Yoga With Adriene Is More Than Everyone's Soothing Wellness Friend

Adriene Mishler is one of the most popular yoga instructors on YouTube, and over the last six months alone, her videos as Yoga With Adriene have been cited by outlets as disparate as the New Yorker, Paper, and USA Today as having been crucial exercise during pandemic self-isolation. She is beloved for the way her practice is no pressure—doable and nonjudgemental at any skill level or body type–and particularly for her relentlessly chill, often dryly funny demeanor. Mishler calmly unfurls her pose instructions as her gorgeous dog Benji sniffs around or curls up next to her, less sidekick than a feature beloved by her followers.

However, as one of the few calming lights online—the type of person whose dedicated viewer base thinks of her more as a kind of Wellness Friend than a standard-issue YouTuber or influencer—Mishler is saddled with certain expectations from her viewership, namely that she is simply a teacher and therefore a sort of empty vessel or blank slate. This was made abundantly clear on June 23, the day the state of New York voted in the primary election after Mishler posted on Instagram a photo of herself reading an April 2019 issue of Time Magazine which featured Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the cover. Mishler’s Instagram caption simply read:

Favorite exercise: Voting!

NEW YORK, I’m thinking about you, all of you! There is still time to mask up and get out to vote! Need a hand? Check out the info & resources posted in my stories. Kentucky and Virginia- sending you good energy too! 🗳 #vote #rockthevote

In true Yoga With Adriene form, Mishler, who films her videos from her home in Austin, Texas, was casual and conversational; she did not endorse any one candidate—just the concept of voting. But within hours, Mishler had lost at least a thousand followers and was the recipient of vitriol towards both her and AOC. Members of a community Mishler had built up on easygoingness, self-love, and holistic care were, ironically, in open revolt against the values she’s professed for eight years, simply by dint of her holding up a magazine, which by then was more than a year old.

This odd dust-up signaled a weird microcosm—a sign that the national political divide was even infiltrating the breeziest subsets of the online yoga community—and reflected what I perceived as Mishler’s growing willingness to speak on political issues on social media. (As she corrected me during our conversation, this is not her first rodeo in the elections sphere.)

So I called her up, slightly nervous from the notion that I have spent more “time with her” during the pandemic than anyone besides the man I live with—a weird internet warp of faux intimacy that I imagine many of her viewers conceive of as mutual. I was also carrying the discovery that Mishler and I are both Mexican-Americans with roots in Wyoming, an uncommon commonality to encounter in the wild, to say the least. On the phone, she was as smart and funny as I expected, her low alto and relaxed vibe commanding instant ease; we discussed her roles and responsibilities as a widely-beloved yoga teacher, the vagaries of the Wellness Business, her self-acceptance as a Latina, and naturally, what the hell was going on in her Instagram comments on New York primary day. Our conversation has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.


JEZEBEL: Everyone’s been watching your videos during the pandemic. But what I wanted to discuss is your June 23 Instagram post; the day of the New York primary election, you posted a photo of yourself posing with AOC on the cover of Time. And you were simply asking your followers to vote—but per your comments, at least 1000 people unfollowed you, and I saw a lot of vitriol directed your way via what people seemed to view as an implicit endorsement. What did you think about all that?

ADRIENE: The truth is, in election years in the past I have always taken it upon myself to make sure and use my platform, a platform has grown a lot since the last big election. I think a lot of people would be surprised to read my posts from back then—I even recently posted some Stories of the anniversary of the filibuster here in Texas with Wendy Davis, and was just reflecting on the fact that because the numbers have grown so much since then, and because I’ve just decided to focus on the work—like, how can I be most useful and also keep myself healthy and sane? I think a lot of people would be surprised to read my posts from the last election because they seem to think that I never get political or that I choose to kind of keep like a blank, safe slate. If that’s their perception, that’s fine—as Tabitha Brown would say, that’s their business.

