Most people don't do yoga. If not the painful poses themselves, the insufferable modern day culture around it — expensive classes, cringy slogans, appropriation questions — has been enough to alienate plenty. Even for ClassPass addicts and those who genuinely enjoy it, yoga's become something to be done discreetly and without fanfare. Lately, however, the stress-relieving activity which requires almost no space or gear has become an irritatingly perfect remedy for quarantine's side effects: atrophying fitness, work-from-home bodyache, digital eye strain, a dizzying lack of routine, crushing anxiety and general emotional entropy.
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Enter Adriene Mishler, the YouTube yoga instructor who's become a lifeline for stiff, anxious people locked in their homes around the world. She's the founder of Yoga With Adriene, a YouTube channel with nearly seven million subscribers. (For the offline, that's less than James Charles, but more than Tana Mongeau.) Her routines are designed to make yoga accessible and appealing to as many people as possible. Her most popular video, "Yoga For Complete Beginners," has over 28 million views (less than Charli XCX' "Boys," but more than Kim Petras' "Heart to Break"). Her homepage reads like a pharmacy shelf. Whatever ails you, Adriene has a video for that: "Yoga for Vulnerability," "Yoga for Back Pain," "Yoga for Wrist Pain," "Yoga for the Service Industry,""Yoga for Runners," "Yoga for Self-Care," Yoga for Focus & Productivity," "Yoga for Self-Respect," "Yoga for Writers," "Yoga for When You're Angry," "Yoga for Anxiety and Stress," and my personal favorite "Yoga for Suffering." In addition to catering to a range of skill levels, Adriene keeps the guru talk (the light in me sees the light in you, etc) inclusively light (and the sloganed tank tops to a zero).
Given this buffet of relief — plus the aspirational urges of quarantine — Yoga with Adriene has seen more than half a million new subscribers in the last several weeks. Her monthly views are up by over a quarter million, and viewers watched over five million more hours of Adriene's content than usual in the last month. Since quarantine hit, her videos are flooded with comments like "Great way to wake up in quarantine" and "Feels great after a long day inside doing paperwork and making phonecalls!" (As well as, surprisingly, a large number of out-of-school teenagers: "Anyone else here for PE class?"). She and her dog Benji, who often lovably interrupts her videos, have become internet sensations.
Day 28: it dawned on me that I only know what day it is thanks to yoga with adriene— damanda (@damanda)1586886331.0
trying to get adriene’s approval as i attempt eagle pose https://t.co/FHYsNc8iVh— victoria 🐣 (@victoria 🐣)1586957158.0
I made Adriene's yoga studio in Animal Crossing https://t.co/pzNJ90MYcd— Ben Williams (@Ben Williams)1586943537.0
Despite this, Adriene isn't your typical fitness influencer. Her channel and her grid are homey and lo-fi. Her videos are shot in her Austin living room (it's nice, but it looks like yours). Instead of slick, minimalist millennial pink graphics, each routine starts with a grainy, sepia clip of Adriene sitting crosslegged while gentle country music plays. She posts more nature pics than selfies and instructs in workout gear that could be from Target, rather than Outdoor Voices. She doesn't edit out her falls or stumbles. Thus, her appeal is the opposite of most influencers. Adriene makes people feel good, not bad.
PAPER caught up with Adriene in quarantine to talk about what it's like to be the lifeline of millions during a global pandemic, and how yoga got its bad reputation.
Hey Adriene, how are you?
I'm doing well! Just wrapping things up here on a sunny day in Austin.
How long have you lived in Austin?
I'm actually from Austin. I'm one of the rare folks who was born and stayed here. I almost went to New York when I was younger, and almost moved to LA a little bit later to do film, commercials and voice-over. Kind of funny that I ended up staying in Austin with yoga.
Tell me how you created "Yoga With Adriene."
I grew up in an art and theater family. My parents were actors and writers and directors. They would put me in the plays at the university and our community theater. It was that experience that I feel first got me exposed to mind-body practices. It wasn't till when I was pursuing theater for college that I started to see yoga as something more than a warm-up for rehearsal. I really fell in love with it when I was like 16 or 17. I had this moment where I think I experienced true joy for the first time. I had experienced tears of joy at like, the big number in Oklahoma the musical. But this was a new experience. I went, "Okay, I want other people to feel this." I'm 35, so this is about 20 years ago. From there, I decided I wanted to become a teacher. But I thought, "Oh, this will be a great, supplemental job to my acting career-to being a performer." I could have never planned what this would turn into, that I'd have the opportunity not just to grind out classes, but to keep learning and to keep asking, "How is this useful?" and to keep being of some service to the world today in this temporary modern environment. "
When did you upload your first video?
In September of 2012, we uploaded the first video. My business partner and I had been talking about it for a couple years. At the time, I was definitely trying to make a statement with the first video which was just one seated posture, sukhasana. It wasn't a normal thing to do yoga on YouTube at the time, so I wanted to make sure that I laid a strong foundation.
What kind of statement were you trying to make?
Well, I think it would be more a statement now when people are really embracing the "harder, faster, stronger" type of yoga. I was trying to say there's so much depth and value in learning the basics.
When you started, was there anyone else doing yoga on YouTube? Were there people you were taking cues from? There's always been video fitness, from Jane Fonda to P90X.
