'I felt knocked out by anxiety' How lockdown's yoga guru reached breaking point; Adriene Mishler, aka Yoga with Adriene, became everyone's best friend during lockdown with her hugely successful videos. So what happened next? Hannah Evans hears how the calmest woman in wellness burnt out
I am "going deep" with Adriene Mishler. The 37-year-old global yoga phenomenon, whose Yoga with Adriene YouTube channel became a lockdown lifeline for millions, is sitting across from me in the Corinthia hotel in London with tears in her eyes, describing the emotional toll of becoming the pandemic's go-to yoga girl. "I remember I told my partner I felt knocked out by anxiety. I am a caretaker by nature, but then that became my job, my world ? " Her voice trails off. "I know how it sounds ? 'Little girl from Texas gets burnt out from doing so much virtual service work' ? but ? " She stops again and sighs.
If lockdown didn't turn you into a Mishler devotee, you might roll your eyes. But if you are one of her 10.4 million YouTube subscribers, you might be surprised to hear that the lively, peppy, all-smiles woman who helped us to "find what feels good" ? her mantra since she started her channel in 2012 ? hasn't been feeling, well, all that great.
Before March 2020 I had never done yoga. I didn't even know who Mishler was until lockdown, when her soothing videos became one of the few things my housemates and I could rely on to pull us out of our funk. We were converted by her low alto voice, her goofy jokes and the fact that you didn't have to be good at yoga to do her classes. And then there was Benji, her docile speckled grey dog who makes regular appearances in her tutorials, often
snoozing in the background. She was the US's answer to Joe Wicks, without the frantic Duracell bunny levels of energy. Last November The New York Times described her as the "reigning queen of pandemic yoga". During lockdown subscribers to her Find What Feels Good app doubled ? they now number more than 50,000, with monthly membership costing £11 over here ? and her UK fanbase began to boom. Followers of her YouTube channel,
filled with snack-sized, mood-based tutorials, also increased by 50 per cent. From March 2020 to March 2021 her videos were watched an incredible 300 million times (they've had more than one billion views since she launched the channel).
I meet Mishler on a drizzly Friday afternoon. She is wearing a brown turtleneck jumper and minimal make-up. Her hair is pulled into a high ponytail and she's drinking a very on-brand rooibos tea. While Wicks, already well loved in the UK, catapulted himself to fame when he announced he would be the nation's PE teacher, Mishler's popularity seems to be down to good old-fashioned word of mouth. "I didn't do any marketing ? it was just my community telling their friends, who would tell their friends," she says. "I think everyone was looking for support and comfort." Her celebrity fans now run from the actress Katherine Heigl to the MP Jess Phillips.
She is also here to promote her annual 30 Days of
Yoga challenge, held each January, through which she helps her followers to "find what feels good in the new year" through daily online classes (all free to watch). Her regular videos open with greetings such as "Hello, my darling friends" and are known for their emotional appeal. Titles include Yoga for a Broken Heart and Yoga for When You're in a Bad Mood.
In her videos Mishler is energetic and perky, but today she is more mellow. It would be an understatement to say she has had a busy pandemic. "I don't know how many virtual offerings I did for other people, not just on the community site but everything from a live class on Karlie Kloss's Instagram to my friend's non-profit," she says. "I was saying yes to everything because I knew how to do it. It felt like the proper, obvious thing to do. But I took on way too much."
Mishler's "snap" moment came in February, after this year's 30-day challenge ? "Our biggest event of the year" ? when Texas was hit by an extreme ice storm and subsequent power outage, which led to
more than 200 people dying. She and her boyfriend both hosted homeless friends, took food to neighbours and even chopped up fallen trees to take to homeless people in the park as firewood. Her elderly mother, who didn't have power, was sleeping in her car to keep warm and had to move in with her. Mishler says she was "knocked out by anxiety": shortness of breath, pounding chest, tingling in her hands and feet, and faintness. "I had gotten so far from listening to my own needs and looking after myself. I mean, this is what I teach. It's the age-old 'practise what you preach', and I wasn't doing that," she says.
Mishler grew up in Austin, Texas, with her parents ? "creative hippies" ? who divorced when she was young. She started to study yoga when she was 18 after crying "tears of joy" during her first class and has been obsessed with it ever since. "I want people to understand the magic of practising. The benefits of
yoga don't come when you get into a single pose or when you reach a certain level. It's just showing up."
During college in the early Noughties ? when yoga was very much a hippy hobby, rather than the go-to wind-down for the Lululemon-clad wellness brigade ? Mishler paid for classes by sweeping floors at her local studio. In her twenties she trained to be an actress, although she never quite broke into Hollywood. Her biggest role was appearing alongside Nicolas Cage in the 2013 thriller Joe before she left the industry to become a full-time yogi.
Despite now being one of the world's most famous yoga instructors, it seems Mishler is in no rush to relocate to the solid-gold wellness mecca of LA. She still lives in Austin ? alone except for Benji ? an eight-minute walk from where her boyfriend lives, whose name she skilfully avoids revealing. The pair met two years ago at a local French restaurant, just before
the pandemic started. "I was without a doubt not in a phase where I was looking [for a relationship]. I was there to have dinner and wine with a friend, and he and his friend introduced themselves. This magical thing happened where the sun set and I stayed way past closing, talking to this perfect stranger," she gushes.
The world of wellness, Mishler tells me, is "capital letter Weird". A soft way of describing an industry that has recently come under harsh criticism for cultivating a global community of antivaxers, Covid deniers and conspiracy theorists. The yoga industry alone is worth more than $88 billion worldwide, and by 2025 that number is expected to reach $215 billion. So how much does Mishler earn? Not as much as you might expect, she says. According to The New York Times, she turns down between $250,000 and $500,000 in advertising deals a year. "Obviously we make money from ads before our videos on YouTube, but I don't take on a lot of brand deals. We're not going out for profit yoga." There is spon-con on Mishler's Instagram account ? she is an Adidas ambassador ? but she "thinks very carefully" about which brands she partners with.
She has big plans for her app, which she hopes will one day be the main source of revenue for her and her team of ten people. The goal for next year is to transform it into a "Sesame Street for wellness", through which you can learn from instructors from a diverse set of backgrounds with different skills. "We have all these concepts of open mind and open heart in yoga, but a lot of [other yoga] platforms are really bare," she says. "I would love to do a book, only because then I could write a second and then do a recipe book, and then a Benji book, and then a poetry book. I do want an expansive life of opportunities." Mishler is very aware that, in the west, yoga is a wealthy white woman's space. "We need to do better," she keeps telling me. But diversity isn't the only aim: "The other goal is to get me out of the bottleneck of doing everything. I am not helping anyone or myself if I continue to try to be full-time everything." It sounds like Mishler has found what feels good.