Living and working in a New York apartment 24/7, sitting in various cross-legged poses on the bed or curled over an ill-fitting desk, I'm stiff and sore all the time. Without a physical gym to go to, my usual workout routine (not to flex, but it involved getting up at 4:45 a.m. most days and doing some form of grind-out on weights or cardio) is absolutely shot to shit.
These days I roll out of bed, make a bleary cup of coffee and Log On to the hell portal of Twitter. Also like a lot of people, I've been tamping down anxiety and hypochondria for weeks, and seasonal allergies aren't helping.
Moving my ass from bed to a yoga mat isn't going to cure the anxiety that comes with living through a deadly global pandemic, but it's something. If I'm stretching, breathing, and un-crumpling to the sound of a yoga YouTube video, I can trick my brain into feeling like things are normal for 20-40 minutes at a time. If you've ever turned to YouTube for a free yoga class, chances are that you've come across Adriene Mishler, the star of the "Yoga With Adriene" YouTube channel, which has exploded in popularity since people around the world started practicing social distancing.
In the world of online yoga, Yoga With Adriene dominates. In the eight years since its launch, the YouTube channel by the Austin, Texas-based yogi and actress has amassed more than 6.6 million subscribers and 543 million views. When you search YouTube for "yoga," her channel is the first to come up, with recommended videos. When you Google "yoga," her videos appear in the top results.
Now that the whole world is looking for ways to keep moving and stay healthy—inside—Mishler told me that her channel's seen a jump in numbers bigger than even New Year's day, typically the busiest day of the year.
I reluctantly tried yoga at home for the first time years ago, around the time Mishler first started allowing her dog Benji, the now-indispensable background character and unofficial mascot of the channel, into the studio. Back then, it was a respite from a tough time in my personal life, when going to the gym seemed like an impossible journey, but unrolling a mat in a slice of my tiny room was at least doable.
I'm back there now, a little older and with a slightly larger room, but many of the same sorts of anxieties and fears for the future—and everyone in the world seems to be in a similar place. So I spoke with Mishler about how she's coping with a massive public health crisis, how it's affected the way she runs Yoga with Adriene, and got her advice for people who are returning to their practices or arriving for the first time.
VICE: Of course with everyone staying home, we're all trying new things, or coming back to old practices. Has the channel seen any jump in subscribers or engagement in the last few weeks? Can you share any insights into where, around the world, people are tuning in?
Adriene Mishler: We have seen a significant jump on all platforms. The amount of traffic across the board is mirroring what we normally do at the top of the year in January, likely now surpassing that of our busiest day of the year which is usually January 1st. We started to receive direct emails from folks in Wuhan, and scattered about Italy starting several weeks ago. People are tuning in from all over the world. This morning I received a photograph of four people practicing Yoga With Adriene from Scott Base, Antarctica.
How are you doing, personally? Are you holding up okay, self isolating, etc.?
How kind of you to ask. I am personally doing okay, things are going pretty good at my house. The first week of quarantine was a bit of a rollercoaster but now I am feeling a bit more grounded as I continuously circle back to focus on my work. I’ve also invested some time in growing my own current practice and contemplation, which is both a blessing and challenge, even for me. It’s hard to strike a healthy balance from day to day when the world is going through such tumult outside my home in which I’ve been asked to stay put.
Benji is doing great! He is recovering from a ACL [anterior cruciate ligament in the knee] surgery that had him resting at home for eight weeks, and boy did he pick a good time to do so! He is very happy for mama to be home and is an excellent quarantine companion—reminding me to smile, enjoy the little things, love unconditionally, and stretch! Benji is also receiving a lot of emails from friends, new and old from all over the world. I must admit, I am happy to share Benji with so many people—he really is a gem.
How has your practice, and your daily life, changed in the last few weeks? What ways have you found to cope with this stressful and uncertain time?
When I am not on the road, I work from home. We have not had an office space here in Austin for quite some time. We hold our weekly team calls on Zoom year round, with a team of 7 including me and hailing from three different states in the US. So we are used to this work from home formula.
Though this is a dark time, I also recognize this as a special time. I have always been a cheerleader for the incredible benefits and even healing powers of having an at-home yoga practice. Really, there is nothing like it. For me, it has always harkened back to the origins of yoga contributing to the relationship with one’s self and one’s ability to sit with oneself.
I think that if we are to prioritize one thing right now while seeking balance at home—yoga is a good option as it has the elements to tend to all parts of the self—the physical body, the mind, and the heart. When we prioritize this kind of self care, it doesn’t take a lot. I like to remind myself and my friends in our community that “a little goes a long way.”
A little bit of yoga at any time of day can transform one’s energetic state which can have a valuable ripple effect on the rest of the day.
This is not a new message for me. This has been on my mind since we started the channel in 2012. However, this experience certainly has shined a light not only on how at home yoga can be such a valuable ritual to incorporate into one’s daily life, but also it is shining a bright light on WHY.
Something I've noticed is that despite it being all over the news and at the top of everyone's minds, many of the biggest YouTube channels that are focused on things like yoga, meditation and ASMR aren't putting a direct focus on tailoring content to coronavirus or quarantine/isolation—yours included of course. Is that a conscious decision? What's it like to make those kinds of choices about when it's appropriate to address the news, versus carrying on as normal as possible?
I suppose it is a conscious decision and I find this question a smart one. The amount of mindfulness and integrity that you put into the roll out of your offerings will be felt, if not seen, by your audience or your community. I think this is an important piece of the relationship that is constantly evolving. I like to move from a place of respect.
For myself, for the community, for the practice, the craft, the world—even the dark stuff. Maybe it’s a personal preference but a 14-Day Corona Challenge is just a major turn off for me.
What advice would you give anyone who's feeling stressed out or anxious, beyond their yoga practice? And what would you say to people looking to get into yoga for the first time ever right now?
My advice to myself and to others is to be gentle, give yourself a little time and space each day to notice how you feel and pay attention to what you are nurturing.
For those who are new to yoga, I would lovingly remind you that you do not have to be good at yoga, nor flexible to practice. Just hop into something comfy and meet me there.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.