Apparently, there’s nothing my body loves more than starting a new year off by coming down with the flu. Last January, I stayed in bed for almost two weeks, and it did weird things to my head: I was sick and bored and actually angry at my body. I devoted so much headspace to feeling weak and pathetic that I started to give in to the fear that maybe I was a weak and pathetic person. Even when I started to regain my energy, I couldn’t bring myself to hit the gym or even venture outside for a brisk, mind-clearing walk. I knew I needed to quiet my mind. So instead, I turned to my favorite yoga class — or I should say yoga videos on YouTube: Yoga With Adriene.
I first came across Yoga With Adriene when I moved to New York a few years ago. I remember feeling freaked out by the cultish commitment my athletic friends and new coworkers had for fancy, expensive-sounding workout classes and boutique fitness studios. As someone who had never done a pull-up in my life, I couldn’t imagine having the time, money, or overall athletic skill to have that kind of routine.
So, I signed up for a $30-a-month budget gym around the corner, but even there, I was too intimidated to use anything but the most accessible-looking treadmill. That’s why, when I was mindlessly searching on YouTube one day, it was so alluring to think about trying this whole yoga thing from the safety of my 7-by-10 bedroom.
After watching my first yoga video, reassuringly titled Yoga For Complete Beginners, I immediately ordered a yoga mat online. I was hooked. Here was an extremely doable set of mostly stretching moves that even I could handle. What’s more, I didn’t have to deal with a punitive reservation system or judgy gym rats to do it. I could figure out how to move my body without feeling idiotic, embarrassed, or overextended.
The instructor, Adriene Mishler, had a Leighton Meester–like grin and calming, ASMR-y voice that sometimes delightfully lapsed into a Texan twang when she went off-script. She was a welcome contrast to kind-of-intense workout personalities, like Jillian Michaels, who I thought were the norm.
And Adriene had hundreds of YouTube yoga videos. Some were organized into 30-day challenges, others by theme or length — there was everything from 22-minute Gentle Morning Yoga for those weekends when I was too hungover for words, to full ass-kicking yoga workout sequences that made me sweat happily, to even kind of cheesy videos like Yoga for a Broken Heart that were basically part meditation, part gentle pep talk. Over the following summer, when I had to deal with crippling lower back pain and a grueling physical therapy schedule, I watched every single back-related video Adriene had, and it helped me keep up my routine.
At the risk of sounding too “hippy-dippy,” as Adriene would call it, doing these YouTube yoga videos over the years has disarmed some deeply held anxieties I’d always attached to working out — and to reckoning with my body in general.
Doing yoga videos when I was getting over that awful flu, for example, helped to remind me that, hey, my body was still pretty cool and strong, even when I felt weak. There was something therapeutic in how Adriene coached me from my laptop screen to “notice my bones” and “breathe into my lower-back space” and stop and marvel at the way my wrists worked.
See, rather than extolling soon-to-be-visible results or reciting blank maxims, what I came to love most about these yoga videos is how each one taught me to truly relish movement for movement’s sake — for example, to try to feel every tiny curl of the spine when I was cat-cow-ing or to embrace the inevitable quiver that comes from planking longer than 10 seconds.
“Sometimes, it’s just nice to be with your body and your breath,” Adriene muses at the end of a recent video I’ve been watching a lot, Yoga For When You Are Sick. And that’s what brings me back again and again, to this one pure, restorative corner of the internet, where I can unfurl my mat and check in with what sometimes feels like a clumsy, unwieldy body, and take pleasure in the way it can move and change on any particular day.