The other day, someone in the Refinery29 editorial meeting innocently asked: "What's Yoga With Adriene?"
The room exploded.
"Um, only the most influential yoga teacher on the planet," spat one normally reserved member of staff.
"SHE CHANGED MY LIFE," exclaimed another dramatically.
"What do you MEAN, what is Yoga With Adriene?" another asked, horrified.
Because that's the deal with Adriene Mishler – if you're into her, you're into her.
Hailing from a theatrical family and growing up in Austin, Texas, 34-year-old Adriene is far and away the biggest yoga star on YouTube. Over four million subscribers (and plenty more viewers who don't know or care how to subscribe) hang off her every video (425 videos at least on topics as wide-ranging as "yoga for humility", "yoga for golfers", "yoga for when you're angry" and "happy birthday yoga"). Her community lives by a unifying and positive affirmation, #FWFG (Find What Feels Good) and counts among it the unlikeliest members. Find your most cynical friend and ask them about Adriene; it's likely (in my experience at least) that they're a secret fan girl. Adriene makes people feel stuff.
Her yoga isn't especially technical, a fact that's led some members of the yoga community to be kinda snobby about her. Instead, her videos are more about learning to use yoga techniques like breathing and self-belief to help yourself through this difficult thing called life. She's funny, kind and encouraging. It's hardly surprising that, in a time when one in three young people are struggling with mental health issues, her channel has struck a chord.
I tracked Adriene down at Plan International's Global Girls' Summit in Brussels where she was appearing alongside women like Cleo Wade, Chidera Eggerue, Refinery29's own Creative Director Piera Gelardi and a huge number of girls from all over the world. In between talks, we caught a few minutes to chat cynical Brits, insincere influencers and how the women of tomorrow are changing the planet.
If you’re going to call yourself an influencer then you really need to influence in a positive way, otherwise it's a waste... There’s too much at stake.
Adriene – and I mean this in the nicest possible way – how did you manage to win over a nation of miserable and sarcastic Brits?
I think there’s something that I did without knowing early on, with my own self-deprecating humour, that just captured the attention of the UK. Outside of the US, London is the biggest city of subscribers to the channel.
But Londoners notoriously hate everything. Especially anything positive. So what's that about?
At the beginning especially I was trying to get people who didn’t normally do yoga to do yoga – the channel clearly wasn’t designed for the Wanderlust attendees. Now, everyone’s doing it, which is great but in the beginning it was like, how can we create free yoga for all the people who aren’t getting it or for the people who need it the most but feel like they don’t fit into yoga culture? Particularly for anyone who is a little more cynical, I try and anticipate what they are going to be feeling in their bodies and when they want to give up, and then I use my humour, albeit bad humour, to beat them to the punch so that they stick with it.
This is a weird question: most of your videos are set against a wall with a window that’s become very familiar to viewers. But what’s on the other side of that room behind the camera? Are you hiding a secret mess?
Ha. There’s my dining room table now permanently pushed back to the wall. Then a bunch of blankets and blocks and an extra yoga mat. It’s just a dining room turned yoga room. Not that everyone can or will have a yoga room but home should be a space where you can tap into your centre and get right and work out, too.
How often do you do yoga outside of the videos you record?
I try to get on my mat every day. That’s the goal. I usually lead my own practice or go to studio in Austin. Also I love to run and go to barre. I have a trainer who is a holistic strength coach. But at home I just do my own thing. I live alone now so a lot of times my mat will just stay out so it’s really easy to hop on.
There are yoga classes in London that cost £25 – that's the price of a meal at Nando's for two, with drinks. There are classes in New York that cost $35. Most people are broke just thinking of a regular membership to a studio. Do you think people can get really into yoga just from YouTube?
I don’t think you do [need to go to a studio], I don’t think it is right for everyone. I’m not trying to drive people away from the studio – studios have sent me letters thanking me because they get so many people now. I’m just trying to get people to see it as a personal practice – like this amazing toolkit that’s available to me for free at any time of the day by simply paying attention to my posture, my breath...
As you watched your follower count go up, did you feel pressured to dress in more expensive gear and wear more makeup? I’d probably be coming to the mat in high heels and a feather boa if I were in your position.
The more followers I get, the more true to myself I have to be – otherwise this whole thing is a bust. I used to say, "Oh I don’t care about followers" and then I quickly realised that stubborn pride needed to go away because there’s power in the numbers. So now I do care about my social media and I feel like I have to be pretty conscious of what I share. I like nice things, I personally don’t like to wear a ton of makeup but of course I wear makeup. I like to look nice and feel nice BUT I just want to take this opportunity to tell you that it drives me insane when we have influencers that say they’re leading awareness and have this advocacy for certain things, whether it’s sustainability or voting rights, and then you see them in a picture with their plastic lid and it’s like they don’t give a shit!
Yeah, pretty frustrating…
I’m like look, if you say you’re going to be an influencer then you need to keep this shit off your feed. I know I’m not better than anyone but more and more lately I’m seeing a lot of my colleagues say they give a shit but all their imagery reflects that they don’t give a shit about the Earth, or they’re not willing to go the extra mile. I’m like, take it as part of your duty for all your followers. If you’re going to call yourself an influencer then you really need to influence in a positive way, otherwise it's a waste... There’s too much at stake.
As we speak you’re at Plan International’s Global Girls' Summit along with some pretty incred women and girls; who are the most inspiring women in your life?
Definitely my mum. My mum is a master teacher and had been a professor for many years. A lot of the people I work with were students of hers. Even people in the [Yoga With Adriene] community will write things [on social media] and then do "quote – Adriene’s Mum".
What do you see when you look at the girls of today?
I know I’m not alone in feeling like this is the beginning of something. I look at the way these young women are holding their bodies and standing and the way that affects their voice. I’m beyond inspired. We are living in a special time and if you think of all those remarkable moments in our history, I wonder if those people who made such incredible contributions to things like equality knew they were creating history too?