For me, the only reference I really had outside of Jane Fonda — whom I love, I'm still watching what she's doing these days. Outside Ms. Fonda, my references for me were the Rodney Yee DVDs and my mentor, who was a student of Rodney's. I didn't have online references at all. If there were others doing online yoga, I wasn't looking at them, because our whole intention was for it to not feel like anything else you experienced, or like this highly produced thing. But instead, for it to feel like you're in a room with me.
Yeah, I wanted to ask. Is your simple production style intentional?
Yeah, it was. I don't like to use the word strategy, that's not where my headspace is. But it was always part of the goal, even in the early days, to position it as a community and where I was really allowing people into my house, to see me and share from a real place. There's meant to be a kind of equality between me and whoever was tuning in, to kind of play against hopefully, the intimidation that comes with yoga in the studio
The exercise world is typically super branded. Your videos are pretty different from the SoulCycles of the world. Would you describe yourself as a fitness or lifestyle influencer?
That's the million dollar question. Because I don't. Being an influencer doesn't feel like it's a part of my job title. It just doesn't resonate with me. But I'm also a gal of the real world and I understand what's going on and I understand the value of it. Maybe some of the challenging things come from it.
How has your life changed in the last few weeks? What's changed for you since the start of quarantine?
In some ways, it feels like the same day over and over like Groundhog Day. But then, I feel like, "Okay, what needs to happen today and what do I need?" In a lot of ways, not that much has changed in the day to day, because we all work from home in a digital space. I hope this comes off gracefully — we were kind of ready for this. What I did not expect was this crazy traffic boost, so we're all working a little more than usual. I'm just trying to give myself time and space to respond to how I'm feeling. I have a pretty disciplined lifestyle and I was already feeling towards the end of last year that something needed to change. I have a lot of time and space to nurture relationships and to my relationship with myself. It's very healing. I love those articles that say it's okay if you're not super productive right now with a lot going on. We may not necessarily notice every hour of every day, but it's intense.
Is there a certain of cognitive dissonance to the fact that, in some ways, the pandemic has been good for business?
Yeah, it's a fair question. I often feel like, "Wow, this is a dark time we're living in and in this dark time, I have to say something really beautiful is happening, where we're starting to notice all the things that despite our judgements could unite us." I feel inspired right now to see how many people are sharing their yoga practice. I'm lucky and we as a business are lucky to be a part of that. It's not like, "I'm stoked" because that's not the appropriate verbiage right now. But I am really inspired and in that way, it is good for business in that I am inspired to keep going. Our mission for "Yoga With Adriene" is to connect and provide people as much high quality free yoga as possible. These unfortunate circumstances bring us to a practice that could potentially — I don't want to say change someone's life — but could provide a big shift of healing or support.
I keep seeing tweets like "Yoga with Adriene is my therapist." Maybe you get those all the time, but is it a big responsibility to be a lifeline for so many people right now?
Well, I appreciate the question because it is something that's been coming up lately. We received so many emails and comments and messages, it's mindblowing. A week ago I would have said, "Oh no. I'm just a girl trying to do my best." But I've realized that we're playing a part, so I will say, I kind of do [think so]. I mean, I know that as long as I'm doing my best and inspiring other people to do the same and prioritizing that relationship to self. But we're scared all of the time and it is kind of exhausting. It's kind of that concept of putting on your emergency mask before the person next to you. It's not just happening to me, but all the people on my team. They can get a kind of compassion fatigue. Because there's someone on the other end with depression, or someone messaged me or sent me a video link or trying to help someone. They're helping people all day long. Now they're sort of starting to go through what I've gone through a couple times. It all comes back to caring for yourself and having a strong relationship with yourself.
I've never heard that term "compassion fatigue." How would you define it?
It's definitely something we started talking about when our "30 Days of Yoga" series started to get big. At first, it was all super manageable. We could personally respond to everyone. I get to see a message from someone who just got diagnosed with breast cancer and I can respond almost immediately and even have an exchange where we both respond a couple times over. But now with the size of the community and even with the team, that's just not realistic. My community director first introduced me to that term.
Do you feel like yoga has gotten a bad reputation in the last few years for becoming a kind of status symbol? I feel like it's having a rough time PR-wise.
I think it's true. In my opinion, yoga has a rough PR time. However, I'm more of the person to say, "Hey whatever works for you, man." Oh man.. am I really going to go on the record saying this? Would I personally wear a "Nama-Slay" shirt? No. But if that brings you joy and inspires you to show up for yourself and you've found community through a corporate yoga studio and they're here for you, then I'm kind of of the mindset of, "Yay, awesome." All I can really say is that hopefully people get so far in their practice and individual awareness, where they ask themselves: "Is this necessary?" "Does everyone feel welcome?" and "What's the why behind it?" There's a lot of money to be made in the wellness industry.
On that note, how exactly does Yoga with Adriene make money?
We have monetization on the Youtube videos: the bare minimum on there. You shouldn't be getting interrupted during your practice. The key thing keeping us afloat is the membership. From the Youtube channel, some people sign up for a membership, and that's really a way to create a more stable income. The goal was to keep it at a low cost of $9.99 dollars a month, which is 10 dollars or much cheaper than the usual yoga class. Those paying, that small membership fee circles back to the Youtube streams and the free content for everyone to use. It's a nice circular thing.
Photo via Instagram