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Deconstructing Toxic Systems in Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga Education


In the realm of business, education, and holistic practices, the pervasive influence of multilevel marketing (MLM) structures and charismatic gurus unveils a complex tapestry of dynamics that shape communities. Delving into the heart of this discourse, we uncover the defining traits of MLMs and distinguish their impact on educational and vocational systems. Simultaneously, the practices within yoga communities, particularly Ashtanga yoga, reflect a spectrum ranging from nurturing and healthy to potentially toxic environments. This essay embarks on an exploration of these multifaceted domains, aiming to dissect the intricate web of MLMs and charismatic leadership in relation to Ashtanga yoga communities. By examining the contrasting features of healthy versus toxic community dynamics, we seek to reveal the far-reaching implications of these structures on individual growth, ethical considerations, and the collective fabric of society.

What is Multilevel Marketing?

Multilevel marketing (MLM) is a business model where participants earn income not only through their sales of a company’s products or services but also by recruiting others to join the business. These recruits then become part of the original participant’s “downline,” and the participant earns a percentage of their recruits’ sales and recruits. This creates a hierarchical structure resembling a pyramid, where higher-level participants earn from the efforts of those below them. While MLMs can be legitimate, some have faced criticism for resembling pyramid schemes, where recruitment is emphasized over actual product sales.

A pyramid scheme is a type of fraudulent business model that involves promising participants high returns for recruiting others into the scheme, rather than from actual product sales or legitimate investments. Here are the key characteristics that define a pyramid scheme, as opposed to a MLM. 

  • No Real Product or Service: Pyramid schemes often lack a genuine product or service of value. Any product offered is typically of little worth and is used mainly to create the illusion of a legitimate business.
  • Unsustainable Model: Pyramid schemes are unsustainable in the long run because they rely on an ever-increasing number of recruits to provide returns to earlier participants. As the pyramid grows, it becomes difficult to sustain, leading to eventual collapse.
  • Lack of Tangible Income: The primary source of income for participants comes from recruiting new members, rather than from the sale of actual products or services to outside customers.
  • Legal Issues: Pyramid schemes are illegal in most countries because they involve deceptive practices and financial fraud. They exploit participants and often lead to financial losses for the majority of participants.

It’s important to differentiate between pyramid schemes and legitimate multilevel marketing (MLM) companies. While both may have hierarchical structures and involve recruitment, MLMs typically focus on selling actual products or services, with commissions earned from genuine sales rather than just recruitment. However, some MLMs can exhibit pyramid scheme characteristics, so careful scrutiny is essential when evaluating any business opportunity.

How Are Yoga Schools Like MLMs?

Yoga schools can sometimes share similarities with multilevel marketing (MLM) structures, although the contexts and goals are quite different. Here are a few ways in which they might be compared:

  • Hierarchical Structure: Both yoga schools and MLMs can have hierarchical structures. In MLMs, participants recruit others to form a downline, while in some yoga schools, there might be a hierarchy of teachers and students.
  • Emphasis on Recruitment: MLMs prioritize recruiting new members to earn commissions from their sales and recruitment efforts. Similarly, some yoga schools might encourage their students to refer others to join classes, workshops, or teacher training programs.
  • Incentives for Referrals: MLMs offer financial incentives for recruitment, with participants earning a portion of the sales made by their recruits. In yoga schools, students might be offered discounts or rewards for bringing in new students or clients.
  • Potential for Exploitation: In MLMs, the focus on recruitment over actual product sales can lead to participants at the lower levels earning very little or even losing money. Similarly, in some yoga schools, aspiring teachers might invest significant time and money into teacher training programs, with uncertain prospects for future earnings.
  • Criticisms of Ethics: Both MLMs and some yoga schools have faced criticisms related to ethics. MLMs have often been compared to pyramid schemes, while concerns about commercialization and the authenticity of teachings have been raised within the yoga community.

It’s important to note that while there are certain parallels, yoga schools and MLMs have distinct intentions and values. Yoga is primarily a practice that focuses on physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, while MLMs are business models centered around financial gains through recruitment and sales. Not all yoga schools resemble MLMs, and many uphold genuine principles of teaching and self-improvement.

What is Vocational Training?

Vocational training, also known as vocational education and training (VET), refers to educational programs and courses designed to provide individuals with practical skills, knowledge, and training for specific occupations, trades, or industries. The primary goal of vocational training is to equip individuals with the practical expertise and technical skills needed to perform specific jobs effectively.

Vocational training programs often focus on hands-on learning and real-world applications. They cover a wide range of fields, including trades (such as plumbing, electrician work, and carpentry), healthcare, information technology, culinary arts, automotive repair, and more. These programs can vary in duration, ranging from a few months to several years, depending on the complexity of the skills being taught.

Vocational training can be an alternative to traditional academic education, providing individuals with the means to enter the workforce quickly and with specialized skills. It’s especially valuable for those who prefer practical learning and want to pursue careers that require specific technical expertise.

Is It Vocational Education or an MLM Onramp?

