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
‘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.”
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’