Q&A: OmGal’s Rebecca Pacheco on Yoga, Meditating, and Life
The yogi extraordinaire tells us why practicing on the mat alone isn’t enough.
Rebecca Pacheco is more than a yoga instructor. After working for years in marketing and education, she became the yoga mastermind behind the hugely successful wellness blog omgal.com and is currently at work on a book to be published next year by Harper Collins. Here, she tells us why yoga doesn’t stop at the mat, why you should be meditating, and how she keeps it all together.
How did you go from careers in marketing and education to yoga?
The yoga came first. I began practicing at the age of 16, so yoga has been a common thread throughout half my lifetime. In the beginning when I was teaching, it was really a labor of love. It was really something I did on the side, moonlighting as a side job or part-time job beginning in college and then beginning here in Boston after I graduated from college at the University of Richmond in 2001. So from 2001 onward, really, I’ve been teaching yoga in some capacity. To be honest, the opportunities and the industry has evolved a lot and so it’s given me the opportunity to kind of create a unique career path. I guess the short answer for this would be I never had a specific plan in terms of a conventional trajectory of getting from point A to point B. I always sought careers and opportunities that excited me, that lit me up, and those have often been in fields where I’m communicating with people. I love conveying a message. And what’s best for me, and the best combination for me and the route that really marries all my strengths, is when that message is one of health and wellness.
You stress yoga “off the mat”. What does that mean?
I think it’s very exciting that yoga has become so popular, but there’s also a disconnect between what we do on the mat and how we live. And I think yoga offers a lot that people don’t get just by going to 60-minute or 90-minute classes, and it could be even more helpful to them in their daily lives. For instance, traditional yoga philosophy teaches us that there are lots of ways to do yoga. One of them happens to be asana, or the poses. [But] your attitude toward the world is yoga, your attitude toward yourself is a yoga practice. So those are things that anyone can relate to and anyone can do; you don’t have to have flexible hamstrings. Trust me, I’m a fitness fanatic—I love the physical experience of yoga. But I also think that there’s a lot of meaning and opportunity for people to use yoga as inspiration for modern life.
How can people apply that to everyday life?
One yoga practice is called pratyahara. When you read it in old textbooks, it sounds very heady and unrelatable. It means withdrawal of the senses. So you read that and you go, “Huh?” But I take that to mean, in a modern context, withdrawing the senses—your eyes, your ears, your taste buds—from all the overstimulating of lots and lots of noise, lots and lots of news and media and Internet all day long every day, lots of opportunities to distract yourself with Facebook and social media. I think that the modern yogi often feels the need to turn inward, withdraw the senses, unplug and recharge. At the end of the day we all plug our phone back in; we know it needs to recharge. We’re less practiced in doing that for ourselves.
You also emphasize meditation. Why is it important?
Meditation is the foundation. It’s really important to yoga. It’s important in daily life because it gives your brain an opportunity to hit the reset button. It gives you the opportunity to just be a witness to your own thought, and when you do that often enough it very simply offers you more space between your thoughts so that you find that after meditation you have the ability to think more clearly, you might be better at making decisions or thinking more creatively or finding resolutions to problems because you’ve given your brain a little bit of space.
Meditation can seem really intimidating. Where should people start?
Meditation is hard, and it is intimidating. But I think the key thing that people need to know is, it’s not you. It’s hard for everyone. It’s difficult, and it’s not supposed to look or feel a certain way. Meditation is not a skill of making everything perfect. It’s a skill of seeing the world more clearly, it’s a skill of being connected to the truest you, the most essential version of you. You remove all the other junk: the job title, the clothes, the good hair day, the bad hair day. What is left is that essential you that yoga wants to connect you with, that meditation wants to reveal to you. Meditation can put you better in the here and now. That, to me, is so much more useful than, for example, balancing on your head.
So how does the physical piece come together with the spiritual?
The physical piece is paramount. Your physical body connects to your mind and it does the work of your spirit; to me, they’re inextricably linked. I just think that the image of yoga and yoga industry and the way yoga is practiced today sometimes misses the spiritual element and overlooks that, the benefit to the mind that yoga offers.
How do you balance the zen life of a yogi with being an online yoga presence?
Sometimes it feels balanced, and sometimes it feels just as chaotic as anyone else’s life. I won’t mislead that it’s easy and that I’m meditating all day long, but I think the key is knowing yourself and how to come back into balance when things feel chaotic. The blog that I started was just a way for me to contribute a voice and contribute the knowledge I had accumulated that I felt people weren’t getting in a typical 60-minute to 90-minute class setting. Through my yoga and meditation practices and what I teach—I try and really walk the walk—I’m able to come back into balance when I feel like things have gotten too crazy.