‘The peoples yogi’: how Adriene Mishler became a YouTube phenomenon

With 4 million subscribers and hundreds of thousands more watching free weekly videos, Yoga with Adriene is a social media sensation. What makes her fans so devoted?

There are more than 2,400 people in the main hall of Alexandra Palace in north London, breathing in unison. Take the deepest breath youve taken all day, says the woman at the front, and let it out through the mouth. Lungs empty en masse. It feels like were in the belly of a beast.

The woman is 33-year-old yogi and actor Adriene Mishler, and this is the largest live yoga class she has ever held she is more frequently to be found teaching alone in front of her camera at home in Austin, Texas, than IRL. And it is this intimate version of her that 4 million subscribers to her Yoga with Adriene YouTube channel have come to know and share their homes with.

Her particularly popular videos Yoga Morning Fresh, for instance, or 7-Minute Bedtime Yoga can get upwards of 2 million viewers. Search yoga on Google, and Adriene dominates.

You just want to be her friend, says Magdalena Krohn, a 32-year-old teacher and performance artist who is at the Ally Pally event, queueing for a cashew curry. Karen Bradley, a 56-year-old health visitor, has travelled from Sheffield to see Adriene. Fifty-year-old civil servant Julie Ashen says she is not that brilliant with people, but has nevertheless travelled from Swansea to see Adriene in this setting. You must love her, I say. I do. Shes quite a phenomenon.

When I tell friends I am meeting Adriene, they get a zealous look in their eyes: Im not hyperbolising when I say she changed my life, more than one confesses and I know theyre not, because she changed mine, too. Maybe its simplistic, but there is a lot to be said for being gently cajoled into focusing on the feeling of the soles of your feet on the yoga mat, when anxious thoughts have been jolting like runaway trains through your mind all day.

We meet the day before the event, over an on-brand turmeric latte in an east London cafe. In real life, Adriene is as enthusiastic as her on-screen self peppy yet sage, welcoming and warm. I mention this special alchemy that has fans talking about her as if shes a friend. Yeah, and we are, she says immediately, as though she feels it too. Whenever I meet people, Im always like: Holy shit, its such an honour I get to be in peoples homes, their most vulnerable place. Her chat is peppered with talk of blessings and angels, but I would challenge even the most cynical-hearted not to want to get a second round of lattes in.

Bringing yoga to the masses The event at Alexandra Palace, north London, this month

She has a snort-out-loud sense of humour, with a confidence she attributes to a childhood raised by creative hippies.

The yoga community can feel intimidating bodies contorted for aspirational Instagram posts, or studios where you are pushed uncomfortably deep into poses but Adriene has positioned herself in opposition to the unrealistically ascetic side. I used to make margarita jokes, just to get people to see that yoga is not only for people who sit in lotus all day and sip yogi tea. She measures her language carefully: I dont want to criticise people doing the pretzel [poses], but I think theres a lack of awareness.

Find what feels good has been her motto ever since she started in 2012 her followers recite it with almost evangelical fervour. This approach is part of what has drawn the numbers to her videos, and crowds to north London despite the 40 ticket price as well as to the other stops on this European tour, which includes free classes. For Krohn, Adriene was the first teacher who really got me to understand that yoga was about more than just physical flexibility or that kind of ego-driven thing that goes with modern yoga. Bradley came to yoga because she has arthritis Adriene has, she says, helped her find some acceptance: This is where you are you can still do things but dont push it, find what you can do.

Practising at home has obvious advantages people cite cheapness, struggling to get to a studio because of health issues and fitting quick sessions in around family life. Adrienes focus is on accessibility; yoga for all. You could question the altruism as with any personality on YouTube, she earns revenue from her well-watched channel (the analytics firm Social Blade puts the brands annual earnings at up to 284,000). She has a sponsorship deal with Adidas, and subscribers willing to pay $9.99 (7.50) a month to access extra content on her Find What Feels Good site. But with millions of people able to access her yoga for free, Ill get to critiques of her motivation once Ive untangled from pigeon pose.

