In early January, I was in North Carolina on a work trip, reporting on the Umstead Hotel just outside of Raleigh. Two women led me on a tour of the hotel’s organic farm: one with a neat bob and a polished trench, who worked in marketing for the hotel; one in hiking boots, who worked on the farm and was excitedly pointing out edible flowers and cardamom plants. We were all close in age, and talked about the stuff a group of women who’ve never met before but are quickly bonding do: Growing herbs, favorite restaurants, pets, workouts. “I’ve decided to do try this new thing where I do yoga every day,” I told them.
The other girls gave me a look. Daily yoga classes were clearly a more serious fitness commitment than they were expecting me to profess. I wondered if was because I looked ill-equipped to pursue such a rigorous fitness schedule, or because my vibe was more Media Elite Skeptic than She Who Has a Mantra. “No, no, no,” I said. “Just a little something: 20 minutes of sun salutations in the morning, a restorative stretch in my bedroom before I go to sleep. I’ve been doing these videos on YouTube.”
“Wait — are you talking about Yoga with Adriene?” asked the hotel marketer. I nodded. The farmer gave us both a high five. “You guys, I do Adriene, too.”
In the wellness era, as self-improvement has become an ever bigger Big Deal, being “well” is no joke. These days, fitness is increasingly marketed and perceived as an immersive experience, a “lifestyle choice,” costly (for a reason!) and difficult, it sometimes seems, for the sake of being difficult.
Like, if you’re not spending more than a car payment on that gym membership — with a 12-month commitment — you’re not really trying. Which may be why for the past decade, I’ve exercised in fits and starts. I get way into SoulCycle/Barry’s Bootcamp/New York Pilates, attend maniacally, and burn out after a few weeks or months — sick of spending half my life and all of my disposable income on $35-plus (each!) exercise classes. I end up ditching it all, and go back to doing nothing beyond walking my dog around the block until the next phenom beckons.
I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to realize that the problem wasn’t the exercise, it was the all-or-nothing pressure to turn every muscle twitch into an obsession. Science is on my side here: A study published last year in Circulation, the journal for the American Heart Association, found that committed but moderate exercise four to five times a week was almost as effective at protecting the heart against aging as the kind of extreme workouts that elite athletes (and Barry’s devotees) do.
Hence the new-to-me appeal of Yoga with Adriene: Exercise that is free, low commitment, even…pleasant? That’s the kind a girl could stick with.
Which may be what turned 4.4 million subscribers on to Adriene Mishler. Known as “the people’s yogi,” she is the biggest yoga star on YouTube. In 2015, Yoga with Adriene was the most searched workout on Google. Yet her popularity still feels niche enough that I, an avid yoga fan who doesn’t spend a great deal of time on YouTube, had never heard of her until last year, when I asked a friend to recommend the best yoga video one could do in a hotel room. The thing about Yoga with Adriene is that once you start talking about her, you realize everyone in your life is secretly obsessed with her. The friend who first recommended Adriene has done her videos almost daily for at least a year. Another woman I know keeps a count of how many consecutive days she’s done Adriene sessions — the millennial version of a snapstreak. She’s on 436. I know this because she posts the running tally every evening on Instagram Stories.
Adriene has posted hundreds of free videos, one for every mood. Her hour-long classes are just as sweaty and challenging as any vinyasa class in a big city studio. There’s a 20-minute video for stretching after travel. Yesterday, I did a 7-minute routine without ever getting off the couch. All are filmed in her Austin, Texas dining room, usually with her cattle dog, Benji, napping in the background. Her body is fit, obviously, and marvelously bendy, but it’s also kind of normal — a welcome relief from the washboard abs and Terminator biceps of the mic’d up warriors who teach SoulCycle. And Adriene is slightly goofy: She might advise you to spread your arms as wide as “a big Texas T,” or break out into Janet Jackson’s All for You while breathing through warrior pose. Her workouts don’t require straps or blocks or anything, really, but a tiny bit of space and a mat, or even a humble towel. Her instructions are precise and geared toward avoiding injury: When you take your left wrist into your right hand and bend it just so, she lets you know that you should feel that stretch all over your left side, not just in your arm and shoulder. But that’s all just…teaching yoga.
If there’s some more ephemeral magic at work here, it’s a specific low-key Adriene-ness. Unlike the classic fitness coach stereotype, she has no expectations, no hardcore goals — she’s not pushing you to do more or try harder. This low-stakes, no-commitment, little-something-every-day approach has made exercise a joyful, and pleasurable, part of my day. Yes, every day. These days, I feel less creaky when I wake up in the morning, my posture has improved, and I’ve noticed some definition in my shoulder muscles. But I keep at it, first and foremost, because it makes me feel good.
Yesterday, what made me feel good was a 7-minute couch workout. Tonight I think it’s going be something a little more energizing for an early-evening pick me up. But at the moment, I’m on deadline, so excuse me: I have a date with 12 Minute Yoga for Brain Power.