But I’m just operating from a place that feels good for me. It doesn’t feel good for me to have a conversation in my household, or even with myself or with a higher power, and then not share that as part of my voice. The goal with Yoga With Adriene, oddly enough, has always been to be genuine. The whole thing has always rested on me being myself—which sounds cliche, but it’s actually a really important part of this whole thing—this project that kind of blew up. Why wouldn’t it be the same now?

So the funny thing is, I was joking with a friend saying, I had kind of forgotten how controversial [AOC] is, in a way—you know, I’m a half Mexican, native Texan with a Latina background living in America. Like, yeah! I follow her, I support her openly, I’m inspired by her. And I know that not everyone feels that way, but the truth is, I honestly had kind of forgotten how controversial that is. And while I know it came off maybe a little bit of like, I was trying to put a secret Easter Egg in there, I just thought it was the best photo to post for New York primary. I was just like, boom, I got a photo, my buddy took it of me in an airport whatever that magazine came out.

But I’m glad that we’re talking about this because I think it’s really telling that the encouragement to exercise your right to vote has become so—triggering, I guess. I want to choose my words carefully, but as we saw with that post—I mean, you would have thought that I posted something far more toxic than I did. I’m very practiced now in choosing my words carefully, so of course I did for that one as well. I just think it’s really telling. And if I’m being honest, one of the reasons for me posting that New York one in particular, outside of the fact that a lot of people in New York follow me, was that I was kind of getting the runway ready on my personal platform—to basically go to town, like Here we go, we have X amount of weeks, expect for me to be your cheerleader in voting!

Is there something in particular that inspired you to ramp it up more, or is it just the charged, crucial moment we’re in?

Well, it’s funny because I don’t want to come off as like, I’ve always been like this! because that doesn’t sound very graceful, but I think that people would be very surprised. But in the last election I just didn’t have an Instagram account with this many followers, you know, so I guess to your point, I think I’m just responding to the present moment. And we’re in an election year, and so that’s why I’m becoming slightly more vocal. I think it’s a balance. You know, I’ve taken the role of—I like what you said about “wellness friend”—I’ve taken that role, and also taken responsibility for being a good friend and a leader within my community. I’ve always kind of just tried to focus on the work, you know? Stay close to the work—but that changes too.

So like at the beginning of the year come January, “staying close to the work” really looks like helping people create new routines with 30 days of yoga, making sure people know they’re not alone. You know, I always have one arm trying to lovingly, but with determination, keep a balance between the yoga that I’m sharing and then pushing in of the yoga industry into what I feel like I’m trying to do—a constant battle of like, holding the yoga industry away, out of what we’re trying to do. I’m not trying to talk bad about the yoga industry, but like I was just talking to a friend recently, I think it’s important for those of us in yoga to keep talking about this and to keep noticing that there is a difference between the practice of yoga—where it comes from—and the yoga industry right now.

So that said, with everything going on, the best way I can respond is that it’s always my intention to stay close to the work, and right now, this year, the work is a little more. There’s more death. And the best way for me to share and practice yoga, too, is to make sure people understand that. You know, we talk about finding what feels good—“finding what feels good” is the mantra for our whole community space. What that means to me is that you know, we’re not necessarily feeling good all the time! Like, Hang loose!—no, it’s this commitment to the process of finding your present or your good, each day, very naturally. It’s not strategic, it’s not like, Oh, yeah, I want to want to make sure I do my part to, like, change people’s minds. It just felt like the best way I can lead is by being true to myself and sharing from a genuine place. That’s mainly it.

To that, and also back to the idea of a “wellness friend” having to be this sort of empty, neutral vessel: I wonder if there is a link between that and the way that the yoga industry and large corporations have sort of grabbed the concept of self-care and sanitized it. Does that come into play, the way people reacted to you or those posts in general? Is there an expectation from the industry for teachers or influencers to be just one type of thing, rather than fully developed, multidimensional humans?

