Adriene Mishler Shares What She’s Learned From Teaching Yoga

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Adriene Mishler never intended to be a yoga teaching phenom. Eleven years ago, she was an actor juggling theater rehearsals and nanny gigs to pay the bills. In her spare moments, she was teaching yoga to everyone ranging from toddlers to seniors wherever she could—studios, gyms, museums, schools, cafes, even birthday parties.

Then she received an email from Chris Sharpe, a filmmaker she had met on the set of an indie movie. “Chris had been working on a YouTube channel already. I considered myself a performer. It was his idea to marry those two things together,” says Mishler. The pair began filming and posting Yoga With Adriene videos as a creative experiment in 2012.

A decade later, Mishler’s gentle, sincere manner of teaching is familiar to her more than 11 million YouTube subscribers. She has brought free and accessible yoga to students around the world, making and sharing videos as diverse as a five-minute morning sequence and an hour-long shakti power flow, sequences for self discipline and practices to anchor yourself in hope. Collectively, her videos have been viewed more than a billion times, prompting the New York Times to dub her “the most popular instructor on YouTube.”

Her success wasn’t instantaneous. It’s taken time and practice as she continued to offer yoga. “But little by little, with a consistent video offering each week, we delighted in the things we were learning,” Mishler, 38, wrote in a blog post earlier this year.

As she continued to create and refine her online platform, Mishler also challenged and expanded her awareness of herself and what it means to be a yoga teacher. Here, she reflects on some of these lessons she’s learned from starting as a casual production in the living room of Mishler’s Texas bungalow with its “creaky old floor” has evolved into something complex with more attention to camera angles and video equipment.

8 lessons Adriene Mishler has learned from being a yoga teacher

1. Be yourself

In the early days of Yoga With Adriene, Mishler spent a lot of time poring over instructional yoga books and taking “copious amounts of notes” for each video she taught, she recalls, despite juggling multiple jobs.

It took experience and practice, but she slowly became more comfortable going off-script. “The permission to be myself and improvise really came from Chris,” says Mishler. “I’d do it and he’d say, ‘Okay, this time try it again, but be yourself.’”

As Mishler explains, she had been “mirroring what I saw in the yoga world,” which was “I know enough, I know everything, I am worthy of leading this.” Her approach evolved over the years as she realized that the teachers she considered the best were the ones who were the most honest and authentic.

2. Know your audience and their needs

Unlike in a live setting where “people need time to integrate and process,” teaching yoga to a population that experiences  instruction online requires a different strategy, explains Mishler.

“If there was too much dead air, they might think that the video stopped, or that they were doing something wrong,” she says. “So I started to narrate more.”

This resulted in Mishler’s trademark teaching style, a seemingly stream-of-conscious but very practiced approach to talking students through class. Mishler is careful to walk her students through the poses step-by-step, occasionally adding words of encouragement or making a joke at her own expense.

Yoga is a space of no judgment, explains Mishler. She wants to make yoga as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, preferring students move at their own pace and simply show up as themselves. Part of embracing that as a teacher has been becoming more conscious around the language she uses. For example, she no longer “requests” students make certain moves; instead, she “invites” them.

Mishler also no longer says, “Now, I want you to do this for me.” “I don’t want you to do anything for me,” she explains.

3. Stay true to your principles

The unexpected success of Yoga With Adrienne enabled Mishler to draw income from YouTube as well as brand partnerships. She currently has a product line with Manduka and is featured in the new Adidas Yoga Make Space collection made with recycled materials. These relationships are carefully chosen, intentional and make it possible for her “to provide as much yoga to as many people as possible,” explains Mishler. “We come back to that, again and again.”

However, it’s taken some experience and a misstep or two to understand which partnerships might, in her perspective, compromise her brand. Early in her career, she agreed to work with a brand that produces feminine hygiene products. It wasn’t as aligned a relationship as she had hoped. As Mishler explains, “That was one that we were like, never again. We’ll forget this ever happened.”

4. Navigate your role as influencer with awareness

Through practice and experience, Mishler has found an approach to social media that works for her. “It’s been interesting,” she says. “I’ve had a bit of a journey with it.”

