There’s really no denying the fact that 2017 turned out to be a bust on a broader scale, but for me personally, it was one of my favorite years: I married the great love of my life, pursued my dream job, and I even traveled a lot. Going into 2018, however, I set out to take this life adventure one step further. I feel comfortable in my relationship, my career, but we’re all works in progress. I tried Yoga With Adriene’s “True" challenge, and I committed to the challenge for the whole month of January to learn a little more about who I am as an individual person, and how I operate from the inside out. Plus, since I've been struggling more than usual lately with my anxiety, what better time for self-exploration than right at the beginning of the new year?
Just in case you aren’t tapped into the yogi realm of YouTube, Yoga With Adriene is a channel hosted by none other than Adriene Mishler, a Texas-native actress, instructor, and entrepreneur who founded her YouTube channel to make yoga tutorials easily accessible in the comfort of your home. She's also the founder of Find What Feels Good, a subscription service website that provides even more face-time with Mishler, her practice, and the yoga lifestyle. She basically embodies everything I want to be when I grow up, and then some.
The challenge began on Jan. 2, and it lasted throughout the entire month. Every video was dedicated to something new, such as finesse, trust, surrendering, and charisma, to name a few examples.
For me, working out has always been a means to an end, a physical release, and as I entered 2018 on a clean slate, I was looking forward to discovering the mental side of fitness beyond the runner's high I was accustomed to. It was also an opportunity to dedicate 30 minutes of every day to nothing more than silence and self-reflection. Here are a few things I learned throughout this incredibly unique journey.
1. Yoga Is About Feeling Comfortable, Not Conforming To A Specific Standard
As someone who has struggled with disordered eating and an unhealthy dependence on fitness in the past, exercising, for me, was once considered a tool that simply got me from point A to point B aesthetically. I've practiced yoga in the past, but what set this challenge apart from previous experiences was how both I and Mishler approached the subject.
The intention behind "True" was not to lose weight or tone muscles, but to really hone in on the way movement and physical fluidity can benefit the mind, as well. There were days when Mishler would be donning sweats on the mat instead of leggings and body-hugging tank tops, and she'd have us use props like a blanket or pillow for easy-going sessions. These were some of the most valuable moments throughout the experience, because even though they required very little movement at all, it was a time to be wholly yourself.
In the first video Mishler ever uploaded to her YouTube channel, she defined yoga as "an invitation to find what feels good." She explained,
If you came for a cooling practice, stay cool. At the same time, if people come for a more fiery practice, I'm all for you doing an extra vinyasa, an extra minute in this balancing pose.
I feel like sometimes we go into the studio and we don't really feel welcome to be ourselves on the mat. So, as a teacher, I like to create a space where everyone can really find their own happiness; find what feels good.
In other words: don't be so stiff. Grab a mat, "put on something comfy," and just go with the flow.
2. Trusting Yourself Is An Important Part Of Self-Love
For me, when I think of trust, my mind always goes to other people: the trust I feel toward my husband, my parents, and my friends. But I rarely, if ever, stop to think about whether or not I trust myself.
Intuition is a really beautiful thing, and something that, I think, is vital for us as humans to tap into because, at the end of the day, all you really have are your gut feelings to answer to. I learned this through "True" because some of the sequences are a little trying; they challenge you to flow with grace and a certain level of stability.
It's easy for any of us to shy away from things (physical or not) that make us nervous, but the key is to trust the process, and trust that your body and mind can handle whatever is thrown your way.
3. Identify What You Love About Yourself Every Day
Every day of the challenge had its own theme, and Day 16 was dedicated to self-love. For me, this was the most emotional day of the entire experience, and I can honestly say I have never felt more vulnerable during a workout.
Midway through the sequence, Mishler instructs you to stand in mountain pose, hands to the heart, and think about one thing you love about yourself. I am not, in any way, ashamed or embarrassed to admit that in that moment of stark silence, I could not think of one thing I loved about myself. It was jarring, and I ended up standing completely still, tears rolling down my face, searching for something — anything — that could fill the silence in my head.
Of course, with Mishler being one of the most intuitive people I've ever come across on the internet, I guess it was no surprise that it felt as if she was in the room with me when she looked into the camera and said, "This can be challenging, because it can be emotional, because sometimes you can't think of anything." Cue all the ugly tears.
"But," she continued, "I'm here. If this is the beginning of this practice for you, and you [can't think of anything], tears are coming down your eyes, I know that as well. You'll get to the point in your self-love practice where the list gets long and beautiful."
4. Listen To Your Body, And It Will Always Tell You What It Needs
One of the tiniest details I appreciate most from Mishler's videos is the quiet. In between her instructions on how to master a move or where to take a vinyasa, there's complete stillness and silence that invites reflection.
When you're in plank position, for example, and your core starts to tremble, there's an opportunity to acknowledge your body's struggle, and the work it's putting in to keep your legs stable, and your forearms anchored to the ground. When you're in warrior position and finding your footing, you can notice how your thighs tighten; notice areas of discomfort, your muscles coming into a delicious stretch.
Aside from teaching you movements that can transform your body, yoga is a hands-on, intimate look at how your body communicates with you mentally. It umbrellas physical, emotional, and soulful teachings you can benefit from both on and off the mat.
5. When In Doubt, Find What Feels Good
If there's anything I can take away from this experiment (and trust me, there was a lot), it's how important it really is to find what feels good — in all aspects of life. We have one shot at this big, beautiful adventure, and feeling uncomfortably and stressed out all the time is no way to live.
I'm not saying the "True" challenge has cured me of my anxiety, but it has given me an outlet to work through the stress. No one is perfect, but we can live our lives in a way that is perfect to us individually. Letting go of toxic relationships, experimenting outside your comfort zone, and really paying attention to the things that make you feel good physically and mentally really are the keys to happiness.
The first step is to make the decision to be "true" to you, and I'd like to thank Adriene Mishler for helping me achieve that.