Each August, Adriene Mishler begins trying to identify a theme for the annual 30 Day Yoga Journey she runs throughout January on her uber-popular YouTube channel for free online classes, Yoga With Adriene. The theme is supposed to set a tone for her more than 7 million subscribers and provide them with a starting point to meditate on during their practice the rest of the year. The theme she chose for 2020 was “Home.” Little did she know.
“To me, it was about taking it back home, to your roots, saying, ‘I’m going to take care of myself as an individual and I’m going to show up for self-inquiry,’” says Mishler, who in addition to her YouTube channel runs Find What Feels Good, an online community portal that also hosts six hundred videos focused on yoga and meditation. “But it’s also, ‘I got you, we’re in this together.’ And a few months later, here we are all in our homes working, sometimes desperately, for a sense of equilibrium.”
Paper Magazine recently declared Mishler the Patron Saint of Quarantine and, indeed, offering free online yoga classes at a time when studios are closed and people are stuck at home puts her perfectly in step with the national zeitgeist. But she’s also not just anybody offering free online yoga classes; she’s been at this since 2012, and her YouTube platform went into the pandemic with a vast community built around her free-to-watch, judgment-free, work-at-your-own-pace classes. Originally, Mishler—an Austin native who’s still based there—started the channel to supplement her acting career, but also because she felt yoga had gotten expensive, corporate, and increasingly inaccessible for folks who might have benefited from it but saw price as a barrier to entry. Her most popular video, with 38 million views, is “Yoga for Complete Beginners,” and those beginners usually transition to one of the thirty-day journeys or videos built around specific needs, such as “Yoga for Vulnerability,” “Yoga for Back Pain,” and “Yoga for Focus & Productivity.”
In our conversation, recorded Thursday by phone, we spoke about the quarantine bump her channel has seen and what yoga can do for building confidence in uncertain, unprecedented times. We also discuss her own struggles with staying disciplined in quarantine, silver linings that might emerge from the pandemic, and her deep-seated fear of how the pandemic might change her—not necessarily for the better.
Three takeaways from our conversation:
Mishler believes that one of the silver linings of quarantine might be that we collectively lean in further than we typically have toward the idea of “community.”
“Long term, I hope we can unplug to plug in, that this can actually be something of great value for our long-term mental, physical, and emotional health, not just as people but as communities. I hope we can start to find more things that unite us, despite our differences. And also that we can simply learn to take better care of ourselves and realize, understand, and feel … that when we put ourselves first and when we take responsibility for our own happiness, we are directly affecting the lives of others. It starts with our loved ones, of course, but then [ripples out to] our neighbors, our coworkers, and our community at large. There’s really a true opportunity for ripple effect here.”
While Mishler says she’s an optimist, she says she’s afraid of but also open to the idea that the pandemic and quarantine might somehow fundamentally change who she is.
“I think we’re all going to come out of this having discovered that we are changed as people. And I think for me, while I’m isolated right now, the traffic for my work is really high. And I think I fear that when this ends, I might be a different person. … I may not be the same person that everyone expects me to be. And I may not want to do the same things that I wanted to do before. I can tell you I want to still contribute in a meaningful way to society. But I have a fear of being a little locked in, in my service or in my art, and I want to make sure that I get to grow and go wherever the wind takes me.”
At its core, Mishler’s quarantine advice isn’t much different from the advice she’s been giving in the videos for years: “Be gentle, go easy on yourself.”
“I find myself saying that a lot right now, because it’s an easy kind of digestible, forgiving, loving way for us to remember that our mental and physical health are connected. People are usually wanting to speak to me about yoga practice. And so my advice, instead of giving specific suggestions on what to do on a yoga mat, is usually instead to simply just be kind to yourself and instead of prioritizing a specific something—whatever you think you need—prioritize listening instead.”
(Excepts have been condensed and edited for clarity.)