Yoga’s New Star: an Ambassador to the Masses:
Briohny Kate Smyth.
A few months ago, a yoga video was released.
Patrolling the internet, as I do, for relephant articles and videos of interest to our readers, I happened across it on one of my most-frequented sites, the blackhole-of-time known as Reddit. It had a few “upvotes” on the yoga subreddit, but still only had 300 or so views, total, on youtube.
I watched it. I saw that the video was elegant, hip, and seemed to capture something about the spirit of yoga, the intensity of our practice. And the yogini, whom I didn’t recognize, was lovely—but the video didn’t strike me as tacky or over-sexualized (our 80% female readers hate objectification, if it’s of a woman). So I shared it up, figuring it would get a 1,000 readers (good for us), and kept searched for more material to share with our readers.
All told, my first blog of that video, and subsequent elephant writers’ discussions and critiques regarding The Video magnetized 95,000 readers.
And in the larger world, the video (perhaps largely propelled by its riding that razor’s edge between inspiring and sexy—a line that provoked countless arguments and discussions) soon catapulted beyond the yoga community and to the wider masses, many of whom had likely never checked out a yoga video before.
In a few short months, The Equinox Yoga Video has reached 2.5 million views, making it one of the two or three most-viewed yoga videos in modern history. In a few more months’ time, it’ll take the number one slot.
Popularity doesn’t matter in and of itself. If something is devoid of mission or integrity (say, a reality TV show) the fact that it’s ubiquitous is without merit.
But truth can’t do much good if no one hears it, either. If a tree falls in the forest, and no one’s there…well, if that tree falling is, say, a yoga video…that video won’t have a chance to be of any benefit to anyone. The Bodhisattva vow, and generally all humanity’s desire to help others, requires both integrity and popularity. This is why, you could say, Jon Stewart is so well-loved. He gets good info out there in a fun way. That’s elephant’s mission. And that’s what this video has achieved.
But until recently, when our colleague Jeannie interviewed Briohny in depth (links below), few knew where this video was coming from. Was it just slick marketing? Who was this yoga teacher? Did she care about intention, alignment, breath? Or was she just contributing to the yoga-as-athleticism, the “sculpted body” school of yoga ambition? Or, a bit of both?
Having re-read Jeannie’s interview, and having read Kathryn Budig’s interview on the Huffington Post, and having chatted with this no-longer-anonymous yoga teacher—Briohny Smyth—in the ensuing months, we finally connected for an interview.
We’re both busy bees (Briohny’s a mom, in addition to teaching 6 or 7 yoga classes a day, oftentimes) and it took awhile to connect up. But we finally managed.
Here’s our conversation, left as raw as possible. ~ ed.
> The (first) Equinox Yoga Video, which we blogged up when it was at 300 views. It’s now at 2.5 million. (Our role in that gone-viral-wowness: not much).
> All Photos: exclusive via our brother photographer Robert Sturman.
Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis: Briohny Smyth.
Waylon Lewis: Your video, put together by Equinox—went viral about a month ago. We covered it, I helped break it as it happens (thanks to Reddit, actually) and it now has 2.5 million views, and counting.
I watched it, liked it, thought it was elegant and hip, and blogged it up. That was the entirety of my reaction. I knew the video would get a fair number of views for us, but had no idea how huge it would get.
It’s now easily, officially, the biggest yoga video in history. Has the video changed your yoga path and career opportunities overnight? Has it had a concrete effect on your yoga teaching?
Briohny Smyth: I’m thankful for your support, Waylon! It’s been such a growing experience for me.
It has brought a spotlight and interest to my name…but I continue to stay humble and hope to use this opportunity to spread my love and passion for this amazing thing we call Yoga. Equinox continues to support our [Dice, Briohny's fiancé and Briohny's] effort to teach workshops together around the world and bring awareness to the charities we support, such as Kurmalliance, Operation Shanti, and Poses for Paws. I’m grateful for how it has connected me with amazing people like you!
As far as my path…It’s only solidified the path I’m on, and helped me to reflect upon myself. I constantly ask myself if I am present enough for my family and fellow yogis. That’s all.
Waylon Lewis: My major reaction to the video, as it started blowing up, was feeling rather defensive for you, or protective. I didn’t know you, of course, but I think many of us felt that way.
