Every day in isolation I wake up with stiffness in my body.
Despite not having had a particularly active schedule before the Covid-19 pandemic, the effects of reducing my outside hours are showing up in my back, my legs and my hips. Those trips to work, to the supermarket and the cafe and the doctor, seem to have been the only thing standing between me and complete soft tissue atrophy.
I’m sure the anxiety doesn’t help either. I wake sometimes in the early hours of the morning, all my muscles tense, from luridly disturbing dreams.
I’m lucky I get to stay inside. I’ve lost half my income, but my experience of the roni is certainly in the bottom deciles of difficulty. I don’t work in the medical system or another essential industry. My partner and I can both work from home. We will probably come out of this experience without much permanent damage, unless you count a rapidly progressing addiction to the kimchi-flavoured instant ramen we now eat instead of takeaway.
This comforting message has reached my brain, but not my musculoskeletal system, which seems stubbornly committed to living out all the difficult emotions I am trying to keep under control. Very rude. It’s like brain-body whack-a-mole: every repressed burst of terror pops back up again in the form of a clicking hip ligament; every hour in the same position on the couch results in an hour of shoulder stiffness that interferes with my ability to calm down. There are no strict Cartesians during a global pandemic.
I realised fairly early on that if I didn’t find a way to do some regular exercise indoors my sanity was going to disintegrate like a clump of precious toilet paper left in the rain. Judging by the many quarantine-related comments under her videos, me and about eight million other people have turned to Adriene Mishler’s YouTube yoga videos to stave off total systemic collapse.
This makes sense: Mishler is known for her supportive, encouraging demeanour. Her videos are free. You don’t need any special clothes or equipment; I do them in my undies and a T-shirt, directly on the floor of my tiny living room. I tried to buy a yoga mat, but every store was sold out, which confirms I’m not the only person to have had this bright idea.
Importantly, there is something that feels tonally appropriate about yoga compared with other, boppier exercise videos. I mean, do I really want to do a 30-Minute Cardio Dance Workout Celebrities Love right now? Many of Mishler’s videos are oriented towards the management and relief of suffering: she has yoga videos for sadness, anxiety, stress, anger, and various kinds of injury and physical pain. Doing them takes me from a depressed couch potato who walks like the Tin Man to a moderately relaxed, functional human being.
Despite these benefits, there is something more than a little concerning about how much Adriene has become a part of my life. Her videos are a direct substitute for things I used to do outside my flat: exercising, socialising, even going to therapy.
The Yoga with Adriene community is a textbook example of parasociality – the kind of one-way relationship audiences have with celebrities, influencers, fictional characters and other figures who engage in one-to-many communication. These relationships aren’t necessarily bad: following a celeb on Instagram or wishing that Brad from Bon Appétit was your husband won’t immediately warp your brain.
But they aren’t a good replacement for actual social contact, either. There is no give-and-take in a parasocial relationship, unless you count the mute pleading of thousands of comments under Adriene’s videos begging her to make a yoga routine that addresses their highly specific ailment. (“Dear Adriene, please make a yoga video for after you’ve had to give back your foster kitten and on the way home from doing that you hit a pothole and blow out your left rear tyre, and at the same time you have a cold and are getting divorced. Thank you so much.”)
Staying inside the house 24/7 was already becoming not just the path of least resistance, but an actively facilitated lifestyle before the pandemic even hit. Now that there is a highly compelling reason to do so, there will be more and more infrastructure built or altered to support it: delivery everything, new and better ways to telecommute, telesocialise, receive telemedicine. You don’t have to be a JG Ballard fanatic to wonder where this might be heading.
I don’t think we’ll all become hikkikomori tomorrow, but there’s no doubt that coronavirus is accelerating some already-underway behavioural shifts.
Under ordinary circumstances, my simple need for physical activity could be satisfied in many ways. These days, it’s the soothing voice of Adriene telling me to move into downward dog on my next exhale, or nothing at all.
Eleanor Robertson is a Sydney-based writer