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How Adriene Mishler built a 6-million-member fan base through yoga

"We never in a million years thought it would become what it is."
Kara Birnbaum/TODAY

We are all works in progress. Even the successful women you see owning it on Instagram faced stumbling blocks along the way and continue to work hard to stay at the top of their game. We're profiling some of the people who inspire us to follow that passion, create something new and keep evolving. This is "Getting There."

If you've ever searched for a quick yoga tutorial to try out at home, you've probably come across Adriene Mishler's massively successful YouTube channel, Yoga with Adriene. With over 6 million followers, a global reach and a deeply devoted community, Yoga with Adriene has become more than its founder ever anticipated.

Here's how she got there.

What was the goal when you launched Yoga with Adriene?

Originally the goal was to create something that would maybe help a few people, but also that would allow my business partner and I a little bit of extra income to create the art that we were making at the time.

It was simply to kind of experiment. I knew that it would help others but I was honestly a little afraid. I had never seen or experienced any digital yoga outside of the classic DVD, and I didn’t even know if my mentor at the time was going to approve of that. It didn’t seem to have integrity because YouTube was just not an educational platform, at least to people like me living in Austin, Texas, at the time.

TODAY/Kara Birnbaum

We were not looking to create a business out of it. Yes, I mentioned we were hoping to pay the phone bill or support our lives as artists, but I think what’s really unique about Yoga with Adriene is we never in a million years thought it would become what it is and we never set out to make a business out of it.

The one thing I’m really proud of is that the mission has always been the same for Yoga with Adriene. We’ve grown and expanded things, but the mission is always very clearly to provide as much free, high-quality yoga to as many people as possible.

Was it intimidating to put yourself out there in the beginning? What were some of the things that were going through your head at that time?

There were these certain standards and depictions of what a yoga teacher and what a yogi was supposed to embody. What we started doing then just really wasn't — I didn't feel like it was appropriate. So not only did I feel vulnerable, and still do, putting myself out there, because once it's out there it's like I wrote the paper and turned it in. I can't get my essay back. It's being critiqued, it's being graded and it'll come back to me with the comments.

TODAY/Kara Birnbaum

I was extremely scared to be raw, so I was nervous to put myself out there, my body, my voice — but yeah it’s also living in an environment that wasn’t like it is now where we’re encouraged to see diversity and make it accessible. Now you can kind of create yoga for yourself and embody that.

I’m kind of coming to this place of maturity where I’m like, that was awesome that I said yes and that I did it.

Were there ever moments that you doubted yourself or the path that you were heading down? How do you approach that?

The first thing is you have to have a regular practice of getting to know yourself. I think that we find that we have more natural energy and more ease in taking risks and listening to our intuition when we have a strong connection with ourselves.

TODAY/Kara Birnbaum

It might sound obvious but that’s the first thing to go: my self-inquiry time or my journaling time or my long walk or it could be a workout, or it could be a manicure or a facial. But I’m talking not just self-care. I’m talking self-inquiry. The better you know yourself, with more ease you’ll be able to make decisions and be fearless.

The second thing is maybe surprising because it’s not very yogic, but do your homework. Be prepared. If you do the first thing then you’re going to have the energy and the inquisitiveness and curiosity to want to do your research and do your homework and question everything. If you don’t have a good relationship with yourself, you’re going to just be a little bit confused and a little exhausted and I think being prepared is going to feel harder.

For more like this, follow TMRW on Instagram at @tmrwxtoday.

Was there a moment that you remember realizing that this is shifting into something bigger than we even anticipated?

I think that moment was the first "30 days of yoga" that we put on YouTube for free because there were all these little sparks of joy that I had been experiencing here and there prior to that. But then we did that, just the sheer amount of people participating grew so quickly that all of those little once-a-month sparks of joy and moments of humanity and move-you-to-tears quadrupled.

It was so incredible to me that there were so many different types of people commenting, from different age groups to different areas around the world, ethnicities; and it was extremely touching.

TODAY/Kara Birnbaum

It was really satisfying to start to see that because everyone said, "You need to focus on women, American women from this age group." Or, "You need to focus on women in the U.K. in this age group." But these women in these age groups and in these parts of the world, they’re already getting access to yoga and they’re very welcome here and I want them to be here, but I don’t want to only focus on them.

My secret goal — that’s not a secret anymore, but back then I don't think I had the confidence to say it — my goal was for at-home yoga to become a normal thing. I thought this was going to be when I'm a grandma.

Here we are. We started the challenge in 2012 and that’s already kind of a reality. And I'm not saying Yoga with Adriene did this whole thing; the world did it because the world needed it.

What advice would you have for someone who's looking to turn something they're passionate about into their career?

I would suggest getting really clear about the why. See if you can come up with a really simple sentence or two on what the real goal is for you.

I have to do that all the time with Yoga with Adriene now that it's become a big business and we have bills to pay. I'm lucky that the people on my team can remind me when I need the reminder like, "OK, what's the intention here?"

If you’re in the business of helping others feel good you better be clear on your "why" and it better feel good for you, otherwise it’s going to get weird real fast.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.