Briohny Smyth: It got rather heated, and I really appreciate the support and love I felt from my supporters. It was tough to read the negative comments, but I took some wise advice and stopped reading them.
Waylon Lewis: There was a pretty loud reaction by feminists (I’ve counted myself one, all my life, raised by a kick-ass sweet strong single mom) that the video was sexualized. Obviously, the video was gorgeous and you’re beautiful, and there were moments that were sexy.
But Lindsey (of elephant) and I and many if not most others I talked to didn’t find it sexual by any means. That includes guys. We just all found it hip, inspiring, accessible demonstration of the spirit of yoga, particularly home practice.
How did you find your center with all the criticism? Even if it was a minority, it’s an intelligent, and loud minority.
Briohny Smyth: I too have always considered myself pro-feminism. My mother moved to America at 19 by herself and raised me and my sister by working two, sometimes three jobs at once. She always taught me to do the things that I believed in and not to worry too much what others thought.
But in all honesty….I did get a little jaded by the whole hoopla.
I left the entertainment and fashion industry to teach Yoga, thinking that there was nothing but support and love. Then I started to experience fellow female, and sometimes male teachers bashing one another and starting nasty rumors. So I realized, like any community…there are all sorts of personalities.
Waylon Lewis: What helped you through the criticism? I know your daughter has really helped you come out of eating disorder issues, as you’ve talked about before on elephant and with Kathryn Budig on Huffington Post. Does meditation play a central role in your daily life? And I understand your fiancé, Dice, who was the gent in the bed (who I didn’t even notice the first time I watched), is of course a strong, kind ally.
Well that’s probably pretty healthy. There’s a Buddhist aphorism, a lojong slogan, “always trust the principle one.” I’ve found that helpful. I get criticized all the time. Some of it’s fair, and helpful, and some of it’s just mean. Some of it’s a mix of true and mean. So the Buddhists urge us to just check in with ourselves, honestly consider criticism openly, and then move on with life.
Listen to yourself. Trust yourself.
Briohny Smyth: I decided to do my best to surround myself with loving, kind, and like-minded yogis…and I’m super grateful for those people.
Waylon Lewis: Yes, like any community, the yoga community is vicious, loves rumor and gossip, is jealous etc. That’s not a criticism. We’re all human and that’s what we have to work with. Luckily, in the yoga community, we have a sacred tool, this practice, to use to work with all of the usual BS.
Well I know you’re close with Kathryn Budig, and she’s good stuff. She’s been through the fire and only come out brighter and more powerful. I know she looks to Diana, the huntress goddess, as inspiration.
Briohny Smyth: You’re right! Criticism is tough to stomach but ultimately the way we deal with it is the key.
Kathryn is wonderful. My daughter, mom, and fiancé are all my reason for being. Truly grateful.
Waylon Lewis: What I wanted to ask about and focus upon wasn’t the loud, critical reaction by an intelligent but loud minority.
I wanted to focus on what I was personally inspired about—that this [first video is] one of the biggest, most successful expressions of yoga into the mainstream in history. You have an amazing practice. It was inspiring to watch a video that captured the exertion and drishti of practice. So, thank you, and thank you to Equinox. I know all those involved in creating that video were female, and you yourself choreographed it, is that correct?
Briohny Smyth: Thank you. My practice is what keeps me sane. I was so lucky that Equinox gave me the opportunity to just be me. I had an outline of how I wanted to flow but we did it so many times that I free-flowed some of it.
All of the marketing team that I met are female. Amazing, generous women.
Waylon Lewis: A good part of your focus seems to be on alignment, core, breath, meditation—are those, in your mind, the basic, fundamental aspects of yoga?
Briohny Smyth: In my classes I try to teach something that I personally have put effort into practicing. I find that these fundamental aspects of yoga are all ways that help me connect with the present moment.
That’s why I fell in love with yoga in the first place. I love teaching because I can guide my fellow yogis into a deeper connection between their mind and body by using their breath. It’s so cool when you see people building their own body awareness. You actually witness and become a part of their process.
I’ve learned so much about myself through teaching others and cultivating relationships with them.
Waylon Lewis: The newest video, which you helped us release timing-wise, is a narrated re-cut of that first video. It’s not exactly a video to practice along with, but it details what’s going on, inside and out.
