Yoga by Equinox Parody: Behind the scenes with Michael Stusser

The Contortionist (aka “Yoga by Equinox” aka “the sexy yoga video”) debuted on January 3rd and immediately went viral, receiving nearly 2 million You Tube views and sparking dialog (much of it judge-y and preachy) across the blogosphere. Enter Seattle-based humorist Michael Stusser, who decided we all needed a good laugh. Stusser created this hilarious parody, which has become its own Internet sensation since launching 2 days ago. Well+Good caught up him for this exclusive interview.

W+G: When did you first see Yoga by Equinox (early, mid-sensation?) and what were your initial thoughts?

Michael Stusser: I’m constantly surfing the new-agey Facebook feeds for writing material, so I saw the video fairly early on. I think my first impression was that this woman was super hot and, since I do some yoga, I wondered how the hell she could balance like that without killing herself.

Over the next couple weeks I saw some nasty shit in comment sections about the ad being overly sexual – or referring to it as soft-corn porn (I prefer the hard-core…in case anyone cares…). I guess I just felt insulted by the pissy negativity—on behalf of this practitioner – this teacher. Is she disqualified from being amazing if she’s in her underwear?

W+G: As a humorist, was doing a parody an immediate idea or did it occur to you during savasana epiphany?

MS: I’m sure I got the idea while stoned out of my mind and blaring Deer Tick but I seriously don’t remember. Before I even did the video, a lot of people had mentioned how much my practice looked like this woman, Briohny Smyth’s – who I’d never heard of. So it might have had something to do with that…

W+G: People are commenting that you’ve got moves on the mat, even though the joke is that you’re no Briohny Smyth. We found your crow to chataranga especially impressive. How long have you been practicing for and where do you practice in Seattle?

MS: Joke? No, seriously, I have been practicing for a long time – though you wouldn’t know it by my Bird of Paradise. (Ew.)

I’ve been taking classes with the same incredible teacher, Dawn Jansen,  for 15 years – but it’s not her fault: We think my pelvis was fused on backwards as a child, or it could be my hamstrings. The great thing about Dawn is that it’s not all about asanas – she’s teaching all 8 Limbs – so I’ve learned quite a bit about meditation and intention and taming my monkey mind. Most importantly, she tells her students to be dedicated – but also have fun. She’ll yell at us in class: “Our warriors need to be fierce! Proud! Going into battle!” and then she’ll crack up.

W+G:  The flawless execution and high production values floored us. How did you pull that off? Can you take us behind the scenes and tell us where you filmed it, did you have a yoga coach, and who’s throwing the pillow from the bed?

MS: My friend Marty Riemer was key – he’s the guy who shot it and made it look so close to the original video. It’s one thing to have a funny idea, but it’s a whole-nuther to pull it off.  Marty runs Twisted Scholar Productions, and he did an incredible job re-creating the look and feel. The guy went crazy on the details in post-production – the exact blue-tint, the opening graphics (including a mock slogan: “It’s not sexy, it’s yoga.”), he even matched that weird drape-y translucent thing you see hanging in certain shots.

It helps that I’m also obsessive-compulsive, and need to get all the weird details right – like the placement of her tattoo, the boots on the floor, and the size of those stupid white pillows. For the location, I checked out a million hotel rooms in Seattle, but they all had carpets. (What is this, Bikram?) We really lucked out with my good friend’s apartment downtown, because it had the hardwoods and the big-ass windows. Another really important element was the music – which I stole from the original Equinox ad. It’s called “Midnight” by Dstllry Music. (I actually sent them an e-mail apologizing for my piracy…)

As for the woman in the bed, I’m gonna leave some mystery in that. I will say that my first choice was Briohny Smyth. Tell me that wouldn’t have been cool!

To learn more about Michael Stusser, visit

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