Sarah Thomas began her career with Yoga to the People in 2016, after completing the company’s now infamous Teacher Training program. Soon after, she took a position of “caretaker” at the St. Marks studio in Manhattan, which she says entailed up to nine hours of janitorial duties for a flat rate of $50 a night. Thomas, who was 19 at the time, dreamed the job would be a stepping stone to a managerial role or a position as a full-time teacher. But the long hours and low pay, coupled with what she, an Indian woman, describes as the “gentrification” and “cultural appropriation” of yoga and Hindu practices, left her struggling to find a sustainable place within the company culture. “I was being scheduled to teach up to 12 classes a week and caretaking nearly every day,” Thomas told VICE, while getting paid what “amounted to just maybe $1,200 a month.”
Yoga to the People founder and owner Greg Gumucio was once publicly lauded as a progressive businessman seeking to make yoga more accessible. The studios he founded offered either Hot Yoga, which had already been popularized by his former mentor and one-time good friend, Bikram Choudry; donation based, cash-only Vinyasa classes; or both. A VICE investigation in July uncovered that Yoga to the People’s carefully cultivated image was haunted by roughly 25 years of sexual assault allegations against Gumucio, claims of cult-like company practices, and according to staff, a manipulative culture of silence.
Now, dozens of former employees have come forward to describe experiences similar to Thomas’s, in which they report working full-time hours while not getting paid fairly. Former staff told VICE that Yoga to the People paid them off the books for years, appearing to fly under the radar of the IRS. The workers VICE spoke claim they were not issued W2s, even though many of the workers would likely have qualified as employees according to the criteria laid out by the Fair Labor Standards Act and Department of Labor.
Furthermore, instructors at a San Francisco location indicated that ownership willfully ignored their mandated occupancy level from a local fire inspector, in order to accommodate more students, and bring in more profit. In Manhattan, staff said indoor fires were lit against the landlord’s wishes, in order to host a version of a pooja, a Hindu prayer ceremony, on multiple occasions.
According to a former “salaried” manager, “apprenticing just meant you were asked to teach 25 classes for free.”
To work for Yoga to the People, most instructors were required to first graduate from the company’s Teacher Training program. According to multiple graduates and teachers, the 200-hour course cost each of its 50 participants $3,200, ran three times per year, and earned the company up to $160,000 each session, or, up to $480,000 annually.
Yoga to the People verbally offered graduates of the Teacher Training program (referred to as “TTs”) the opportunity to…