Yes! Yes. I think this is so great and so interesting and slightly tricky because we all know that we are a part of that because we have tried to take care of ourselves in the year 2020. So I want to lead by saying this is super interesting, and that I know that I’m also a part of that faction. But I can honestly say, I swear to you, I can honestly say that there is not a day that goes by—even on my Sunday, my day off—where I don’t feel like I have one arm just kind of holding back, or trying to hold back anyway, all of that influence. To cultivate a safe space for, yes, positive change, community—but really individual support, like where people can find that for themselves, they can discern things for themselves.

But we don’t all have to be saying the same things, and I think it is an astute observation. And it’s unfortunate that there’s so much violence happening right now, but it is valuable that people are starting to really kind of call it out.

I’m working with this awesome agency out of Guadalajara—well, we’re just looking at the organization of all of our offerings, we have Yoga With Adriene and Find What Feels Good, we created a free social site for folks who want to get off Facebook or Instagram and a safer space to seek support and have conversation. And this is not normally my style, I’ve never done this—but when we were working with them, one of the things they did was kind of take us through other brands to see what other are people doing as a way of discovering how we want to move forward and in a really conscious, you know, awesome, creative way. And it’s true! We’re seeing [things like] “yoga is for all,” or “everyone is welcome,” but then there’s no actual philosophy or training or offering support group practice to support people of color and diversity and individualism. It’s just kind of... safe. It’s playing it safe.

And I still have a lot to learn here, but this reminds me of being like making theater—unless you’re just going to Oklahoma! and having a good time [laughs], if you’re going to a night at the theater you want to think! And you want to be encouraged to think and all of the artists have put in time and energy to help you think and go deeper. And it just feels like, you’re right, a lot of these spaces now that are promoting self-care and wellness, there’s a bit of depth that’s lost... and I’m just trying to challenge that, I guess. As I’m saying this, I’m sounding like I’m all that and a bag of chips—I know that I’m not. But I feel like, how can you say I’m going to use my voice and not start being confident? That’s been a real challenge for me. But I’m trying to challenge the safe thing, and say, “What if our yoga was a language that united us despite all of our differences?” Especially Yoga With Adriene, we’re already here together, and we’re all here for different reasons anyway. So, like, just what if we didn’t unfollow or, you know, bitchslap someone and then unfollow.

I do think one of the things that I personally, and I think a lot of your followers really appreciate about you, is that you do sort of create this space where you’re just there and nonjudgmental and welcoming—it’s very clear that you are trying to create this really beautiful welcoming space on the internet of trash. So the irony of it coming back to you on the AOC post in this way...

It was like, whoa, what have you been watching? What have you been learning here? It really was kind of extreme. My engagement on something like Instagram is still pretty personal, right? Like, I’m not like so big that the comments are turned off or it’s not me. I’m still very much there, and [the hateful comments were] like a tidal wave—I was receiving texts, even audio messages, you know, from friends kind of checking in. I was like, you know what? It’s all good. We’re going to learn from this and to make it beautiful. It’s going to be a teaching moment.

I mean, I’m really just teaching yoga. I’m just trying to create a space where we can all have our own beliefs in one in one space.

Right. Going back to what you said earlier—I mentioned when we were setting up this interview that I’m also Mexican-American and I’m from Wyoming and I like, freaked out when I read that your parents met at the University of Wyoming because no one is from Wyoming. Like, what?

[Laughs] We’re probably related!

I know, right? And you mentioned in a Guardian interview a couple of years ago that not a lot of people know about your heritage. Is that still the case? I just found out you’re Mexican a few months ago when you posted an image of la Virgen de Guadalupe on Mother’s Day.

Oh, my God. Yeah. So, first of all, I got kind of chills when you said, the Wyoming thing, which means I am, actually, turning into my mom—she gets like that. But yeah, my whole family, my mom, their whole family grew up there on the farm—multiple generations.

The truth is, I have always kind of wanted to explore my heritage more through learning Spanish, but I never took Spanish. In my schooling, I took American Sign Language, so for years I’ve always been like, I need to get back and I need to make sure that I’m speaking my own language. But it’s two things. I think as a young child, you know, my mom, having been educated and wanting to work in academia, she came to Texas and just so beautifully and honestly—she’s a superwoman, I don’t know how she did it all—she wanted a job that respected her brain and all the work she’d put in. She wanted to continue with her education and then work in education and the arts. So this woman was nonstop, I don’t blame her [for not teaching me Spanish].

