Surpassing the Virtual Namaste

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With technology providing a greater level of accessibility to all kinds of information, there’s potential for people to take their fitness journeys into their own hands — and homes. Just a few clicks away are thousands of simulated workout “classes” and trainers available through outlets like YouTube that rack up thousands more subscribers and followers to their fitness content. 

One of those virtual class leaders is Austinite, Adriene Mishler, an actor and full-time yoga instructor who discovered by accident that an online community of on-demand yoga was exactly what the mindful world was craving.

Mishler’s channel, Yoga With Adriene, started in 2012 at the height of the yoga craze and amongst various other vloggers dishing out yoga-inspired videos. What separated her channel from the rest was its attempt to create an environment that emphasized what the other yoga vloggers at the time did not — that yoga was not about weight loss, but about practicing self-love and finding a connection between breath and body. 

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting a hot body, to be fit, to transform yourself,” Mishler explains. “But what’s the point of having whatever it might be for you to like the way you look if you don’t even know who it is you see in the mirror?” 

Mishler started training as an instructor and practicing yoga 18 years ago at the age of 17. Training meticulously over several years made her fall in love with guiding others through the practice. 

Her classes and videos have a distinct style that can only be defined as confidence and authenticity. Pointing not only to her own years of persistent study and practice teaching yoga, Mishler also cites her theater and dance background as having a profound effect on the way she is able to dissect the movements and convey them smoothly to her viewers, as well as in her own practices — often full of quirky jokes and reminders for self-care.

“It’s the instructors responsibility to energetically welcome and create a safe vibe,” Mishler says. “To let you know that it does not matter if you can or cannot, that you do what you want.” 

Mishler admits there wasn’t a lot of traction for about two years after the channel’s launch. The channel became what it is today instead by a slow increase of involvement and as an around-the-clock learning process for her and her business partner, Chris Sharpe — figuring out the setup of the videos, how to frame them and get them noticed. 

“It wasn’t until the second edition of our 30-day series that we realized we had something special just based off of engagement,” Mishler says. “The importance of prioritizing movement and mentality is what got us there.”

The 30-day series are exactly what they sound like: 30 days with a new video each day, all working off of each other to recharge, refresh and reawaken any and every muscle group and mental function. The first one was somewhat of an underground edition, testing the waters and still figuring their finances out. Mishler and Sharpe had to charge $19 for the series. 

“I got so paranoid about charging people for yoga,” Mishler says. “I just kept thinking, ‘What else can I throw in to make it worth it? What can I give them?’”  

A seemingly unimportant decision to throw in an online community in a Facebook group turned out years later to be the seed that sprouted the defining aspect of modern-day Yoga With Adriene — the FWFG Kula online community. FWFG stands for Mishler’s iconic mantra in each video of “Find What Feels Good” that eventually became a brand in itself, and Kula is the Sanskrit for community of the heart. 

Today the online group is a huge piece of why the mindful following behind the channel is more than just a fan base. It’s an interconnected group on a free private website, now too big to manage via Facebook. Members are free to interact in any way they choose with others from all over the world, practicing yoga and working to connect mind and body in all the disarray of modern life just as they are.

“That online community is something I noticed — not something I did,” Mishler says. 

It’s that community-centered thinking that’s kept the online community free to anyone who wants to join. Now, after the seventh anniversary this past September, Yoga with Adriene has transformed into something much larger than anyone involved could have predicted. 

With over five million subscribers on YouTube, the numbers are only going up, and still, the idea of community benefit is the leading business advancement. 

“Community is the grounding force of the business,” Mishler says. “It’s at the heart of every communication.”

Even with a following that pushes Mishler well beyond just your average influencer, she fights against the mainstream use of her influence for more money. Staying true to the idea of community and providing yoga to everyone for free means that she’s gone against what many would have done in a position to make more profit. Mishler has only accepted partnerships, such as Practice Yoga and Adidas, that she knows will continue to foster learning on both sides with terms that don’t breach any principles. 

“The way I see it — I wouldn’t want to be sold something during my yoga practice,” Mishler says, “so why would I try to sell something to you during yours?”

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