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Yoga’s Instagram Provocateur

By Katherine Rosman

Mark Makela

You cannot swing a cat (pose) on Instagram without hitting photographs of yoga instructors with perfect figures twisted into perfect shapes, selling essential oils and greeting-card spirituality.

Alex Auder is not one of them.

Ms. Auder, 48, is something of a yoga auteur, sharing homemade videos that are more performance art than content. In them she satirises, mocks and sometimes fillets the wellness industry, its relentless marketing and “the commodification of yoga,” as Ms. Auder calls it.

She writes, stars in and films a regular series of videos in which she has painted a dollar sign on her forehead in eyeliner and plays a character hawking essential oils with names like “urine mist,” “feces” and “The One Per Scent.”



She also plays a Wall Street dropout who has invested in wellness companies and thanks yoga instructors for continuing “to convince your fellow women to buy into me. I’m making more money than I did on Wall Street and you are still poor.”

Then there is the series in which she plays the role of an exacting yoga instructor who berates her students, played by naked dolls whose bodies are covered with Sharpie-drawn dollar signs and the names of yoga clothing brands like Spiritual Gangster.

In one popular video, Ms. Auder has herself wrapped in what appear to be Ikea rugs as she exits a car. “Being a healer who is sponsored by more than 500 brands is a lot of pressure,” she says. “Mercedes gets me to my ayahuasca ceremonies quickly and efficiently and Coke keeps me hydrated.”



Her Instagram feed is not one for glamour shots celebrated by 10,000 prayer-hand-emoji comments. She currently has about 6,000 followers, many of whom seem to delight in antics of someone trying to cling to the last vestiges of yoga’s counterculture roots.

Ms. Auder has been an instructor for decades, teaching for many years at Kula Yoga Project in New York. She now runs a studio called Magu Yoga in Philadelphia, where she and her husband, the filmmaker Nick Nehéz, moved with their two children five years ago. She has been practicing yoga since the late 1980s and teaching it since 1994.

She said she is not making fun of any one Instagram yoga celebrity, but all of them. “It’s a conglomeration of personalities, and when people say they see themselves in my characters, I think that is their problem, not mine.

“I think it’s ridiculous for gorgeous wealthy white women to tell anyone what they should love about themselves,” Ms. Auder went on. “Rosemary oil is great for the immune system, fine. But the people who really need a boost for their immune system can’t afford rosemary oil, and they can’t even go to the doctor. So let’s give an Instagram heart for that, shall we?”

Ms. Auder’s is one of a handful of social media feeds that holds to account (as it were) the overly branded, idealised version of the yoga lifestyle that has exploded on social media. Others include @shallow_yoga, which features a Barbie doll named Skye Moondust Shallow doing ridiculous yoga poses in ridiculous locations (with captions like, “I hope this picture of me holding my leg up in the air in front of a mirror inspires you to say ‘Because of you, Skye, I didn’t give up’”).

Mark MakelaAlex Auder at her yoga studio in Philadelphia. Asked by the photographer to do a yoga pose, she declined. “I hate yoga,” she said.
Alex Auder at her yoga studio in Philadelphia. Asked by the photographer to do a yoga pose, she declined. “I hate yoga,” she said.

Ms. Auder is in fact a performance artist IRL, on many different stages. She has made guest appearances on the HBO series “High Maintenance,” which depicts the interactions between a weed delivery man in Brooklyn and his clientele. (On the show, Ms. Auder plays Gloria, a yoga instructor who tries to win a dance world record.) She also regularly walks the runway for fashion designer Rachel Comey.

She comes from a family of activists and artists. “She’s always been outspoken, outrageous, passionate, sensational,” said Ms. Auder’s sister, the actress Gaby Hoffmann. (They have matching “SIS” tattoos on their wrists.) “Now it’s playing out on Instagram, instead of just on the dance floor and the yoga studio and on the sidewalk.”

Put another way: “When the machine is corrupted, you are the grit that gums up the works.” This is how Ms. Hoffmann said her “husband-person” (as she calls her partner, the cinematographer Chris Dapkins) described the artistic instincts of Ms. Hoffmann, Ms. Auder and the people who raised them.

Mark Makela

Ms. Auder is the daughter of Viva Hoffmann, an Andy Warhol superstar, and Michel Auder, the French filmmaker. Ms. Auder and her sister were raised in Room 710 of the Chelsea Hotel, which was a headquarter for a mélange of counterculture artists like Dylan Thomas, Sid & Nancy and Leonard Cohen.

After Mr. Auder split from Viva Hoffmann, he married the contemporary artist and photographer Cindy Sherman. (They divorced in 1999.) Alex Auder and Gaby Hoffmann for many years were raised by the triumvirate, and they remain close to these parents.

Ms. Auder first tried yoga when she was a senior at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, after having studied at the School of American Ballet (which she got thrown out of for telling an instructor what he could go do to himself). She became obsessed with Jivamukti Yoga Centre, a studio and teaching school that has been a yogic home to thousands of Ashtanga disciples over three decades, like Russell Simmons, Sting and Donna Karan. At the time, there were only a handful of yoga studios in the city. “I would sob, I loved it so much,” she said. “I went to two classes a day.”

After graduating from Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., Ms. Auder and Mr. Nehéz opened a studio in Rhinebeck, N.Y., before they returned to Greenwich Village, with their baby daughter.

The family moved into a bedroom in a townhouse owned by the photographer Annie Leibovitz, for whom Ms. Auder became a daily private instructor. The mattress-on-the-floor family bedroom doubled as an underground studio, where Ms. Auder taught to private clients like Anohni and Parker Posey. She also did private home sessions with clients including Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Ms. Auder might have been the last hippie who still could afford to live in the Village — until Ms. Leibovitz decided to sell the townhouse.

Now in Philadelphia, the yoga provocateur is devoting as much time to social media as the mat, with photos of her children, ages 15 and 7, promotional notices of her upcoming classes and videos, like one from last month that shows her with a feather in her hair and a dollar sign painted on her forehead, hitting one doll with a stick for not practicing yoga every day and forcing the legs of another behind its own head. (By the way, that’s an actual yoga pose — yoganidrasana.)

People who are offended by her work might be missing the point, said Nikki Vilella, an owner of New York’s Kula Yoga Project, where Ms. Auder still occasionally teaches. “She’s a rabble rouser,” Ms. Vilella said. “I know there are people who think it’s too much, but I don’t think it’s too much. I think the yoga world is asleep. They are numb, walking around with their telephones like robots.”