Plus, it was just the time. Like, even in Texas, or I should say, especially in Texas, the racism is still pretty extreme. And my mom, we laugh, but it’s not funny. She says that she actually was glad that she moved here not knowing about all that, that it was as bad as it was. Because she was pretty bright, but people would joke—people would think she was a cleaning lady and she was there to teach a class. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a cleaning lady, the cleaning lady was in our family, too.

So there’s that era, I became a woman living in Texas, and also moving into a predominately Hispanic and Black neighborhood. So I just never thought that, like, oh, I really need to learn Spanish for my people until I became a woman living in modern America. Then, you know, four years ago, five years ago, I just started noticing more and learning more and seeing the blatant disrespect of my people and other factions. And that’s when I was like, all right, that’s it. I’m learning Spanish. To be honest, I don’t know if I’ve said this publicly enough, but, you know, I was scared, too. This is like, oh, poor, poor, white-passing girl, so scared, but I think it’s so valuable, which is I don’t want people to think that just because Trump had become president—or even before when he was talking, I believe, extremely inappropriately about Mexican and Mexican-American people—I didn’t want people to think, Oh, all of a sudden Adriene’s Latina now.

[Laughs] I get you.

And then I remember having conversations with my mom and having a conversation with my Tía Lupe, you know, and finally maturing. I remember them both saying, like, no one can ever put you down or wrong you for wanting to know where you came from. I was going to Mexico City, I was taking Spanish classes by then, and even right now, during this whole pandemic, I’m taking my Spanish classes twice a week, one on one, hour and a half. So thank you for bringing it up, and it’s interesting, too, how instead of creating more division in the community, how just sharing who I am—and it’s the same thing as just sharing how I feel about voting or even me sharing who I’m going to vote for—it’s the same with me sharing my Mexican roots. It’s like all I’m doing is sharing who I am, to try to lead by example. And a lot of people, when I first started sharing that I was Mexican.

I mean, I was excited when I found out you are Mexican American! And I think part of it is that there is still such a scarcity of Mexican, Mexican American representation in U.S. media unless you’re counting, you know, 1000 shows about narcos. So I’m glad you found it within yourself to share that, I appreciate it quite a lot.

Yes, and I mean, can you believe, though, that I went to this whole phase where I was scared because I thought, oh, everyone’s gonna be mad at me because I look like this slender, white yoga woman. Brene Brown has that awesome quote that’s like, If you hate someone or you don’t like someone, like get closer. You know, when you’re with someone up close it’s harder to hate them or be mean to them when you see them. So that was the other thing was, my mom and I had gone to a protest in the hot Texas heat that was held for the immigrant children, at the Capitol here in Austin. I had posted a picture of my mom holding her sign—she’s also a visual artist, she had made this awesome sign. And it was the first time where I was like, wow, are people going to tear apart my mom? Because I’m pretty sure in the caption I wrote how my grandpa, her dad, was an immigrant—you know, moved here, and provided all of these jobs for hundreds and hundreds of people. And I was like, wow, you know, everyone was so nice to me. I know that’s another unique thing about Yoga With Adriene is I do feel loved and seen. But I was like, well how are people about to tear me down or talk bad about my mother because that’s not going to fly, they’re gonna have to see another side of Yoga With Adriene.

And it was interesting because people did get political, but no one would do that, you know, because it was human. It was my mother. For a lot of those people, they feel like they’ve received so much through Yoga with Adriene that they wouldn’t do that. A little bit different from my AOC profile, I guess, but I’m just like, me. I just I was being creative.

I think a lot of people think of AOC as this avatar and she’s been so caricatured and demonized. But like, if you’re coming for somebody’s mother—you better be ready. You better be ready to get into a brawl.

Yeah or like, you’re gonna wish you hadn’t done that, could be some bad karma.

