I took up yoga at a stretch. Now I can touch my toes

Adriene Mish­ler helps peo­ple who hate yoga to love yoga. I was scep­ti­cal, but she won me over

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Fitness - Anna Carey

‘It’s al­ways been my in­ten­tion to cre­ate yoga for peo­ple who per­haps need it the most but per­ceive it the least,” says Adriene Mish­ler. “Peo­ple who are not al­ready do­ing yoga.”

It’s six years since Mish­ler, a yoga teacher and ac­tor from Austin, Texas, teamed up with her busi­ness part­ner Chris Sharpe to cre­ate a YouTube chan­nel of­fer­ing yoga videos. Yoga With Adriene has more than four mil­lion sub­scribers. As well as the ba­sic foun­da­tions of yoga, there are hun­dreds of free videos vary­ing in length from five min­utes to 60, de­voted to ev­ery­thing from the ob­vi­ous (Yoga for Anx­i­ety) to the orig­i­nal (Yoga for the Ser­vice In­dus­try).

Sub­scribers can ac­cess ex­tra con­tent for a monthly fee, but Mish­ler puts up a free video ev­ery week. Her motto is “find what feels good”, and she stresses that ev­ery­one can find the level that works for them.

“If you look in the [Yoga with Adriene] com­mu­nity, you’re not go­ing to find a bunch of peo­ple who look the same or are from the same area or are the same age or body type. You see the di­ver­sity that you should see in yoga, and it brings a sense of unity and equal­ity to the whole prac­tice that makes you feel good, like we’re all in this to­gether. And I think that’s a lot more mo­ti­vat­ing most days than a hard tummy and yoga booty.”

The first time I tried one of Mish­ler’s videos, I was scep­ti­cal. I had tried many yoga classes over the years, and found them dif­fi­cult, in­tim­i­dat­ing and bor­ing. But I was cap­ti­vated and, 18 months later, I now do yoga at home ev­ery day and gen­uinely love it.

Turns out it’s hard to be scep­ti­cal when you can touch your toes com­fort­ably for the first time in your life.

So what makes her videos so ap­peal­ing? “It’s com­pletely free, and some­times her dog is there,” says Aoife Moore, who works for an NGO and who re­cently flew to London to take part in Mish­ler’s Alexan­dra Palace work­shop, part of Yoga with Adriene’s Find What Feels Good 2018 road­show. “Okay, full an­swer: her tone is so en­cour­ag­ing, and it’s never about per­fec­tion.”

“It’s hard to pin­point what it is that makes her so charm­ing, but she is mag­netic,” says crime nov­el­ist Jane Casey, who, like me, had never en­joyed yoga un­til she tried Mish­ler’s videos. “Her man­ner is so sin­cere and warm. She never seems to show off – in fact, quite the op­po­site as she ex­plains how hard cer­tain moves can be for her, or how un­cer­tain she can feel about her­self. She goes to great lengths to sug­gest that what she does might be pos­si­ble for ev­ery­one and any­one.”

It can, of course, be dif­fi­cult to fit yoga into a busy day.“I used to go to yoga class once a week, pay money, and feel lost at the back of a large class,” says Dublin-based aca­demic Emily Jones. “And then, of course, there are all the times I meant to go to a class but was run­ning late, or busy, and so never made it. Be­fore dis­cov­er­ing Adriene I had no at home prac­tice, and I as­sumed I never would.”

Now, she says, she prac­tises at least four times a week, “as op­posed to once or never. And I rely on her ‘bed­time yoga’ se­quences to help me wind down.”

While Mish­ler takes her yoga prac­tice se­ri­ously, there’s noth­ing po-faced about her ap­proach. “I en­joy the mo­ments of goofi­ness and hu­mour in her direc­tions,” says Aoife Moore. “I’m do­ing down­ward dog in my PJs be­cause a woman in Texas told me to – this is no time for solem­nity.”

This wry play­ful­ness is part of Mish­ler’s mis­sion to make yoga ac­ces­si­ble and en­joy­able. “I like to use hu­mour as a way to lov­ingly and gently coax and co­erce the com­mu­nity to re­ally be in the mo­ment and be lov­ing and be kind,” she says.

“It’s one thing to say ‘be kind to your­self’,

I’m do­ing down­ward dog in my PJs be­cause a woman in Texas told me to – this is no time for solem­nity

but how do we do that? I like to use hu­mour – some­times bad hu­mour, I know – to lov­ingly guide that ex­pe­ri­ence. And when peo­ple have fun and have an ex­pe­ri­ence where they’re like, ‘I did okay’ as op­posed to ‘I suck, I’m bad at yoga’, then they’re go­ing to come back and do it again and keep it up.”

Home truths

There are plenty of fit­ness videos and apps out there, but when ex­er­cis­ing with­out su­per­vi­sion, you have to be care­ful. Phys­io­ther­a­pist Stephanie Cross­land of Mill­town Phys­io­ther­apy in Dublin stresses that when ex­er­cis­ing at home, “noth­ing should be painful. It should only feel like a com­fort­able stretch.

“And when you come out of the move­ment, that stretch feel­ing should be gone. Only progress when you feel com­fort­able – don’t push on to some­thing just be­cause it’s the next level. It’s about lis­ten­ing to your body.”

A few days af­ter talk­ing to Mish­ler, I flew to London to take part in her work­shop in the beau­ti­ful Nash Con­ser­va­tory in Kew Gar­dens. About 100 peo­ple, the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of them women of all ages and sizes, rolled out their yoga mats in the warm, dimly lit space. For well over an hour gen­tle mu­sic played in the back­ground as Mish­ler took us through a se­quence of poses.

Then, to­wards the end, she said, “You know this next one,” and the fin­ger-picked gui­tar line that be­gins al­most ev­ery Yoga with Adriene video kicked in. As the fa­mil­iar mu­sic played, we moved to­gether, all of us stretch­ing and breath­ing as best as we could, find­ing what feels good.

Adriene Mish­ler: “When peo­ple have fun and have an ex­pe­ri­ence where they’re like, ‘I did okay’ as op­posed to ‘I suck, I’m bad at yoga’, then they’re go­ing to come back and do it again and keep it up’

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