Yoga with Adriene’s founder won YouTube with her message of self-love — and self-deprecating humor

Adriene Mishler isn't the only star of Yoga with Adriene. Her fans love her sidekick, Benji the blue heeler, almost as much as they love downward dog.
Image: yoga with adriene/Mashable composite

Adriene Mishler exudes plenty of mushy-gushy spiritual thinking, but the yoga evangelist embraces something else, too: self-deprecating humor.

That’s part of what has made her so accessible to her 3.2 million YouTube subscribers. When she mentions self-love or chakras, she bookends it with “Okayyyy, Adriene,” or when she directs you to sit in a cross-armed-cross-legged pretzel of a pose as you lift your head, she mumbles, “This is like Ariel on the rock, speaking to my generation, a little mermaid joke.” 

It’s why her fans call her goofy and authentic, an overused cliche in the YouTube world, but they really mean it. They insist! There’s just something about Adriene. 

If you’re already rolling your eyes, take a deep, cleansing breath. It’s worth trying to wrap your head around why this particular woman has the top six videos when you search “yoga” on YouTube and dominates Google search.

Adriene has been hosting free yoga videos on Yoga with Adriene since 2012.

Image: Yoga with Adriene

At the moment, Adriene is taking mental notes about Peru. When the 33-year-old tells me she rearranged her schedule to take adult Spanish classes so she can teach yoga when she visits Spanish-speaking countries, I mention one of her fans in Peru already translates her videos into Spanish. A Peace Corps volunteer there leads about 25 students, ages 5 to 84, in an hour-long flow, Monday through Friday.

“Wow, I just got the chills,” Adriene says.

You see, one of Adriene’s other fans from the Netherlands, who followed her yoga classes on a European tour like a Deadhead, recently quit her job as a vice principal and moved to Peru, where she founded a nonprofit teaching yoga to underserved children, with Yoga with Adriene’s motto, “Find What Feels Good,” at the core. It’s called Con Pazion, and Adriene’s sponsor, Adidas, donated $10,000 to the budding organization on her behalf. Yoga with Adriene fans have also donated, with some now sitting on Con Pazion’s board.

“It’s all starting to fall into place somehow,” Adriene says. 

Leonie van Iersel, the Yoga with Adriene fan who founded Con Pazion (center), and her students.

Image: COn Pazion

Although her mother is Mexican-American, Adriene never learned Spanish as a child. She jokes that she probably knows more Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language used in yoga practice, than Spanish. When she was in high school, she took American Sign Language instead because she had deaf friends. 

While she’s excited to learn, it means she has to give up something she’s done for a decade, even after her meteoric YouTube rise: teach yoga, IRL, on Saturday mornings. 

For yoga instructors, a Saturday morning studio slot means you’ve made it. And moving on fills her with bittersweet nostalgia. 

“I used to joke that the only people who would come to my classes are my friends and my mom, and of course I would never let any of them pay.”

“Yoga with Adriene” was the most googled workout in 2015. She won a 2016 Streamy Award in the Health and Wellness category, and in January of this year Google searches for “Yoga with Adriene” reached an all-time high — spiking by 40 percent since November 2017. 

But she didn’t start out intending to be an internet sensation. When she was 19, she’d sub, teach kids’ classes, and lug around a jam box and burnt CDs all over her hometown of Austin — anything to teach yoga.

“I used to joke that the only people who would come to my classes are my friends and my mom, and of course I would never let any of them pay, and then I’d end up paying rent at the studio where I was teaching and not making any money,” she said. 

She wouldn’t disclose her YouTube revenue, but according to analytics firm SocialBlade, Yoga with Adriene pulls in anywhere from $3,000 to $45,000 a month. (It’s a big range, but YouTube estimates are often like that due to complicated ad schemes.) That doesn’t include intake from her subscription video service, Adidas sponsorship, events, or merchandise. She’s currently writing a book about her relationship with yoga and planning her own yoga teacher training program.

Yoga with Adriene encourages viewers to “find what feels good.”

Image: Yoga with Adriene

Back when Adriene was losing money on her yoga classes, she taught children drama and acted on the side. It was on an indie movie set where she met Chris Sharpe, the film’s director, who’d later become her business partner and the Greg to her Dharma.  The movie was about a girl band in a post-apocalyptic world. At first Adriene passed on it — she had auditioned for Juilliard, she had trained in New York, she wanted to do theater — but was convinced when she heard her friend was part of the cast. That friend later married Sharpe and now has her own YouTube cooking channel. 

