Adriene Mishler’s eyes are shining with tears. We meet near the end of a six-week sell-out European roadshow that has taken in Berlin, Stockholm and Amsterdam.
In London she has taught classes of more than 2,400 people packed into Alexandra Palace, complete with lighting, music and merchandise.
Next up, Paris. It’s been “gruelling”. These could rightly be tears of exhaustion. But no, it’s joy that she’s radiating. Because Mishler is grateful. Very grateful.
The Texan who wanted to be an actress has instead found global success as a yoga teacher. Hers is the name on every beginner’s lips. Try casually asking a friend where you might find a good online yoga class and prepare to be told with diehard seriousness: “Adriene changed my life.”
With more than four million people subscribed to her Yoga with Adriene YouTube channel and more than 18 million views for her Yoga for Complete Beginners video, her free classes — filmed in her dining room in downtown Austin, with her black and white blue heeler, Benji — have become a gateway for those unable, whether financially or physically, to get to a yoga class.
Yes, it might be her excellent Google ranking that brings you to her page (type “yoga” into the search engine, and the first video that comes up is hers) but it’s the mix of friendly encouragement and self-deprecating humour that makes you stay.
In an online yoga world full of perfect handstands and pretzel poses, she laughs at her creaky legs, forgets her words and reminds you that you don’t have to be an acrobat to practise yoga, you just need to “find what feels good”.
If the Green Goddess, VHS tapes and high-cut leotards characterised the at-home fitness craze of the Eighties, then Yoga with Adriene is the apogee of the 21st-century trend for logging on to YouTube to do downward dogs in the living room.
Yet even Mishler can’t quite comprehend what a phenomenon she is. “I get emotional just thinking about everyone because for years nobody knew or cared, even my parents were like, ‘Cool’... they didn’t get it. But now it’s a joyful thing. I think they’re proud and I’m proud of everyone — it’s not just me, it’s every single person who has ever subscribed and watched and everyone who believes in it,” she says, all in one seamless, tearful flow.
The roadshow was a way for her to touch base with her online community, IRL (in real life). And for them to meet each other. Days after our interview I watch her take to the stage of London’s Oval Space to the sound of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good and guide 200 women and men in unison. The love for her would feel a little cultlike if she wasn’t so darned lovely. And yes, this sort of adulation does make her squirm. She prefers “roadshow” to “tour”, she says: “I’m no rock star. I’m not your guru.”
The irony is that having trained as an actress in New York, fame could well have come on the red carpet. But yoga was always part of her life. Growing up in Austin with actor parents, they would focus on body, breath and voice — “I think we even did sun salutations for warm-ups” — and aged 17, she would drive her “clunker junker Volvo” to the only yoga studio in Austin (there are at least 30 more now). A year later, she qualified as a teacher. Besides being something she loved, it was a way to earn money on the side while she pursued acting.
It was on the set of an indie horror film that she met the director Chris Sharpe, who would eventually become her business partner. After the film fell apart in 2010, he suggested they collaborate on YouTube. Finally, in 2012, Yoga with Adriene was born.
Success wasn’t immediate; for the first three years she still swept and mopped floors at her local studio in exchange for free classes. She might now have a deal with Adidas, but for a long time she owned just three pairs of yoga pants: “And one had a hole in the butt that I had to try to hide. It’s the truth. I didn’t know when the rent was coming for many years.”
In 2013, a big break in a Hollywood movie, Joe with Nicolas Cage, brought her to a crossroads: “It doesn’t get any bigger than that, you know? I pressed my bare chest up against Nicolas Cage’s back,” Mishler laughs. But while in New York for the premiere, she hosted her first yoga meet-up for fans already following the channel. There was no team, just Mishler and her cousin Alicia, who took the train from Boston to help her with the liability forms for the 40 guests.
Times have changed. Mishler is loathe to put a figure on her YouTube revenue, which is “always fluctuating”, but thanks to some savvy SEO — videos like Yoga for Weight Loss and Six-Pack Abs have done nicely — membership to her website, Find What Feels Good, is close to 15,000, with each member paying around pounds 8 a month. Yes, she owns more yoga pants now, but the money — besides paying rent, bills, dog-sitter and a small team — means she can keep her yoga free, “for the people who can’t afford it”.
If anything, success negatively affected her at first. Four years ago, as her most popular series, 30 Days of Yoga skyrocketed, her personal life fell apart. Not only did she need potentially career-ending vocal surgery, but life on the road — eating alone, feeling alone and missing her boyfriend and dog — and left her feeling fractured and drained.
Long-time followers will recall her old house, with its lime green walls and creaky old floor, which was the one she shared with her ex — “who is amazing, my friend and a huge supporter” — and her first dog, Blue, “my baby for all of my 20s”. But for the last two years, she has lived alone in Austin with new dog, Benji, taking better care of herself and considering where to go next. She has taken the odd acting role, but is “no longer interested in becoming a famous actress. I’m famous enough.”
Now back home in Austin, there will inevitably be more videos, as she tries to keep ahead of the exponential curve of the wellness trend. But there will also be gigs with friends, 10k runs with her dad and painting and dancing with her “hippie dippie” mother.
There will also be time to party. Her team joke about being “FOFO”, full on or full off. “I will go weeks, months without any alcohol, going to bed early, pretty pious, truly. But then I’ll finish one project and it’s garden party and prosecco all day.”
Mishler says she was never trying to create her own brand of yoga, that all she ever wanted to do was teach. But it’s really hard to not like her style.