You know, listening to you speak about like not speaking Spanish—I think a lot of white supremacy kept a certain generation of first or second-generation elders from speaking and teaching Spanish, like being told that Spanish was bad and if you speak it, you’re not really American. It’s not much of a question but I think about this a lot. 

Totally. I’m 35, I was born in ‘84. I laugh with my mom about how this all went down, even though it’s not funny at all, but she says, the craziest thing is that I wasn’t even doing what you think I was doing, which is like actively not trying to be Mexican. But she was so ingrained— I think we can call it this white supremacist flow of like, what it means to be successful and American—that she did not even think to raise me bilingual, and wrapping my head around that is like, next level. They focused on education and the arts, most of what my parents did for me, to this day I can’t wrap my head around—we had nothing and I have everything.

So for me, learning Spanish... one of my main goals is not just to be able to learn for myself and to be able to speak with my family but to teach in Spanish for free. That’s one of my number-one goals. For me, the larger goal is to create free yoga for as many people as possible and think about the number of Spanish-speakers in our world and how awesome that would be. Like, no, it’s not political in its original thread but...

Well, somebody made it political!

Yeah, I mean it’s the golden rule. Whether you have a spiritual background or not, I think everybody knows the golden rule. If you say that you play by the golden rule but your actions speak otherwise, then yeah, you are kind of making all this stuff we’re talking about here political. It’s challenging when people are like, Please keep your beautiful yoga videos separate from politics. Or, Oh, you just went and got political, I’m unfollowing you.

I actually have a project coming up where I’m really curious to see what happens, and I really am hoping that my angels and God will be on my side for this one, because I don’t want to create more division in the community—for the sake of the community, not for me! But it’s about unity. It’s about normalizing and making accessible the tools that could potentially save our lives and connect us more in a meaningful way. But I am really curious to see what’s going to happen, and I hope that this upcoming project can be maybe a learning experience—it’s a get out the vote campaign. Well, I’m calling it a campaign, but whatever, a get out the vote project.

I really put some thought into the project, especially in light of recent events and just the fact that we’re all at home with the pandemic. I have an artist background and a lot of people on my team have an artist background—even my co-founder and I met on an indie movie set. I’m trying to highlight some of the awesome work that’s already going on in both the get out the vote world, but also in the wellness industry, particularly my BIPOC friends. And I was like, what can we do that could be really fun? We’re not going on tour this year, we’re not going to teach at Red Rocks, we have time, and we have all these tools. So basically I was like, well, what is something that everyone really loves in this practice? And it’s Benji.

Yes!

Stay with me, I know this sounds silly... and it might be. But this is definitely coming from a loving and fun place where I’m like, OK guys, I’m going to prove to you that me cheerleading people to get out the vote is not an attempt to get you to think or vote like me, you know? So Benji is the central character, and Benji’s a cattle dog. So they herd cattle, we’re working with an animator but he’s taking the form of a cartoon Benji, and Benji gets people to the voting booth. That’s all I’ll say.

Ahhh! I love it...

Benji doesn’t care who you vote for. He really doesn’t. Like, you have to believe me on that, guys. So, what Benji just wants is for us all to use our voice. We’ll see what happens there, we can talk again like, yeah, there could possibly backlash on a cute little Benji get-out-the-vote video. But it’s just a fun way to use our creativity and try to stay positive when there’s a lot of darkness going around. It’s not that we’re trying to make light of anything, it’s just such an obvious message of keep the unity in this awesome international community that’s not even just in our country.

I think that’s just another example of trying to figure out what to do, and I know I’m not perfect, but just falling into the same lane of Just be genuine.

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DISCUSSION

cagefreehen
CagefreeHen

How timely! I’ve followed Yoga with Adriene for years and a week since committing to a daily “class” with her (and Benji!) each morning. She’s pulling me out of quarantine-rock bottom and really is your soothing wellness friend :)

If you never liked or “could never get into” yoga, I recommend her Knee series and slow flow for hip opening. Had a lot of “aha” moments that changed how I approach poses and now I can actually get into the good headspace instead of wondering why my kneecaps lack cushion....