“It never got finished and I do thank god for that because we had quite the get-ups,” Adriene says, giggling.

After the movie fell apart, Chris emailed Adriene in 2010, pitching a yoga YouTube channel. But the idea just sat there, gestating for two years until the duo made Yoga with Adriene’s first video. The actor in Adriene wanted to nail every moment, but Chris encouraged her to relax and act like Mr. Rogers inviting people into her home. After that, it clicked. 

All Adriene wanted to do was provide free at-home yoga for the masses when most classes cost between $15 and $20. It took her awhile to warm up to the social media circus and SEO-focused video titles. Her library of under 30-minute videos is diverse, to say the least: There’s yoga for mornings, bedtime, teachers, depression, golfers, disasters, a broken heart. You name it, she’s probably got it. And her blue heeler, Benji, is often seen lounging around, sometimes snuggling up on the mat as she maneuvers around him.

“I was nervous to take yoga out of its sacred space and slapdash it into this digital space,” says Adriene. “That’s why it took forever for me to title any video ‘Yoga for weight loss’ or ‘Yoga for flow.’”

But it’s titles like those that likely pushed her to the top of Google and YouTube search.  

“It’s very savvy how she structured it,” said Allon Caidar, a YouTube metadata expert and founder and CEO of TVPage, a video commerce platform. Adriene focuses on keywords and has more than one video about highly-searched topics, he points out. Despite multiple high-profile YouTuber scandals (ahem Pewdiepie, ahem Logan Paul), Caidar predicts that marketing budgets focused on influencers like Adriene, especially in the lifestyle and health sectors, will grow this year.

Adriene jokes that one April Fools’ Day she wants to upload the same video with two titles: one focused on self-love and another on weight loss to test which gets more views. 

“Just to kind of prove a point,” she says. “With the titles, I’m using the platform to bring more people to the mat.”

Yaiza Varona, a 39-year-old in the UK, found Adriene because of her high ranking. She was browsing for a yoga video on YouTube, clicked the first one, and now she’s a Yoga with Adriene disciple. 

“If she said paint yourself blue, I’d do it. At this moment, I trust whatever she says because it feels so right,” the music composer says. “I’m not that much into yoga as a philosophy, but she brings it down to Earth. She focuses so much on enjoying being in your body.”

Megan-Eileen Waldrep, the Peace Corps volunteer in Peru, says it may sound silly, but to her, Adriene feels like a friend. 

“She makes jokes or weird references and then says under her breath, ‘I don’t know why I said that,’ which is hilarious. It’s an unedited flow of her stream of consciousness and yoga,” the 25-year-old from Chicago says.

There are critics who deride Adriene for being “that YouTube yogi,” though. 

“They’re judging a book by its cover, and they don’t understand that I’ve poured my whole little heart and soul into trying to be mindful of how I share this information,” she says. 

Adriene is used to pouring her heart and soul into things. She’s been doing it since she was a kid. Over Christmas, she was laughing with her dad about how she spent hours as a child recording her own theater and dance shows on VHS. Decades later, she’s still filming her own productions, only now she has a core staff of four.

Adriene’s been in some indie movies, she plays a journalist in Rooster Teeth’s Day 5, and has voiced characters like Lois Lane and Supergirl for DC Universe Online. She’ll keep acting even as she expands her yoga business, she says. It’s a dream she can’t shake.

You may see her at an event with hundreds of people doing yoga in a cavernous room — she uses a special mic because she had two vocal cord surgeries due to a benign tumor — but you’ll also still get a free video on YouTube every week. And if you watch those videos, you’ll be in on the joke when the floor creaks beneath your feet, just like Adriene’s does at home.

“I would love for us to look back and go, ‘Remember when yoga was this thing you went to at the gym, and now it’s like brushing your teeth, washing your vegetables, taking a shower, something that you do in your home regularly,'” she says. “We’re not far from that. I’d like to look back and know that I did my part to trailblaze that offering.”

Read more:

Yoga With Adriene Wins Health and Wellness - Streamy Awards 2016
Yoga With Adriene wins the award for Health and Wellness at the 6th Annual Streamy Awards. The nominees for Health and Wellness are Buff Dudes, Furious Pete, Kati Morton, Niomi Smart, and Yoga With Adriene.

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