HARRY FRASER | REGULARS
Kind regards and many thanks, this is Harry Fraser, the Regulars Editor for the world-renowned Grapeshot Magazine. It may be a new year, but old habits die hard which means that once again I will be undertaking a challenge. This issue, I have decided to take my therapist’s advice to stave off latent panic attacks. That’s right, I’ll be doing a 30-day yoga challenge.
A close friend and Macquarie University alumni suggested I try Yoga with Adriene, or simply YWA, a very popular yoga teacher on YouTube. Full disclosure, I had been using Adriene’s videos before I started the 30 challenge and as such, I wouldn’t classify myself as a total beginner; more of a novice.
The challenge is a 30-day program called Breath, with Adriene posting a video every day for most of January with a common theme of, you guessed it, the breath. More on this later. The videos varied in length from 16 minutes to 48 minutes and a full calendar was available on Adriene’s website so I could plan accordingly and know what was coming up. Adriene would also send through daily emails to notify me of a new video upload. I don’t think she composed the emails personally, but they were very wholesome and heart-warming, nonetheless.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge my virtual teacher, Adriene. Just like Claire from the now defunct Bon Appetit test kitchen, I would die for Adriene. What’s more, I would also die for her dog Benji. Don’t think that I am overreacting or exaggerating. Adriene is a warm, kind and charismatic person that seems to occupy the role of a friend rather than an instructor.
Her quirky humour, unprompted singing and sexual innuendoes are expressions of intimate vulnerability that we don’t often find online or even in person. You quickly feel that Adriene is relatable and accessible and this might explain her significant online following.
Starting her YouTube channel in 2012, Adriene Mishler has cultivated over 9 million subscribers and fostered an accessible culture of mindfulness and inclusivity. Offering many of her videos and teaching free of charge, Adriene caters for all, no matter the state of their physical, mental or spiritual health.
It is important to note that this is not a sponsored article despite my major fangirling over Yoga with Adriene. I genuinely enjoy and savour her work and it excites me to see that a new video has been dropped.
Coming into the 30-day program, I had done various YWA videos in no particular order. I chose my own adventure as they say. As I mentioned before, the name of this program, or 30-day yoga journey as Adriene calls it, is Breath.
Prior to this program, I had very much considered yoga as a somewhat one-dimensional practice that focussed on stretches and poses, like downward dog. The idea of a conscious breath and aligning my physical movement with my breath was unknown to me. It wasn’t until I started this specific program that I started to grapple with the integrity of the breath.
I now also had a strict time schedule. I was to do at least one YWA video every day for 30 days. I considered this a good means of establishing a habit and getting yoga into my daily routine as opposed to just doing it when I felt like it.
Although I still have a few days to go, there are a few points and takeaways worth mentioning.
Firstly, I have come to recognise the centrality of the breath and breathing more generally to the practice of yoga. Every lesson we would begin by drawing our attention to the breath. If you’re slightly confused by the statement, don’t worry, I was too. I very quickly learned that the physical side of yoga, such as the poses, were secondary to the breath, at least in this program.
There could be practices that went for 20 minutes with mainly just breathing. But sure enough, over time and with repetition, the idea of checking in with my breath became familiar and comfortable for me. Words cannot accurately or justly convey what exactly this conscious attention to the breath is. But I’ll still try.
Breathing is a reflex and thankfully automatic. You don’t often (if ever) have to actively breathe with intention. The hard work is done for us by our bodies. The only time that I have personally become aware of my breath is during anxious or panicked moments and that is truly an odd sensation, to be aware of one’s breath and the act of breathing.
Some of Adriene’s guidance included expanding the belly with the inhale and deflating on the exhale. She would describe the way our body should feel while we breathe and this helped me become better acquainted with my breath. Whenever I feel stressed, panicked or just not right, the simple act of consciously breathing has provided me with so much relief.
Part of the reason yoga focusses on the breath is the insight and power it offers. This is another facet of yoga practice: getting to know yourself better. Breathing is a primal human action; it embodies what it is to be human and to be alive. In one video, Adriene referenced the poem The Guesthouse by Rumi and for the first time in my life I felt an overwhelming sense of perspective.
What I took from the poem combined with the consciousness of my breath was the idea that I might be life experiencing a human rather than a human experiencing life. In other words, I was an observer and my body, my thoughts and my emotions were not necessarily part of me but rather something at arm’s length.
I cannot do justice to the sensation and scepticism is understandable. I am not describing some divine out of body experience here, but instead what I felt to be mindful. This is an enduring benefit of regular yoga practice, this inner peace and quieting of the mind and the heart.
Another dynamic that I was very pleased to find in yoga was the holistic nature of YWA. In my experience some forms of physical exercise, particularly when the focus is on weight loss, good self-esteem and kindness are often overlooked. Results are driven by a need to change or improve your appearance.
In a refreshing move, Adriene constantly reminds us to ‘find what feels good’ and maintains a culture of inclusivity, acceptance and self-love. It sounds cheesy but ultimately you go away from the practice not focussed on what you are not, but rather what you are and how much you can do.
Of course, there are days when you are sore and there is a lot of sweating and grunting involved. But the journey is underpinned by a respect for your body and its power and this for me makes all the difference.
And yes, I have become stronger and more flexible. I have noticed the planks are easier and I’ve even attempted some lifts. Strength can come in more than one form and they are all complimentary. A healthy mind is necessary for a healthy body and vice versa. I have developed a yoga habit I must say and it’s not going anywhere despite the completion of this challenge. As they say to end in YWA, “lift your thumbs to the third eye point, take second, namaste.”