Mishler has witnessed the rise of yoga influencers and voiced frustration at the behavior of many in that position. Ultimately, for Mishler, it comes down to being responsible with the sway you hold over others. “If you’re going to call yourself an influencer then you really need to influence in a positive way, otherwise it’s a waste,” she told Refinery 29 in an interview. “There’s too much at stake.”

She remains intent on influencing her followers in a manner that’s aligned with who she is. “We are all influencers,” she says. “And it feels irresponsible to ignore that.”

5. Care for yourself

“I get recognized really everywhere now,” says Mishler. She’s needed to adjust to the fact that she can rarely escape the attention of strangers.

“The pressure comes from always feeling like you’re being watched or recognized. I need a break from being on camera. I need a break from facilitating. I need to trust that that’s important. I need to absorb, because I feel like I’ve been putting out too much,” says Mishler. “When does my nervous system just be? And am I strong enough? Is anyone strong enough to just be in the wisdom of their body all the time when they’re being seen?”

Although she engages with her audience on social media and often integrates her followers’ requests into her videos, Mishler has found that constant attentiveness to her online presence detracts from her teaching and her happiness. “I need to be in my real life,” she says, “to spend time by myself, or even talk to Benji [her dog], instead of randomly talking to people on the Internet.”

While most yoga teachers will admit that it’s challenging for them to take a break from leading others through their practice, they also explain that stepping back to take time for yourself is essential—and that their teaching is better as a result. Mishler agrees.

Before Covid-19 hit, Mishler was producing a new YouTube video every week in addition to running all the various aspects of her burgeoning business. And she was still acting. In 2020, she decided to release one video a month.

At some point, Mishler realized that she was experiencing burnout. The decision to take a break wasn’t easy. “I didn’t want to make it about myself. I also didn’t want to appear weak,” explains Mishler.

She eventually paused—for a while. “I thought, ‘Okay, I had a little break, now let’s do 30 days! Let’s say yes to everything! I can take care of my Mom. Take care of my partner. Teach. Show up online!’ The things we all want and try to do,” she says. “I fell right back into the same trap.”

As with most things in life, learning self-care takes practice. Mishler makes it a point to journal and take long walks in nature with Benji as ways to center herself.  She feels it’s important to have conversations about the things we do for ourselves that help us survive. (She raised such points in her videos on Yoga for Self Love and Meditation for Self Love.)

6. Give yourself space to be interested in more than one thing

Mishler turns to journaling as a form of self-care to help clear her head. “Just freestyle, not for work,” she explains. The type of writing where you simply “dump it on the page in the morning.”

She’s also taking notes that she refers to as “bits and pieces for a book idea.” Not a memoir. Nonfiction. “I have a lot of ideas for things I want to publish and I have this weird order right now that I want to do it in,” she explains. “I should probably surrender.”

7. Remain a student

Mishler considers herself an eternal student. Although her mother is from Mexico, Mishler didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. She is currently taking lessons twice a week on Zoom. She also visits Mexico City fairly regularly to take in-person classes with the goal of one day teaching yoga in Spanish.

Another interest is neuroscience. “That language has really inspired me,” she said. “There’s a lot about our bodies that can be more accessible, that we can easily understand and implement in our daily life,” she said. “This will change our whole mental health entirely.”

8. Let yourself feel proud

“When I see that something I’ve cultivated or created has landed with someone, it’s really hard to not feel giddy and be happy,” she says. “That’s one thing I feel like I’ve not let myself feel.”

“But I think it’s okay to say, ‘Yeah, it makes me feel proud. I feel really appreciated,’” she says. “It’s really meaningful and it does inspire me. It shows me, ‘Wow, you are not working in a bubble, girlfriend!’”

About our contributor

Hope Reese is a journalist based in Budapest, Hungary. She has written for dozens of publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vox, and many others. Her work covers a range of subjects—from culture to politics to technology—and she is a featured author in the Verso Books collection, Where Freedom Starts: Sex Power Violence #MeToo: A Verso Report.

This content was originally published here.

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