Yoga is a booming industry last year, the market was worth $80bn (74bn) globally. Once a trailblazer, Adriene is now one of a host of online yoga teachers bringing an ancient practice to a mass, modern audience. There are a lot of people who think its a little bit questionable, she concedes. I get why people from India are going: Hey, what the hell are you doing? Cultural appropriation is a criticism she has seen levelled at a lot of American teachers and one that she thinks, to an extent, is fair. Has she ever been criticised herself? I dont actually get it that much and the only times I do, I can tell that persons never done any of my videos. Theyre lumping me in because Im white, wearing Adidas pants. She has, she says, tried to teach the real traditional style yoga I really want to honour the philosophy.

But that doesnt mean there hasnt been room for some online savvy. Her business partner, Chris Sharpe, who she met on the set of a horror film and who had previously produced the successful YouTube series Hilah Cooking, was aware of the need to push the videos up the search engine rankings. It made for knotty decisions. I did not want to call anything yoga for weight loss in the beginning, she says. But they struck a deal and tried it: It did so disgustingly well.

They started to play around and chose words they knew would rank highly. She cites a video called Six Pack Abs. Is that what we abide by and are six-pack abs really possible for women? Nooooo. Anatomically, its just ridiculous. But Im kind of making fun of it. In the video, she begins in the persona of a dumbbell-bunny, before quickly caving: Just kidding, if you know me at all I dont really subscribe to that obsession. If youre not familiar with her shtick, you could be forgiven for thinking it a cynical move to get the ratings up. But she is no stranger to body-image issues herself, mentioning that before auditions, she has felt a pressure to diet.

Adriene at Yoga on the Lane. Photograph: Alastair Levy for the Guardian

Even now, she says being on YouTube, in tight clothing means she has had to work hard to avoid feeling the same pressures. Instead, she says she wants to get people closer to experiencing pure love and acceptance for themselves. She sees these video titles, antithetical to her message, as Trojan horses, bringing people to her channel so she can deliver her alternative: You can look good all you want, but if youre still looking in the mirror and not loving who you see, we have it backwards. It might sound schmaltzy written down, but it is clearly a much-needed message.

So why yoga, and why now? It is irresistible to link turbulent times with a practice that can help you feel grounded. I try to make it that neat: has she seen an uptick in numbers on her channels since Trump took office, say? I dont know how the numbers have changed in terms of big shifts in politics, she says, but I do know that as a woman and as a human living in this time, I feel it. And she clearly wants her yoga to cut through. She weighs up the next words, almost egging herself on: I want all the people who voted for Trump to do my yoga. I want all the people who battle with the experience of racism to do yoga. Theres that yoga for all message again.

Her mother is Mexican, and in recent years Adriene has been embracing her heritage more. Not that Ive ever tried to hide it hell no, she says. But I wasnt raised bilingual and I happen to be fair-skinned. Then I had a moment a couple of years ago when I was like: Shoooot, Im Mexican and nobody knows it. She is learning Spanish: My goal is to be able to do a playlist on my channel thats all yoga espaol.

Her brands meteoric rise has undoubtedly been helped by the boom in the global wellness industry estimated in 2015 to be worth nearly $4tn and Adriene knows it. Id be lying if I didnt say Chris anticipated this he had the idea of creating something in the world of wellness for a reason.

As for the recent politicisation of the wellness industry, especially in reaction to the more elitist side of it, I just think that its like everything its really not about what youre putting out there, its about how youre doing it. Were saying we want everyone to feel good, and yet were insinuating the only way to do that is if you have enough money to buy this $65 detox tea, and then it comes in the mail and youre like: What the fuck, I could make this. Its not something shes immune to, either: Hell yeah, Ive Gooped.Which is why, she says, she has started to care about the numbers It gives me more power to be, like, the peoples yogi.

Back in the hall of Ally Pally, were finishing the evenings practice by hugging ourselves yes, you read right. Adriene cracks a joke and then were all breathing in unison again, like one big, collective lung.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/sep/25/yoga-adriene-mishler-youtube-interview

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