Why All Your Friends Are Obsessed With ‘Yoga With Adriene’

Adriene Mishler, the woman behind YouTube’s most popular yoga channel, explains the process behind her viral ascent to wellness stardom

Photos courtesy of Adriene Mishler

YYoga can be an intimidating practice. Falling out of a tree pose and into the person next to you isn’t always the best experience for a beginner. Adriene Mishler, who has called herself “the people’s yogi,” has gained a massive online following for her archive of YouTube yoga classes that people can stream from home.

Chances are if you’ve ever typed “yoga for beginners” into the YouTube search bar, you’ve come across her channel, Yoga With Adriene, which has almost 5.5 million subscribers. Mishler, an actress and yoga teacher, started her channel in 2012 with her business partner, Christopher Sharpe, and has come to dominate the yoga YouTube niche thanks in part to her uncanny way of connecting with people (and the cute dog, Benji). Mishler’s uploads — many of which have millions of views — include sessions like “Yoga for Weight Loss,” “Yoga for Depression,” “Yoga for Cramps and PMS,” and even “Yoga for Golfers.”

Elemental called up Mishler to talk about her ascent to YouTube stardom and why she’s not afraid to give the people what they want.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Elemental: How did you conceive of the Yoga With Adriene YouTube channel?

Adriene Mishler: In the early 2000s, I was an actor and yoga teacher, and I was also teaching theater arts to kids. I had no knowledge of online yoga or YouTube. I did this film that ended up not being finished or made, but that’s where I met Chris, who is now my business partner on Yoga With Adriene.

Chris was experimenting with a YouTube cooking channel and wanted to try out another wellness channel. He knew I was comfortable in front of the camera and super passionate about yoga because, at the time, I was inviting everyone to my yoga class in Austin every week. At the same time, I was noticing a pretty severe uptick in the price of yoga in my hometown of Austin. I thought if this is happening here, it’s definitely happening in New York and Los Angeles. This bummed me out, because I was a starving artist, and I was like, this sucks that yoga is finally becoming more popular, but it’s getting more expensive. So we decided it might be fun to expand that with a yoga YouTube channel. We uploaded the first video in 2012, and the goal was to create as much free, high-quality yoga content for as many people as possible.

“The inspiration for the channel, originally, was Mr. Rogers, not Jane Fonda — to create a feeling of togetherness and realness, an authentic energy that was welcoming for all.”

How did you get into doing yoga in the first place and becoming a teacher?

As a young person, I was a pretty serious actor. I spent some time in New York doing a training called the Suzuki method and its sister training, which is called Viewpoints. Suzuki, as you can imagine, hails from Japan, and Viewpoints is a derivative of a dance training by a woman named Mary Overlie. These are two physically based trainings that involve breath control and structured movement. I really got obsessed with these two trainings and came home [to Austin] and found yoga as a means of staying in my body, keeping agile, and getting stronger.

What I didn’t expect was to find myself in the practice [of yoga]. I was 17, about to turn 18, and I was at that time of transition where you’re trying to figure out who you’re going to be. I was at a crossroads, where I was feeling really inspired as an artist and starting to drop into this practice I stumbled upon. Immediately, I signed up for teacher training, thinking it would be a great supplemental income to my acting career.

I was young. I knew I wanted to find my voice and use my voice, but let’s be real: I had no idea what that was or what it could become. Ultimately, yoga made me feel good. It helped me find something that nothing else really brought, and I wanted to help others have that experience too. Very similar to the theater, you have a live experience and want to share it with others.

How did your past experience as an actress inform your YouTube success?

I would be lying if I said I didn’t think it had a great deal to do with it, particularly in the beginning. As an actor, you’re always aware of what the audience is seeing and experiencing. Every good actor knows they are supposed to be of service to the audience. You do the work, and you don’t show the work. You’re supposed to be anticipating the audience’s experience so they believe you.

I always joke that there are two, three, four videos in my archives where I’m like, no one should ever see those videos. They didn’t make it online because they were just so bad. Because I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t present. I was acting. I was acting like Adriene. I was acting like a yoga teacher. It sounds weird to say this, but it takes some practice being yourself and letting things flow.

Tell me about how your following began to grow.

I was adamant that the videos weren’t cultural appropriation [of yoga] or just workout videos. I knew we needed to start off with the basics and teach yoga from a yoga perspective. The inspiration for the channel, originally, was Mr. Rogers, not Jane Fonda — to create a feeling of togetherness and realness, an authentic energy that was welcoming for all. The goal was to make it feel like it was just you and me practicing yoga together in our living rooms. That is, in fact, what it is. This meant low production and a lot of heart. On purpose.

