Are you intimidated by yoga? Do you think it’s reserved for bendy, Lululemon-clad swans who “eat clean” and haven’t had a hangover in 10 years — while you, poor slob, only wear yoga pants to the grocery store?
Then Rebecca Pacheco is your guru. The yoga teacher and writer has a massive following in Boston and beyond, and her acclaimed first book, “Do Your Om Thing: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life” (HarperCollins), is out in paperback this week. The book is an offshoot of her widely read blog, Om Gal, where she dispels myths about yoga being only for the impossibly lithe and flexible. Instead, Pacheco focuses on how yogic principles can improve our everyday lives.
“If you can breathe, you can do yoga,” says the 37-year-old South Ender, newly married to Heartbreak Hill Running Company founder Dan Fitzgerald. Yes, they’re a very athletic duo. But Pacheco is so down-to-earth that she doesn’t intimidate.
“Yoga can sound too precious, too perfect, and too geared to a certain type of person who eats a certain way and dresses a certain way and lives a certain kind of life,” Pacheco says. “[There are] a lot of stereotypes around it, and what I did was bust that open a little bit and say: What if you have a corporate job? What if you look different? Can you listen to gangster rap and do yoga? I wanted to challenge stereotypes in a loving way.”
Her approach works. Pacheco has taught everyone from Olympic swimmers to professional ballerinas to Boston firefighters. She led the first-ever yoga class on the field at Fenway Park, an improbable locale to be sure, and has held classes at the Boston Public Library and atop the Colonnade Hotel. She also teaches at the Boston Center for Adult Education and has branched into meditation classes at Equinox Sports Club downtown, leading a 5:15 p.m. session for frazzled office workers, a true testament to her skill.
Maybe the reason Pacheco seems so accessible is because she started yoga like so many of us — feeling kind of gawky. She took her first class as a teenager on Cape Cod, back in the days when Tae Bo was way cooler than down dog. Her first yoga mat was a beach towel.
“I just had an inkling I might enjoy it,” she says. “In hindsight, I consider how important it was for any teenager. A teenager feels uncomfortable anywhere. You feel like an oddball all the time. I might have felt like an oddball, but I also felt very peaceful and welcomed.”
Her interest in yoga dovetailed with its ascendance in the late 1990s — even Madonna was doing it! — and Pacheco traveled to India to study eastern philosophy and explore yoga more deeply after college. Still, she didn’t consider it a career. Instead, she worked with at-risk youth and in marketing, teaching Baptiste Yoga on the side at a downtown studio that drew hundreds of students each day.
Gradually, though, she was compelled to integrate yoga with her everyday life, so she began blogging as Om Gal in 2008.
“The hope was: Would it would give me an outlet to synthesize where yoga fits in real life? Yoga is more meaningful than poses -- it’s off the mat, but I wasn’t seeing enough evidence of it for the average person,” she says.
As with most successful bloggers, one post really resonated — in this case, about Pacheco’s impish Portuguese grandmother, on the brink of Alzheimer’s disease at the time. She suddenly raised her finger and spoke: “Rebecca! God don’t sleep!”
What did it mean?
“Whatever God is to you, it doesn’t abandon you, it doesn’t put a ‘do not disturb’ on the door or send an out-of-office e-mail,” she says.
And therein lies her take on yoga.
“Organized religion is less common now, but I do believe people want community. You get out of the small self of ‘What time is dinner?’ and tap into a deeper core,” she says. “Yoga means to unite and join together. If you have a place or practice that connects you to a deeper version of yourself, it’s a very valuable thing.”
A literary agent lurked on the blog, and the message struck a chord. A book deal followed, with a long gestation period. (“I didn’t have the luxury of absconding to a cabin in the woods,” Pacheco says.)
“Do Your Om Thing” came out in 2015, a refreshing counterpoint to the popular yoga narrative of uber-bliss and impossible poses. Newsflash: Not everyone who practices yoga needs to live like a nun.
“Yoga promoted itself in that way — if you got stressed out and drank too much wine, you were a bad yogi. I just wanted to look more thoughtfully at those questions. One of the nicest compliments I ever got was that this is not a yoga book; it’s a life book with yoga tools,” she says.
Now Pacheco is hard at work on a second book, title to be determined, about meditation.
“I want to investigate the questions of how to be present in daily life and how to really give ourselves the antidote to the breakneck pace all of our lives have taken on in the Internet age, when we’re inundated by information 24-7,” she says. “The Internet is awesome; it’s a blessing. But people are searching for a way to strike a balance.”
Any secrets in the meantime?
“You’re not bad if you have a stressful day at work or if you overindulge in pizza. Take the pressure off and know that, if you sit for five minutes and breathe with intention, this can be your practice for the day,” she says. “People think they’re doing it ‘wrong,’ so why do it at all? It’s more valuable to say, ‘A little goes a long way.’ ”
Zen, indeed.Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org