followers, it's almost hard to believe that just four years ago the master of body manipulation was sitting at home twiddling her thumbs when fate led her to the page of fellow yoga queen Irene Pappas. Suddenly filled with inspiration, she tapped into her training as a former gymnast, pulled up a few YouTube videos, and began her own at-home practice.
“I was like I've done this before; it's definitely different, but I think I can do that," says Racheal. “People are always like oh you're good because you did gymnastics and I'm like no that's not the case; it's just practice. You don't have to have a background in anything to start."
Starting from home came with its own set of perks. For one, it kept money in her pockets. With the average cost of a yoga class ranging from $10 to $20, a person looking to make this into a daily practice would quickly find their wallets emptying. It also gave her a chance to become disciplined, and the lack of structure meant that she could go at her own pace and practice in a judgment free zone.
“I've definitely been to a couple of classes and I get stares and looks, and it's like I'm invisible. Then it's like, oh wow her practice is amazing, now let's talk. And it's annoying, it's very annoying."
She's not talking about the admiration experienced from her followers whenever she posts an inspiring photo or video clip of some seemingly impossible magic trick, but the slightly condescending gasps from those surprised that people of all races, genders, and genetic makeups can equally flex and contort their way into jaw-dropping positions, despite the growing popularity of the ancient practice.
“They're just blatantly ignorant to it even if they're not trying to be insulting. I'm coming in there and I'm not comfortable because you're starting at me. And I'm black and I got an afro."
Racheal's not one to talk about it without being about it. Instead of allowing the experience to consume her with anger, she instead channeled her energy into creating a space where people much like her and much different than her could come and comfortably reap the benefits of yoga and meditation.
“I don't care if you weigh 300 pounds, if you want to wear a sports bra and shorts you can and nobody is going to be staring at you or harassing you, you're not going to be ostracized."
As confident as Racheal speaks now, she wasn't always the person who could walk into a room, back straight and head held high. Growing up in Riverside, California, Racheal spent the majority of her childhood taking gymnastic classes, and by middle school became well aware that her thighs were a little thicker and her bottom a little rounder than her naturally thin counterparts. Though she was petite she says she was never skinny, and it became an insecurity that she carried with her even when she slipped her slightly-muscular frame into leggings and a t-shirt, and later into more skin-baring clothing.
“I was like okay, it's getting kind of hard to wear leggings and t-shirts, I need to just step outside of the box," says Racheal. “I was recording my progress on Instagram and I was wearing tank tops and shorts, and I really battled with that hard. So hard. And it's so funny to look back on it, but that was my reality at the time. I definitely give a lot of props to my yoga practice wardrobe for getting me into the mindset of 'okay Racheal, honestly no one cares,' which is a beautiful thing."
It's almost ironic, considering that many of her clients ask her how to get bigger arms and a toned body similar to hers, but Racheal notes that not everyone's body responds the same to the calistitenic-like workout. In fact, looks can be quite deceiving to where a person who appears to have no definition is extremely strong and the person who is flexing their biceps is barely holding their own weight.
But one thing that does appear to be beneficial for all is the spiritual and mental shift that often accompanies yoga. Although there are many practicing Buddhists and Hindus in the yoga community, people of varying beliefs sing the praises of what the practice has done for them mentally and spiritually. For Racheal, it was her relationship with God that grew stronger along with her body. “I don't know the requirements of what those religions are, but they say these certain things and I'm like I'm definitely not there. Those are the moments where I have to say either I'm going to stand for something or fall for anything—you can let them define you or you can define yourself. And it was almost like not defending my faith, but defining it. So from there, my relationship with God started to grow, things started to change, it was a whole 360 spiritually and mentally. Not giving practice the glory, but it was definitely a huge resource getting me to where I am today."
Who she is today is a woman who knows herself and knows what she stands for. She knows that her circle is a reflection of who she is and the direction her life will go, and that anybody with a lifestyle or mindset that doesn't align with hers can be kept at a distance.
“If I'm with you I want our lives to match up in a certain way, and there's a lot of people in the yoga industry that I've connected with. Sweet people, but I would not do a retreat with them because of how they conduct business. Even the yoga apparel lines, they pay amazingly but on your website you have all white women weighing 92 pounds, so what are you really saying? Yeah, you're a great person and you have a great product, but you're not here for everybody, and I am. So I can't connect with you."
In other words, nobody can kill her vibe. It's no surprise that she hangs out with fellow positive energy-enthusiast Alex Elle, who's also built a strong following by speaking her truth and staying rooted in who she is. The writer and entrepreneur took Racheal under her wing and helped her with the foundation of her product line Til.Co, which currently houses her Palm-Aid hand and foot mist to help keep yogis from slipping on their mats. Although she's not out to prove herself as a brand, she's thankful that she's been able to turn her passion into profit. Posting her pictures on social media under the moniker Yoga Racheal has lead her from having a small following to teaching sold out classes all over the country and Caribbean, as well as hosting retreats with some of the same women that she used to admire from afar. When she's not traveling, you can catch her at Green Tree Yoga in Inglewood teaching her weekly class, or pursuing other passions, such as voiceover work, as she transitions out of the Air Force and into following her purpose full-time.
“It's beautiful because when I teach classes and people are like you inspired me to do this, I'm like that's amazing to me—to be used for something so amazing and so much bigger than myself. It's literally all God; I had no hand in this."
And she's being completely humble when she speaks of the lives that she's changed by following her instinct. She's not only helped her many students with achieving things with their bodies that they never imagined possible, but she has even helped couples such as Shelah Marie and Ace Hood build stronger relationships and create a deeper connection on an emotional level.
If you ask her, it's simply a part of her purpose.
“I've come to the final realization that I was definitely destined to be a blessing to people. It's so bad because I always want to give stuff away for free, and it's just that part of me that wants to be a blessing. I definitely have to find a balance, but at the end of the day I found that it's what I want to be. If I had to put that on a tombstone it would say: Racheal Weathers wanted to be a blessing."
You can keep up with yoga on Instagram @YogaRacheal.
All images courtesy of Racheal Weathers