The Founders of Yoga Is Dead On How Money Killed Yoga

The women behind the Yoga Is Dead podcast, which launched on June 8th, are about to revolutionize the industry. 

Tejal Patel and Jesal Parikh left the corporate world years ago to devote their lives to yoga. But after becoming instructors, the two increasingly became disenchanted with the industry. When they met at a yoga teacher training in New York, it was like fate: the two describe feeling relieved to find another woman with similar experiences and background working in the industry.

The two have since started a podcast called Yoga Is Dead, which explores cultural appropriation, racism, exploitation, and other issues in the yoga industry. Their second episode launches Monday and covers the influence of money and capitalism on the practice of yoga. What follows is a conversation with the two.
(editor’s note: the interview has been edited and condensed for clarity).

Can you share a bit about what folks can expect to hear and learn in your upcoming episode?
T: Our next podcast episode is called Karma Capitalism Killed Yoga. One of the big issues we’re talking about is employment for yoga instructors.
J: We’re talking about lack of contracts in the space. I was teaching on staff somewhere and I didn’t have an employment contract. The studio presented me with a really unreasonable video release to sign. They wanted to use my image in any way they could. I didn’t sign it, and they let me go.
T: The flip side of that is that I did have a contract that was far-reaching and too broad. I ended up being sued. That’s obviously an outlandish scenario.
J: An independent contract having a non-compete doesn’t make sense. But it’s common, lots of studios ask people to sign noncompetes.

T: Both of us come from corporate backgrounds. We’ve had 9-5 jobs. In the yoga industry, there’s an unwillingness to engage in the professional process. There’s no discussion on what employment entails. There’s no negotiation, there’s no opportunity to ask questions.
J: We take an opinion in our episode about business owners that operate like this, we just say not to open the studio. If you can’t communicate clearly, you don't have a business plan in place, and you can’t sustain your staff, don’t open the studio.
T: If the studio was super clear about that up front and said what the money would get you, that’s a different story. Studios are not super clear about what they’re offering. This is coming from an abuse of power. The establishment of the institution, of the trainers, everyone within the studios, is abusing the power.
J: Not just on a capitalistic level, but they’re using spirituality as manipulation. In the world of spirituality, where there are for-profit businesses being run, there’s confusion about what is the spiritual part and what is the capitalist part. There’s a denial that you’re in it to make money. If you weren’t, you’d open a nonprofit, an Ashram, something else. It wouldn’t be a for-profit business. There’s nothing wrong with that, but again you need to call a spade a spade.

T: It’s been flying under the radar too long. We talked about labor unions and movements around what employees can do. If the collective of teachers feels that there is something going wrong, they have the power to come together and organize.
J: A lot of these people trying to start these businesses come at it with the idea that they enjoyed yoga. It’s almost the wrong place to come to a business. You may have zero experience in managing a business. One of the comparisons we make is if you’re a professor at a university, are you going to open a university?

What about karma programs, or taking shifts in exchange for free classes, at yoga studios? Where do they fall into this system?
J: I don’t think it’s super clear that there’s an unequal exchange happening. I think studios are offering these work exchange programs but not considering the person is not going to have time to take them up on the class exchange part of it. The term they use - a karma yoga service - the exchange program is neither of those things. Karma means selfless service. The selfless service implies that it’s a choice and that there’s no expectation of an outcome. Of course, there’s an expectation of an outcome. To use the word karma is a misuse of the word.

How did the podcast start? What are you hoping to achieve with it?
J: I think honestly it started with Tejal and I bitching. We were the first people for each other that we felt like we could talk to about certain stories and topics that understood where we were coming from. We became each other’s confidante. There were a lot of similarities between us but we’d end up on different sides of a debate. So we said, we should do a podcast.
T: People who disagree need to sit together and still talk.
J: We started putting together an episode. We did a good amount of work in a year, we started doing a script and we didn’t like it. We took a little break and came back to it. We realized we couldn’t just share our stories. We need to back up what we’re saying.
T: For being yogis, you don’t just leave that negativity out there. We talk about research and tools. We want to build community.
J: We called the first episode White Women Killed Yoga, so we decided to go back and process what we were saying and do some research on it. In the process of researching for our episodes, what happened is that we came to much more of a middle ground than we thought we would. Having a deeper understanding of each topic helped us to get to a place where we agree enough that we can put out some shared statements.

What has the feedback been like so far?
J: Ninety-nine percent of it has been positive. We expected way more negativity and shutting down of our experiences than we received. Of course, those comments are still out there and that’s fine. We didn’t expect it to have the traction that it has.
T: We didn’t expect people to reach out individually and share. They realized that we could relate. The long stories of their journeys coming into our inbox have been amazing.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
J: One other money thing is that I’m not the best at sales. We realized though that we need to ask people directly for donations. When people make direct contact with us, we ask them to support us right away. That’s something a lot of people in the industry have trouble with. We’ve found that people do, you just have to ask.

I had this conversation with another person who has a podcast in our industry, and the same thing, she wasn’t asking for contributions for it. I told her that the work and time it takes, the value it provides is so big, that even if you just ask for $5, I would give it to you.