When most people think of the word yoga they picture a physical practice involving stretching, and yes, asana (the positions) or "right is one of the limbs of yoga but, in fact, asana is the third limb of yoga. The first limb of yoga is yama, or ethical standards. The 8 limbs of yoga are actually closely related to the eightfold path of the Buddha, all founded on Samma ditthi (right understanding) and Yama (principles or adhering to a moral code). In its essence, yoga is a spiritual practice of mantra and meditative movement. The flexibility and health benefits are a side effect of that spiritual progression. When spirituality and commerce meet, however, many possible temptations can arise.
This occurs with any spiritual practice. Most people are familiar with those present day "money changers in the temple" the snake oil turned holy anointing oil salesmen we know as televangelists, but Christian evangelicals aren't the only spiritually based businesses that can fall prey to the temptations of Mammon. A recent article in the yoga publication Elephant Journal featured some warnings about the pratfalls of "big business yoga."
Any business, as it grows, can become increasingly tempted. It's a side effect of the classic axiom: "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely." Take the case of Google, whose guiding mantra was once "Don't be evil." That was their slogan until that is, they were bought out and became the corporate entity known as Alphabet. Yoga has become an increasingly mainstream practice and, as a result, a very lucrative business for the Goliaths of the industry.
And that's where we come to the David and Goliath story shared in Elephant journal:
<blockquote>"Perhaps you already know our David: Dana Falsetti.
Dana is a thought leader, yoga teacher, writer, and public speaker. Dana encourages people to resist body-shaming stereotypes, to know themselves, to step into their power, to question everything, and to live authentically.
And you know our Goliath: Alo Yoga.
Working with a company called Cody Inc., Dana published the inspiring 'I Am Worthy' video and developed online yoga courses, including a chair yoga class for people looking for accessible yoga content.
Sometime later, Cody Inc. informed Dana that her video, online classes, and other content belonged to Alo Yoga because of a business deal between Cody Inc. and Alo Yoga.
And now for their battle, which has been waging since December.
Dana resisted Alo Yoga’s acquisition of her content. Dana resisted because of Alo Yoga’s large commercial presence, marketing campaigns featuring the thin and athletic elite, and the modus operandi of this business. Dana found all of these things to be a bit exclusionary. Dana wanted the freedom to pursue her own objectives, in line with her core values of accessibility, inclusion, and purposeful business partnerships. Partnerships intended to achieve more than profits; partnerships that reflect core values.
Dana’s first act of resistance was to speak out publicly in an Instagram 'story.'
And Alo Yoga responded by suing her."</blockquote>
Wow! Someone (namely Alo Yoga) is certainly not practicing yama. And if yoga is about balance, and it is even when it's not about asana, the positions, and movements, then Alo "Yoga" has completely forgotten and lost their base, the fundamentals upon which their balance is derived. Alo Yoga sued Dana. They sued her in two courts and in two separate states. If one of the Goliaths of the industry, be it Google or Alo Yoga, decides to sue a private citizen or the proprietor of a small business, even if they stand on a firm foundation, the power of money talks in a courtroom and an army of high priced lawyers is a force to be reckoned with. Dana has exhausted her resources and can no longer legally defend herself.
Kino MacGregor, the author of the exposé at Elephant, goes on to explain her personal experience with Alo Yoga:
<blockquote>"Unfortunately, all this didn’t really surprise me because of my past experiences with Alo Yoga. Four years ago, Alo Yoga asked to sponsor yoga challenges I was co-hosting with a friend. I didn’t know much about the brand but spoke with the owner, and he gave me a story about how awesome the company was and how much they’d do for yoga. I bought it hook, line, and sinker. My friend and I said yes.
As soon as we signed the deal, I believe the story changed. I had understood that we were initially promised a capsule collection of the clothes we love (beachy shorts), and we were asked to wear their signature Goddess leggings in 90 degree Florida heat. When we didn’t comply, we got letters from their lawyers threatening lawsuits despite the fact that we never agreed to wear those leggings. We had a series of conversations with the co-owner Danny Harris, where I felt he was verbally abusive and used phrases I consider derogatory, such as 'honey' and 'baby.'
The message seemed clear to me—shut up and 'perform.'
Because of his legal might, together with his tone of voice and choice of words, I felt bullied. It made me sick, and I left each conversation feeling traumatized."</blockquote>
Ms. MacGregor also taught classes through the Cody app, but due to her past history with the company she felt mortified at having to be beholden to Alo Yoga when Cody was relaunched as "the new Alo Yoga subscription service." At this point, payment terms were changed and teachers were given the chance to re-sign. Kino MacGregor decided not to, but to this day they are continuing to use her name, likeness and her teachings to promote the Alo Yoga brand despite her multiple personal issues with the company.
Despite having no personal contract with Alo Yoga, her having signed on with Cody means, despite her attempts to have her videos removed, she is now continuing to make money for a business she wants no part in without even being compensated in return. Kino points out that she is well aware that she may receive a lawsuit from Alo Yoga. I don't know if my voice is loud enough to be considered threatening to this "Goliath of big business yoga" but it's possible they might even try to come after me. If they do, of course, I hope for their sake that yoga has trained their grip enough to manage squeezing blood from a stone because as far as assets and worth, I'm fairly inconsequential personally. However, like Kino MacGregor, I believe that the idea of taking a spiritual practice and twisting it on its ear for monetary gain is pure evil. Whether you're talking about Robert Tilton and Peter Popoff, the Maharishi Mahesh and Yogi Bhajan or, yes, even Alo Yoga, when you take an authentic spiritual practice that can and does help millions and you turn it into an ethically bankrupt cash-grab you <i>deserve</i> to be called out.
Alo Yoga, a derivative of the nearly billion dollar per year parent company Bella Canvas is owned by two men, Danny Harris and Marco DeGeorge. Harris, by the way, has recently bought a mansion in the hills of LA worth $30 million. Meanwhile, the yoga teachers working with Alo Yoga on the app formerly known as Cody are making as little as $30 per class. Alo Yoga, by the way, asks their teachers to wear their clothes promoting the brands they are associated with. This brings up another ethical quandary (and remember, ethics, not asana is the basis and first limb of yoga). Many of these teachers are not disclosing that they are, in essence, walking ads for Alo Yoga and their partners. This is an issue related to transparency and honesty, which is, as MacGregor puts it "fundament to yoga practice."
<blockquote>"But, no matter how it gets commodified, yoga is not a commodity. Make no mistake, yoga is currently being commodified by many big brands who talk the talk of yoga, but don’t always walk the walk."</blockquote>
By the way, Dana Falsetti's trials are not over yet. As Kino MacGregor points out, suing someone for telling the truth is far from the sort of ethical foundation that yoga is meant to be born out of, but Alo Yoga, the Goliath of Big Business, is not done squeezing from the stone yet. If you'd like to donate to her legal defense, please visit the <a href="
https://www.gofundme.com/supportyogis">GoFundMe campaign Support Yogis</a>.