While I was focusing on that, Chris was focusing on experimentation on his end. And guess what? Nobody watched. I remember getting 100 views and peeing in my pants. The good thing about nobody watching was that there was no pressure. Every week, we’d just try to make one thing better. We had no money — we weren’t trying to make money, and we weren’t spending money. It was this pure thing. So of course you can imagine how mind-blown we are about how big it’s grown. There’s a video on YouTube somewhere of me jumping into a lake, fully clothed, after we hit 150,000 subscribers.

Everything changed when we did our first “30 days of yoga” video [in 2015]. The idea is that we’re doing it with people live during January, all across the globe. And it’s free. No gimmicks, no catch. That’s when we really started to see the numbers move, and they have not stopped since then.

How many YouTube videos do you shoot a day? Do you still practice yoga on your own?

The amount of YouTube videos we shoot varies depending on the content theme and our master schedule. In the early days, we used to shoot just one a day, if you can believe it. We definitely shoot more than one now.

I absolutely practice on my own. I try to get on the mat every day, no matter where I am in the world.

Why do you think your videos ended up dominating the online yoga world?

I feel like everyone deserves to have access to the tools we all need to stay balanced and sane. The hardest part is getting to the class or on the mat, and once you’re there, you’re like, oh fuck, this is amazing. We take the excuses out of it and make it fun.

I’m also consistent. People trust my videos. I’m not asking for anything in return.

I’m looking at your most popular videos, which include some from your 30-day challenge, but also “Yoga for Weight Loss” and “Yoga for Beginners.” What do you think your most successful videos say about what people are looking for?

Well, boom. The proof is in the pudding. With the beginner’s video, people think they have to be good at yoga to do yoga, and that’s not true. The messaging there is, “Yo, you got this. If you can breathe and if you can do it with awareness, you’re doing it right. Let’s just take it one day at a time and you’ll be surprised by how fast your body and your brain will redirect and develop if you just begin somewhere.” I like to cater to a beginner’s mindset, because I think that’s very yoga.

The fact that the weight-loss video is one of my most popular and probably will remain the most popular in my lifetime says a lot. I get a lot of messages from people feeling like it’s just not in alignment with my message and asking if I would consider retitling these videos. But the thing is this is what we want. This is what we want people to walk away from the theater doing: asking questions, having opinions for themselves. This is the good stuff. I’m doing my job right if people are writing and asking questions.

Did you decide to create the “Yoga for Weight Loss” video, or was it your business partner’s idea?

It’s super strategic. The reason we made that video and continue to occasionally title a video “Yoga for Weight Loss” is because that’s how people are going to find me. That’s how they’re going to find their at-home yoga friend. It was an experiment — we did it to see how many views we could get, and it went exactly how we thought, which was hundreds and thousands of more visits.

I’ve thought about doing the same video and calling one version “Yoga for Self-Love” and one “Yoga for Weight Loss” and then seeing what happens. In fact, I’m going to do this in 2020.

I keep the title “Yoga for Weight Loss” because that’s how more people are going to come and experience my message, which is that your body is beautiful. I’m like, dude, let’s keep that title on there because we’re going to be getting so many more people who will then be more likely to show up again if they have a positive or semipositive experience versus an experience where they feel totally less than.

How has becoming a YouTube star changed your life?

I don’t identify as a YouTube star or influencer, which is probably annoying because I run a YouTube channel with over 5 million subscribers. I definitely think more seriously about what it means to be an influencer. You’ve been given a voice. What are you going to do with it? We should all be asking ourselves these questions.

There are two ways of looking at it. The optimistic, positive way is that it’s providing me an opportunity to have more integrity in my everyday and to pay attention to where I’m putting my energy, my voice, and how I’m doing it. Because what we’re doing here very well may contribute to the future of yoga and how our children’s children experience this powerful and ancient practice.

On the other side of the spectrum, I have less privacy. The level at which people sometimes hold me accountable for things is unrealistic. The way people feel like they know me through the YouTube channel sometimes blurs the line between respectful boundaries. I feel like I can’t win because I have chosen to not go after a targeted audience but instead committed with my whole self to create an environment for a diverse group of people. I can’t please everyone. But I’m navigating it.

Columnist for GEN • Have also written for: the New York Times, NYMag, Vice, et al. • Subscribe to my newsletter: eve.substack.com

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