Why Everyone's Going Crazy for YouTube's "Yoga With Adriene"

Introducing Adriene Mishler, her dog Benji, and two very pleasing windows

April 2, 2020 9:45 am
adriene mishler yoga youtube
This room is fast becoming the happy place of thousands of sequestered yogis
Adriene Mishler/Facebook

Welcome to The Workout From Home Diaries. Throughout our national self-isolation period, we’ll be sharing single-exercise deep dives, offbeat belly-busters and general get-off-the-couch inspiration that doesn’t require a visit to your (likely now-shuttered) local gym.

When Chris Sharpe’s indie horror film The Spider Babies didn’t pan out in the early 2010s, the Austin-based director kept in touch with one of his would-be stars, a then 27-year-old Adriene Mishler. They met at a bar after the plug was pulled and he pitched a new idea. Mishler was training to become a yoga instructor and struggling to launch an acting career to justify what she calls “a very expensive education” in the field. Sharpe imagined combining her talents while realizing a dream of his: continuous, high-quality fitness content, for as many people as possible, entirely free of charge.

It was a novel concept at the time. Though early-days YouTube was an endless repository of guitar primers, grainy DIY explainers and bespoke cooking hacks (at least one of which Sharpe was behind: Hilah Cooking), fitness content was yet shake off the trademark opportunism of its industry. Not unlike local gym managers slyly raising month-over-month memberships or equipment warehouses charging the cost of an armchair for a set of kettlebells, fledgling YouTube videos capitalized on consumers’ collective desperation to get into shape. Teaser workouts on the platform tended to end abruptly, urging those still watching to jump down a rabbit hole of links and portals — which invariably led to a page asking for credit card information.

When Sharpe and Mishler launched Yoga With Adriene in 2012, their commitment to free content was saint-like by comparison. Even today, Mishler refuses to call herself an expert, so at the beginning of the decade, she was undoubtedly still finding her groove as a yogi and YouTube presence. Forty-minute sessions of bespoke flows were highly unusual at the time, and for good reason.

Over the first three years, the channel saw little movement in the way of subscribers and essentially zero revenue. What changed between then and now? Nothing, really, at least in terms of production. There was no overhaul in strategy. No viral video. And yet, as of April 2020, Adriene Mishler has performed at least one yoga video a week, every week, for eight years; she now has 6.68 million Youtube subscribers, more than 750k followers on Instagram, and a growing paid-subscription community called Find What Feels Good. You, meanwhile, almost certainly have a friend, cousin or coworker with a feverish devotion to her practice.

It’s startling, but ultimately satisfying, to listen to Mishler compare her on-screen persona to Mr. Rogers. At Stockholm’s me Convention in 2018, Mishler explained that since the very beginning, she and Sharpe had endeavored to treat each and every person who watched her videos like a friend. YouTube’s old-school “expert levies take-it-or-leave-it knowledge to laymen” was not only unappealing at the outset; it would’ve been a severe impediment to the channel’s long-term growth. Like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which was filmed on the same, dependable set of a Pittsburgh PBS member television station even as it became the 10th-most watched TV show of all time, Yoga With Adriene has not upped its production budget as a natural reflex to success. Mishler’s neighborhood includes a polished hardwood floor, two bright windows and an Australian Cattle Dog named Benji who sometimes chases squirrels in his sleep.

Mishler wants you in that room. Her room. Why should she upload her videos from a gym (or worse, one of those high-gloss studios you’ve seen all over Instagram that bump early-2000s hits over a cast of what appear to be Athleta catalogue models) when her viewers are probably performing the routine from a basement, garage or balcony? There is familiarity to Mishler’s room: it is ordered, well-lighted and quiet. And this 1920 x 1080-pixel world is a pacific extension of Adriene Mishler, YouTube yogi, a Mister Rogers for the sweaty Snapchat generation. Mishler is patient, judicious and eloquent in her instructions; her videos vary in specificity (some are geared, say, for runners, while others are meant to help heal the lower back) and aren’t afraid to delve into yoga’s cosmic corners — one video is called “Yoga for Inner Space Travel.”

Rarely are they isolating, though. Mishler’s no robot. She loves Anthony Bourdain, she reads Patti Smith, and when her dog’s tail thumps against the ground she has trouble stifling a smile. The yoga itself is slow and pronounced, with special attention given to transitions, and time or alternatives offered to those who find themselves utterly lost. At the start of each year, Mishler unveils a new 30-day challenge — yoga is inherently evergreen, and a beginner can “exercise binge” the whole series. But you need not plunder past Januarys to keep up with Mishler on any given video. You just need to listen to your body, to note, as Mishler says, “sensations both large and small,” and focus, most importantly, on a steady inhale-exhale cadence.

Yoga With Adriene, of course, isn’t really yoga with Adriene. She can’t walk around your living room and prod your knee back here or lengthen your neck for you there. She can’t stop you if you choose to take a break, or remind you to breathe when you forget to. But a happy, reliable yoga practice thrives on consistency, on engaging with discomfort in an environment comfortable enough to allow it in the first place. The New Yorker’s Naomi Fry noted last week that Yoga With Adriene has long helped created a “sustainable meeting point” for her mind and body, which she has appreciated more than ever over the last few weeks.

As we all stare down a future of news notifications that make us want to crawl under the couch, finding that meeting point is essential. Not one of us know how many more months this will go, or what sort of news (personal or national) those months hold. What is certain, though, as sure as it’s been since 2012, even back when no one was watching, is a free yoga session shot out of Austin, Texas. It’ll give you a few moments to yourself each day. And that’s priceless.

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