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Adam Levine is standing on his head.
He’s stock-still, breathing easily, his feet together. A dozen photographers and stylists and assorted others scurry around, fussing, assessing, adjusting. Adam Levine ignores them, his face focused and sphinx-like. Sure, it’s just a photo shoot. He’s done plenty in his nearly 15 years as front man for the grammy-winning, multiplatinum band Maroon 5, and even more of them since 2011, when he took up residence as one of four coaches in comically oversized, rotating red chairs on the singing-competition show The Voice, a runaway hit for NBC. A brief hour ago, he was relaxed and goofy, gamely striding through the photographer’s frame, flexing his tattooed arms and flashing muscleman poses. But this is different: Adam Levine is doing yoga. And when it comes to yoga, Adam Levine doesn’t mess around.
As the 33-year-old singer swoops, bends and twists, Chad Dennis, a loquacious yoga teacher and fitness instructor who has been Levine’s private trainer for five years, offers some coaching advice: “Broaden out your collarbones… engage the toes… fire up the peroneals.” Cameras flash.
The yoga asanas become tougher and more athletic: Warrior. Sage. Peacock. Monkey. At one point, the wiry 1,82m, 75kg Levine balances his entire body weight on his arms. His torso and one leg are parallel to the ground, and the knee of his other leg is drawn up toward his chest. He’s a serious student of the art. Even extending his back into a crescent, balancing on his head and twisting around himself like a pretzel, Levine knows exactly where he is.
It’s a skill he’s had to call on quite a bit lately. Between appearing on The Voice and touring with Maroon 5, Levine is, by any measure, hyper-extended. He has ventured into acting, including a role in the recently wrapped Can a Song Save Your Life? alongside Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. He also has less official duties, of course, as fashion icon, boyfriend to some of the world’s most beautiful women, and object of lust to legions of female fans.
It’s a wonder Levine can even breathe, much less as deeply and calmly as he’s breathing now.
Yoga anchors his balancing act. “I have a hard time sitting still,” Levine says. “I can be all over the map. Yoga has given me the ability to be more focused and make better decisions that come from a clear place.” Yes, it keeps his stamina up, his physique toned and his abs ripped. But many forms of exercise can deliver superficial results like these. “Maybe more than anything else,” says Dennis, “yoga teaches you to be still and calm under challenging circumstances.”
Levine wasn’t always so focused. At Brentwood School, the swank LA private academy he attended with fellow band members Jesse Carmichael, Mickey Madden, and Ryan Dusick, he was, in his words, “focused on rebellion and being all angsty.” His grades sucked. Despite playing basketball as a kid, he quit the team when music began to take up more of his time.
His early years as a musician, though, were decidedly bumpy. He was so nervous at his first professional gig, at the Troubadour in LA, that he couldn’t even face the audience. Of course, he was just a kid. “I was in seventh grade. April 29, 1992. I’m like fucking Rain Man with dates,” he says.
Voice and performance coach Steven Memel, who began working with Levine a few years later, remembers receiving panicked phone calls on the nights before performance days, when the singer’s voice would be a wreck from partying. “I’d have to help him cobble it back together,” says Memel. Of Levine’s early potential, Memel is blunt: “He had an intensity about him and a unique quality to his voice.” But did he think: this guy’s going to be a star? “No.”
It would take nearly 10 years of experimentation and one failed, grunge-influenced album before Levine finally hit it big with Maroon 5’s Songs about Jane in 2002. “Adam put in his dues,” says long-time roommate and friend Gene Hong. “He worked at Johnny Rockets and [as a production assistant] on Judging Amy. He was horrible at both jobs.”
Jane features an impressively high, expressive register from Levine, slick production values, and at least four ridiculously hummable tunes – “Harder to Breathe”, “This Love”, “Sunday Morning”, and “She Will Be Loved”. It’s straight-up, good, fun pop rock for the masses, and you can’t take your ears off it. The album went multi-platinum, won Grammys, and to date has sold nearly five million copies in the US. If you lived through the 2000s, you’ve heard these songs before, many times, whether you know it or not – along with more recent hits like “One More Night”, “Payphone”, and 2011’s ubiquitous “Moves Like Jagger”.
Says Memel of his former student, “He’s learned how to play the stage now. His voice gained flexibility, agility and nuance from all the touring. Plus, there’s an arrogance, which may be necessary for people to have – or cultivate – to be that successful.” He means that as a compliment. Under the constant scrutiny of so many eyes and ears, you need a degree of self-possession even to get up in the morning.
“I’m not a great performer; I’m just uncomplicated,” Levine says. “And I say this to the contestants on The Voice: the biggest thing is confidence – not false confidence but real confidence.” The trick in singing, as in life, is to find that place inside where, despite the pressure, you can relax and trust yourself.
Which brings us back to yoga. Like performing – or playing sports, or working in a high-stress job, or raising a family – a good yoga practice strikes a balance between executing a thought-out plan and staying flexible (in more ways than one). “Yoga is the union of two Sanskrit concepts: abhyasa and vairagya, or focused effort and surrender,” says Dennis, as his charge vogues it up for the camera. Assume a yoga asana – even one as simple as the standing straight-leg, feet-together toe touch – and you’ll see what he means. Part of you wants to give up, and part of you wants to push further. But if you give up you won’t make progress, and if you push too hard you’ll hurt yourself. In yoga, Dennis says, you’re searching for that ever-shifting edge between these two counterproductive extremes.
Levine, he says, needed to learn to hold back a bit. “Adam is very driven,” says Dennis. “He always wanted to jump to the hardest version of the poses, even if he wasn’t ready.” After five years of dedicated practice, however, the singer now has a different attitude: “He’s more patient,” says Dennis. “He understands that it’s a process and not a means to an end.”
Pushing too hard is a common mistake of beginners, especially those who are accustomed to strength work and other sports in which strain and effort are almost always considered good things. “A lot of times people will think, ‘I’m strong, I’m in shape; why can’t I do this pose?’ ” says Levine, who couldn’t touch his toes when he started. “But that’s not the point. There’s nothing to win in yoga. You just do what you can do, one day to the next.”
As a result of this patient approach, the singer’s yoga practice, like his career, has grown in gradual increments – one workout, one pose, one breath at a time – and finally culminated in a level of mastery.
Maybe that’s why the ancient art suits him – and any man driven toward perfection, in the gym or at work. It’s an arena in which busy guys can slow down, shut out all the voices clamouring for their attention, stop striving for a while – and do a serious workout at the same time.
“There’s a very specific yoga cliché: eat these foods, wear these clothes, believe only these things,” Levine says. “I don’t want to be that.” He just knows his yoga practice works for him. “It’s made me more successful. I love it and don’t know what I’d do without it.”
With that, under Dennis’s watchful eye, he’s back into the steady, rhythmic flow of asanas: Warrior. Sage. Peacock. Monkey. Pivoting effortlessly, one pose to the next.