How YouTube Yoga Completely Changed My Life (For Real)


YouTube Yoga teacher, Adriene Mishler, brought her style of self-love to London last week. I wrote about how the experience left this reluctant yogi totally transformed for The Debrief.

I’m crouched on my yoga mat in a cavernous hall in east London surrounded by 300 other yogis  — and I’m sobbing.

We’re not talking about a few discreet tears gently rolling down my cheeks. We’re talking  uncontrollable crying, shoulders shaking and snot congealing in my poor unfortunate sister’s hair.

Luckily it seems that everyone else here (predominantly white women in their twenties to forties, although there’s a smattering of men in the crowd) to practice with Adriene Mischler — the woman whose online yoga channel on YouTube has almost 1.8 million subscribers — are too jazzed to notice.

We’ve just finished an hour and half long yoga class with the woman herself. She’s flown in from her hometown of Austin, Texas for a mini European tour, teaching two classes here in Bethnal Green, one in Manchester and two final stops in Amsterdam and Berlin.

Crying in public isn’t something I want to do, but the experience of hearing hundreds of people exhale in union, each of whom have spent £30 on a ticket (to a yoga class) and have travelled from all over the country to be here, has overwhelmed me.

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Getting ready for YWA in London. Photo: Kathryn Clements

It’s not just that, though. There’s something about Adriene’s words which resonate deeply. As she says, ‘we’re not really here to do yoga’. There’s something else going on…and it’s about more than pulling off the perfect boat pose.

Let me rewind to give you some context. I’m not a natural yogi. I’m not one of those girls you see on Instagram striking a perfect pose in Lululemon leggings whilst somehow simultaneously sipping on a green juice.

My best friend became my best friend because we skived off PE together at school, sneaking out to smoke cigarettes. For the longest time, exercise and I were enemies. The sweating, the jiggling, the bright red face, I just did not get it.

Throughout my teens and early twenties I really struggled. Growing up in a culture that felt to me like the most important indicator of my worth was how fuckable I was to men, I internalised the messages I received about how a woman should look and turned them into a deep self-hatred.

I was so detached from my body that I abused it in any way I could – by overeating or depriving it of food altogether, smoking, drinking, drugs, sex with awful men, self-harm – the whole shebang.

Reflecting on that time in my life now, it worries me that I wasn’t especially unusual in this sort of behaviour. In fact, beyond being socially acceptable it almost seems that young women are encouraged (yet simultaneously shamed) to behave in these ways. I suppose, if women feel good about themselves, quite a few industries would cease to exist. But, anyway I digress. That’s a different article.

The point is, my story is, sadly, not unique. Maybe this is even how you, reading this, feel right now; full of self-loathing and desperate to change how you look.

I had been curious about yoga for years, yet the first few times I tried it were disastrous. Public classes were alien to me, I didn’t know any of the sanskrit words the teacher was saying and  looked around desperately to try and copy what everyone else is doing. I didn’t feel relaxed or zen, I just felt fat, stiff and not very good.

Then I was introduced to Yoga with Adriene on YouTube by my sister. Very much aimed at beginners and with videos named things like ‘Bedtime Yoga’, ‘Yoga for Anxiety’ and ‘Yoga for Self Love’, there was something for every one of my fluctuating moods – and was all FREE.

Every January the channel does a special 30 day yoga challenge. 30 days whispering mantras like ‘I am strong’ or ‘I am grateful’ may sound like a cheese-fest but I didn’t care. When the mental chatter in my mind is so often running negative rings around your self esteem (’Give up. You can’t do it. You’re not good enough’), taking a little bit of time everyday to do something kind for myself has helped to flip the script in my mind.

Soon I was practising every day, wanting to fill myself up with positive vibes. Eventually, Adriene’s mantra to ‘Find What Feels Good’ clicked and I actually started to enjoy feeling the stretch in the back of my legs during downward dog or how saluting the sun really does feel like gathering up positive energy. Such a simple message became profound for me. We live in a world where we are encouraged to suffer – to deprive ourselves or feel pain in pursuit of our goals whether they be in relation to weight, fitness, relationships or careers. As women especially, feeling good about your body is a truly radical act.

There are endless yogis on Instagram, so why does Adriene have so many loyal followers? Why is she so loved? I think it’s because, in a world concerned with perfect imagery, she is refreshingly ordinary. She’s mildly obsessed with her dog Benji, makes rude jokes (and unashamedly laughs at them) and talks about drinking margaritas. She’s very normal and also, as trite as this might sound, very nice.

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So nice, in fact, that she arranged two meet-ups for the Yoga with Adriene (YWA)community in London. Going to a pub on a Friday night to meet a bunch of random strangers to talk about yoga isn’t something I thought I would ever do, I’ll be honesy. And yet, last week I found myself swapping stories about how Adriene’s ‘No Fear Yoga’ helped me get over an ex and hearing about how her videos helped one girl with crippling anxiety.

Adriene may have 1.8 million fans around the world, but she can still have a chinwag with a bunch of girls she’s only just met in an East London boozer. We chat easily with Adriene, asking her if she ever expected her YouTube channel to become so huge when she started it four years ago with her business partner Chris. She tells us that she never imagined that YWA would grow so big; she had always wanted to be a famous actress, but her feelings about fame have changed dramatically. I don’t know many famous actresses with millions of followers who would have a conversation like this – yet this kind of connection is what we all seek when we scroll through our social media feeds.

One of the community members, Danni Nicholls, performs an intimate set for us and I can’t help but be moved by her emotionally revealing music. When I chat to Adriene afterwards we talk about how hard it is for women to stand up and really be seen. She shares with me the feelings of vulnerability having her body on camera in her videos provokes and how she has had to overcome her fear of being seen.

Back in the hall, tears dried, my sister and I reflect on what Adriene tells us all as we lie on our backs taking deep breaths and settling in to our practice. She admits to us that, before leaving Texas she had a wobble. A big wobble. She shares that she wondered whether she could do it. Was the tour too big? Would we like her? For someone who is loved by so many, to know she struggles with the same doubts I do is beyond comforting. Nobody’s real life is a perfect reflection of their Instagram life.

That night I have a dream that I am holding crow pose – a tricky posture that requires you to balance on your hands. The next day on my mat I fly for the first time. I feel like I can do anything.

Yoga is a practice, there’s no end. It’s not a competition, there’s no prize. It’s not about expensive leggings or Instagram selfies. Yoga is about your relationship with yourself and the world around you. It’s about compassion, forgiveness and healing. In this crazy world we really need yoga’s philosophy of non-harm – to others and ourselves.

I don’t recognise myself from who I was a few years ago – and I don’t mean that my thighs are thinner. I feel like I have tools to help me when those old negative patterns of thinking come creeping around the corners of my mind and threaten to envelop it often. Now I know I can breathe and consciously change the script.

This article originally appeared on The Debrief. If you’re interested in commissioning me to write for your publication or blog, please contact me: tamsinwrites@gmail.com 

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