Briohny Smyth: Oh….what’s funny is most people who see this second video think it’s a narrated re-cut of the first video. I can see how it seems like that, but actually…we filmed three separate videos that day. All in the same outfit.
That first one was the arm balance video…the second one was back bends, and the third is a hip opener sequence; all of which are straight from my home practice. Put all of them together and that’s basically a representation of my personal practice.
It was an awesome day. I got to do yoga in my skivvies all day…!
Waylon Lewis: Oh! Didn’t realize that. Yes, so this video is entirely new, and yet of a piece.
I love how in one interview you said that when filming first started you had a moment of panic, or insecurity, and your fiancé Dice (in the bed..!) reassured you, and you came back to yourself.
How does true love (and yoga) help us to come back to the present, or our own integrity, and away from difficulties…with the eating disorders you’ve talked about going through since you were a child?
We all have our difficult habitual patterns to wrestle with, and it seems you’ve been able to stop wrestling entirely and just be yourself and enjoy life?
Briohny Smyth: In all honesty, the feelings that triggered my eating disorder are still there…they might not come up as often, but I still have moments of insecurity. Over time I’ve gained the tools to help buffer the way I react to those feelings. So instead of ‘acting out,’ I will dive into my practice or take a quick seated meditation, and breathe.
I’m also blessed with an amazing support group. My sis and mom, dad and Dice, and especially my daughter Taylor.
True love is different from my yoga practice because the practice is a place where I check in with me. I feel like my relationship with Dice has helped me learn how to trust and know that I am exactly where I need to be; that all I need is right in front on me. He gives me the platform to be myself completely. And when I lose my mind, which happens at least once a week…he’s there to tell me that he loves me. He is such a humble and loving person. Taylor and I are so lucky to have him in our lives.
Waylon Lewis: Yes. In Buddhism I was taught as a child not to try to be perfect, which never works anyways, but rather to practice “coming back” whenever I lost my mind. It’s a worldview founded on the notion that we’re all fundamentally good, decent, dignified people and that life is best and funnest when dedicated to others.
In that vein, from my point of view as editor of elephant, you seem to be an empowered, beautiful and yet relatable example of a yoga practitioner; In the way of Rodney Yee or Seane Corn or Kathyrn Budig.
But what’s interested to me, as an observer, is that you’ve connected with the masses overnight, via social media. Not via conferences and DVDs and the cover of Yoga Journal, though all of that will come if that’s part of your path.
How do you connect with the masses and yet, as in both of the videos we’ve seen before, protect and offer the heart of yoga practice–intention, meditation, breath, alignment?
Briohny Smyth: Beautifully put, Waylon. How wonderful to hear that you were raised Buddhist. I’m raising Taylor Buddhist, although I was raised Roman Catholic (my father is Irish/French from Australia). When I moved to Thailand at 11 I fell in love with Buddhism, and converted.
I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be mentioned among the Yoga greats. It’s interesting to have discovered this new medium. I’m excited to be able to bring my passion for yoga to the masses, and feel inspired by those who have reached out with stories of doing yoga for the first time or coming back to the practice because they saw my video. I’ve been in the limelight before, and know that opportunities like these don’t come often. I was so young the first time around that I didn’t have the tools to appreciate the amazing experiences and the wonderful people who supported me…..my Thai fans.
So, this time, I’m living moment by moment, and staying humble and dedicated to my practice and family.
What’s cool is that I’ve reconnected with a ton of Thai fans on FB, and will be going back this summer to record a single and do some TV interviews. The yoga community in Thailand is super excited for me and Dice to come and teach [yoga], as well. So many blessings right now.
Waylon Lewis: So, you’re coming full circle, but this time as you say you have the tools to handle and be of service in the limelight.
Briohny Smyth: I hope that answers everything and a little more. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to express myself and the platform to be myself. Best interview questions ever. You’re amazing Waylon. Can’t wait to meet you.
Waylon Lewis: Horrible questions…blabby. But great answers, so it all worked out!
Thank you, and look forward to seeing and interviewing you on Walk the Talk Show at Tadasana.
Sweet dreams to you and Taylor and Dice!
Briohny Smyth: Sweet dreams.