Some of the best ideas lie dormant within us—messy fragments of brilliant concepts that clank and bang around unformed in our subconscious—until we meet that person who truly gets it. She helps put words to our vision. She shapes and forms the pieces. She stokes the embers of our thoughts until they become a roaring fire.
For 33-year-old fitness entrepreneur Rachel Rubin, that person was 47-year-old Tami Astorino, M.Ed., an organizational specialist who had a similar vision and had the skill set to help her execute it.
The concept sounded simple enough—Rubin and Astorino wanted to create a movement in which women garnered strength and courage from each other, from nature, and from within. So often they saw women—including themselves—being flattened by the weight of societal expectations and pressures, by the be-all-things-to-all people mentality to which so many of us subscribe. They dreamed of bringing women out into nature, away from their daily routines, for a day or 2, to give them a chance to move their bodies, stand side by side with other women from diverse backgrounds, and to quiet the noise around them so they could hear the voice inside.
They knew the idea had legs—Rubin herself had clawed and scratched her way through a major life change. From a comfortable life as a young, married fitness instructor with an impressive following, Rubin was suddenly navigating uncertain water, raising a toddler, going through a divorce, and exploring her sexuality and attraction to women. Rubin clearly understood how often women get boxed in, stifled, and misunderstood.
When she was introduced to Astorino in 2016 (on a you-have-to-meet-this-person blind coffee date set up by a mutual friend), they immediately connected. While they were 15 years apart in age and had plenty of other superficial differences, the two women bonded over a shared desire to empower, connect, and inspire women. Astorino found Rubin’s fire and urgency completely magnetic, and Astorino’s grounded wisdom and intentions made Rubin feel like she could turn her dreams into concrete plans. She was also looking to make a change in her own life.
Rubin’s idea perfectly fit her background, first as a school counselor, then as a non-profit educator developing programs to help adolescent girls build self-confidence and leadership skills, a yoga and fitness instructor, and a mom of two, and the timing was serendipitous.
It was clear that to turn their vision into a full-blown movement, they’d need both her status as a local fitness influencer with a steady following as well as Astorino’s decades of experience creating programs that unite and empower girls, adolescents, and women. With the support of Alexa Rosenthal, a then-28-year-old creative director who helped them solidify the brand, they soon gave birth to Rise Gatherings, and they began planning the first retreat weekend for the spring of 2017.
“The name came to me in a meditation because it embodies everything that this movement is about,” Rubin says. “Rise is about purpose and pleasure. It’s about how you can bring more enjoyment into your life and how you can become more empowered to pursue and embrace who you are and what you desire. From there, the call is to follow that, to rise to the occasion. It’s to rise to meet yourself for all of who you are.”
Women don’t need to outshine each other. The combination of our lights is so much brighter.
This Is Me
Once they brainstormed and framed out the scope and purpose behind Rise Gatherings, which included workshops for emotional and mental well being, experiences to explore womanhood, mindful movement, creative expression and self-care, Rubin and Astorino knew they wanted Rise Gatherings to take place in nature. That’s why they made their day retreats and weekend in beautiful spaces—Trail’s End Camp in the Pocono Mountains and a private estate in New Hope, Pa.
In May 2017, it was show time, and they brought 150 women to the camp to explore all aspects of themselves and their womanhood together with the help of more than 20 experts. “The idea of women committing to showing up to something in person is that they are making a choice to do something for themselves,” Rubin says. “That alone is the beginning of their transformation. Just the sheer fact that they’ve made a choice to take a day off from their daily demands to give themselves a day is huge.”
But for many women, taking time for themselves feels selfish, especially if it means missing a soccer tournament or a work meeting, but Astorino says it’s actually crucial to doing all the jobs we’re required to do as our best selves. “It is not self-indulgent. It’s so necessary that women step away and take a moment for themselves. They do so much—they keep so many plates spinning—but we can’t feel so needed that we can’t step out,” she says. “Plus, when you take that time, then you go home, your family is glad you went because you can be a more loving partner and a more understanding parent. You’re a more patient coworker and a more inspired employee. You come back better.”
Two years in, the retreats and events continue to evolve. Now with their second Poconos weekend retreat in the books, Rise Gatherings offer frequent days of renewal and events themed around self-discovery and the power of community.
While Rubin and Astorino both have backgrounds in yoga and fitness, they reject and fight against the pressure for women to strive for physical perfection. Rise Gatherings are about helping women achieve health from the inside out. Growing up naturally thin and working in the fitness industry, Rubin often struggled to be seen beyond her physical appearance. She came to a point in her life in her mid-twenties when she felt like she was just going through the motions and “checking the boxes.”
Astorino can relate, recalling a time in her youth that she looked the part of a smart, attractive, put-together teen while she was actually suffering inside. “From the outside, I was going places, I was a high achiever, I was a leader in my school, and I was going to a good college,” Astorino says. “But I was a mess on the inside—full of self-doubt, preoccupied with dieting and perfectionism, not dealing with my emotions, angry about gender disparity I felt but didn’t understand, even being told I could ‘do anything.’ I think that for my generation, we heard that as we have to do everything.”
At Rise Gatherings, Rubin and Astorino use a variety of modalities—from Kettlebell Kundalini to dance—and bring in a range of speakers, experts, and practitioners to bring value to their retreats and help women down the road of self-discovery.
Whether they’re encouraging women to own their desires or love their life at any age or life stage, Rubin says she most wants to impart how important it is to define yourself and drown out the voices telling you to be something else. “It took for me to cultivate this relationship within myself for me to find my way. It was through my relationship with me that I began to discover so much of what life is and so much of who I am on my own terms,” Rubin says. “It was my culture and my parents and my husband that were all trying to define me, and I was never going to be fulfilled in that way.
“The only way to find that fulfillment was by finding myself.”
You can find the original article at REAL WOMAN Magazine.