Most weekday mornings are the same. I wake at 7AM in the room where I also spend my entire work day. I snooze my alarm until 7:15AM, I look at animals and cakes on Instagram until 7:25AM, and then I get up to meet my flatmate in the living room, where we stream a "Yoga with Adriene" YouTube video on the TV. We follow the movements demonstrated in the video with varying degrees of success (flatmate: pretty good, me: pretty, pretty bad.)
We decided to implement weekday Yoga with Adriene – a very popular YouTube channel run by yoga teacher Adriene Mishler, which currently has almost 8 million subscribers – for a semblance of routine and a bit of physical movement during the lockdown. This was especially valuable when the UK rules were stricter, and we were only allowed out of the house for an hour a day, but even since the restrictions have been relaxed, we’ve kept it up. This is generally for the obvious reasons: it’s nice to start your day by moving your body when you’re working from home and can’t really go anywhere else; it feels good to stretch when you’ve not long woken up; Adriene herself has a gently perky demeanour that falls on the good side of the YouTube fitness instructor matrix. But there is also one other important thing that keeps us coming back to Yoga with Adriene: Yoga with Adriene’s dog.
I should actually address him by his Christian name, which is Benjamin, though he is best known by his many fans as Benji. Benji is a blue heeler and he is about five years old, judging by the fact that he was a puppy in 2014. He features in almost all of Adriene’s videos – usually asleep or actively obstructing her ability to execute whatever routine it is she is teaching – and he is a very chilled out type of guy.
He can usually be found at the end of Adriene’s yoga mat, or in the corner of the room, only to abruptly get up and leave at an inopportune moment, as though he has been rudely interrupted by this woman who dares to teach yoga in this room, all of which is his bed. Benji rules so much because he is sort of like the id to Adriene’s superego – the onscreen representation of what you wish you were doing (lying down, curled up) while you’re actually nearly cracking your head off the floor falling out of a crow pose.
YouTube fitness videos can feel very primped and polished, and Adriene – despite her goofy jokes and kinder-than-most teaching style which prioritises comfort over super shredded results – is not much different, with her cleanly edited videos, perfectly turned out gym-wear, and blank workspace. Benji’s presence makes her videos much better, because it adds a welcome element of unpredictability, something to make you laugh as your legs shake in low lunge.
I have long been an admirer of Benji – of his vaguely cantankerous attitude, and his love of lying down in the exact place he feels like, which is also usually the exact most inconvenient place for the human in the space – but in lockdown I’ve enjoyed his starring turns on the Yoga with Adriene channel an especial amount. This is mostly because a) I am a renter who has lived at six addresses in just under five years, and who, besides this lack of stability, can’t afford my own dog, and b) because I haven’t seen my family dogs since March, and I miss them! I miss the way that they (a pair of impolite, three-year-old spaniels who are brothers from the same litter) sit on my lap as though they don’t understand how large they are, I miss how one of them always carries his bed around in his mouth in a desperate and transparent plea for attention, and I miss how they will always, always find a way to steal cheese.
I channel all that missing into Benji. There’s something lovely about seeing a dog getting comfy at home that you don’t get from your common or garden-variety viral dog video (this also explains why we enjoy following particular animals on social media too), and the fact that I see Benji every weekday morning, beamed into my flat via the power of YouTube, is kind of the next best thing to having a dog – something I’ve always found very comforting, and which I’m sure would have been especially fun during lockdown – in my own home.
I think my fondness for this dog, then, ultimately comes down to an identification with home comforts, many of which I’m not alone in having missed over this period. It has now been over three months since I’ve been able to travel to see my family and by extension, my dogs. While I feel extremely fortunate to be able to work from home, it can get quite lonely when you’re without a bike and avoiding public transport, and so a lot of the time, you have to take what you can get. For me, this has meant a preoccupation with a dog I have never met, but who reminds me of my own dogs, who in turn remind me of my family, many miles away.