I'm not a resolution-maker, so when a few friends suggested I try Adriene Mishler's January 2020 yoga challenge, I was skeptical. I signed up anyway, with just enough curiosity to commit to it for the month, but no plans to continue beyond. 365 days later, I surprised myself by logging an entire year of yoga.
Beyond the strength and flexibility I gained, doing yoga every day -- specifically doing Mishler's yoga every day -- helped me put things in perspective as the world grappled with a, political upheaval and fights for social justice.
Sweaty puddle room
Every January, Mishler -- the creator of the now 9-million-subscriber-strong Yoga with Adriene YouTube channel -- releases a month of new videos. Each morning, for 31 days straight, there's a brand-new video on her channel and a brand-new email in your inbox, talking about the practice and encouraging you to give it a try.
In addition to her January challenge, Mishler, who has been publishing free yoga classes on YouTube since 2012, has hundreds of other videos in the cache -- to try whenever you want, wherever you are, often featuring her impressively calm Australian cattle dog, Benji.
I was a member of a yoga studio near me when I started Mishler's January 2020 challenge. And in stark contrast to her slow, thoughtful approach, the in-person classes I attended took place in an intensely heated room. Lying prone in savasana at the end of each session was a hard enough breath-battle against the crippling humidity. The class itself, which focused on fast vinyasa flows, perfecting your form and sweating your guts out, was even harder. Those classes always ended with pools of camouflaged sweat speckled across the gray floor, followed by my embarrassed, whispered apologies for hydroplaning into someone's water bottle or mat when my foot accidentally hit a puddle on the way out the door.
I had probably done half a dozen Yoga with Adriene videos over the years before I signed up for her annual challenge, but to me, the sweaty puddle room was real yoga. Yoga with Adriene was just... stretching. I was so wrong.
Where I learn what yoga actually is
Mishler's first video on Jan. 1, 2020 wasn't yoga at all, or even stretching. It was a six-minute introduction video called "Welcome Home." "We just take a moment before we begin tomorrow to connect and collect ourselves," she explains, before talking through some tips to get started and what to expect along the way.
"You can get ahead of the game by just thinking about welcoming yourself back home. You can imagine rolling out a little welcome mat and placing your feet on it and feeling the texture, brushing it off," she says, followed by a joking apology for the somewhat over-the-top visualization.
I was immediately fidgety watching it, unable to reconcile the style of yoga I was familiar with... with one that had an orientation video -- one that required me to sit still and do nothing but breathe.
But she was laying the foundation for the themes she incorporates into every single video, whether it's a seven-minute bedtime yoga routine where you mostly just lie down and breathe or a more physically demanding hour-long class with vinyasa flows similar to the ones I did in my old hot yoga classes.
Regardless of the class, she encourages you to slow down, especially during the transitions between poses, and check in with how you feel, focusing less on the shapes and more on the sensation. This completely won me over and helped me connect to my breath in an entirely new way, rather than trying to quickly contort myself into uncomfortable shapes to keep up with a fast-paced class.
The art of slowing down
Not long into the January challenge, I was hooked and found myself looking forward to the classes more and more -- and working my schedule around them to make time. In early January 2020, I was in Las Vegas for CES -- an annual consumer electronics conference where companies showcase the latest tech. I didn't bring a yoga mat with me, instead spreading out a towel on the floor of my casino hotel room as a welcome break from the long workdays.
Soon, January came to a close, but I kept doing Mishler's videos. While the new-video-every-day thing had ended, she curated month-long calendars of her existing classes for February through December, including new videos every Sunday.
I stopped going to the yoga studio in early March due to the pandemic, but I kept up with Yoga with Adriene. Her videos helped me take a step back when I was feeling burned out by everything happening in the world, especially her focus on belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing.
She even dedicates whole videos to the concept. "Lower stress levels and reduce blood pressure with deep, diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing," she teases in the text description of a 28-minute video called "Yoga Belly." I don't know about all that (and, frankly, I'm still figuring it out), but even the simple act of focusing on my breath as I moved through Mishler's videos left me feeling calmer than when I started, even on days when I wasn't stressed.
That was my biggest takeaway from my year of yoga: You don't have to wait until after you feel burned out to practice self-care. Something seemingly small like 20 minutes on a yoga mat can make a huge difference. And you don't have to do yoga every day to feel the benefits; it doesn't even have to be yoga at all, although I do wholeheartedly recommend Mishler's videos.
Go for a run, have a dance party in your living room -- whatever works for you.
All I know is that daily yoga has become as ingrained in my routine as brushing my teeth, and it's something I'm carrying with me into the new year. While there's definitely a place for sweating it out in a hot yoga studio, I'll take Mishler's deliberate, meditative approach any day. 2020 might've looked a lot different for me without it.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.