A multilevel marketing model could negatively impact vocational training by diverting participants’ focus and resources away from genuine skill development. Instead of receiving proper vocational training, individuals might become overly involved in recruiting others and pursuing the MLM’s financial rewards, leading to a lack of time and dedication for meaningful skill acquisition. Additionally, the promise of quick wealth might discourage individuals from pursuing traditional vocational education, which could hinder their long-term career prospects.

How does a Pyramid Scheme Disrupt Vocational Education for Minorities?

In a male-dominated top tier of a pyramid scheme, the influence of patriarchy can exacerbate the negative impact on education at the bottom levels. The unequal power dynamics and gender biases may lead to limited opportunities for women and queer folx to advance within the scheme. This could result in reduced access to resources, training, and support for non straight white male participants, affecting their ability to effectively promote and participate in the scheme. As a consequence, an outliers educational and professional growth could be hindered, perpetuating gender-based inequalities and limiting their overall advancement in both the scheme and broader educational opportunities.

How does a guru model encourage this?

A guru model within a pyramid scheme encourages the negative impact on education by emphasizing the authority and expertise of a charismatic leader or “guru” at the top. This charismatic figure often promotes a narrative of success and wealth attainment through the scheme, which can be particularly appealing to participants seeking guidance and mentorship. However, this guru-centric approach tends to prioritize recruitment and allegiance to the leader’s strategies over genuine skill development and education.

As participants lower down the pyramid emulate the guru’s tactics, they might focus more on recruitment and mimicry rather than on meaningful learning. This perpetuates a cycle where the emphasis on following the guru’s methods takes precedence over understanding the product or service being promoted. Consequently, individuals in the lower tiers may not gain the skills and knowledge necessary for sustainable success, leading to a lack of real educational value within the scheme and potentially harming their overall personal and professional growth.

How to Spot a Toxic Guru Trap in Yoga Education

Education might be restricted within a pyramid scheme to maintain power at the top through several methods:

  • Limited Information: Critical information about the scheme’s true nature, risks, and statistics might be selectively shared with lower-tier participants. This lack of transparency prevents them from making informed decisions and realizing the full implications of their involvement.
  • Focus on Recruitment: The emphasis on recruiting new members rather than providing education about the product or service can lead to a shallow understanding of the business. This ensures that the top tiers can continue to benefit from the influx of new recruits who remain uninformed.
  • Exclusivity: Advanced training or exclusive “secrets to success” might be promised to participants who reach higher tiers. This creates a sense of exclusivity that motivates individuals to climb the ladder and reinforce the power structure.
  • Dependency on Leaders: Lower-tier participants might be encouraged to rely heavily on their upline (those above them) for guidance and advice. This dependency discourages independent thinking and research, keeping individuals reliant on the top-tier leaders.
  • Discouraging Outside Sources: Criticism or skepticism from external sources might be portrayed as attempts to undermine the opportunity. Participants might be encouraged to avoid external research and instead rely solely on information provided within the scheme.
  • Shaming Doubt: Expressing doubts or asking probing questions could be stigmatized as a lack of commitment or understanding. This discourages open dialogue and critical thinking that could potentially threaten the power dynamic.
  • Complex Compensation Plans: Complicated compensation plans and intricate structures can confuse participants and make it challenging to understand how money flows through the scheme. This complexity can deter participants from questioning the system.

In essence, by restricting education and keeping participants focused on recruitment and loyalty, those at the top maintain control over the narrative, resources, and decision-making processes, ensuring their continued dominance within the scheme.

How to Use Tolerance Towards Free Thinking as a Diagnostic Tool for Healthy, Sustainable  Yoga Programs

The self-organizing principles of systems theory highlight that complex systems can exhibit emergent behavior without requiring central control. In the context of a toxic system with a dependency on leadership, these principles can shed light on the negative impact and the potential for change:

  • Emergence: Self-organizing systems can generate patterns and behaviors that emerge from interactions among individual components. In a toxic system dependent on leadership, emergence could mean that harmful dynamics arise even without explicit direction from leaders. Recognizing this can help identify the root causes of toxicity.
  • Feedback Loops: Systems theory emphasizes feedback loops that can reinforce or counteract behaviors. In a toxic system, feedback loops might perpetuate dependency on leadership by rewarding compliance and suppressing dissent. Understanding these loops can help break the cycle.
  • Adaptation: Systems naturally adapt to changes. A toxic system’s dependence on leadership might discourage adaptive responses from lower levels, limiting the system’s ability to correct itself. Recognizing this can promote efforts to encourage bottom-up adaptability.
  • Distributed Intelligence: Systems theory highlights that intelligence isn’t limited to central leadership; it’s distributed across all elements. Challenging the notion that only leaders possess knowledge and solutions can empower individuals at all levels to contribute to positive change.
  • Resilience: Self-organizing systems tend to be more resilient and capable of recovery. Recognizing this can inspire efforts to shift away from top-down control, allowing the system to recover from toxicity by leveraging its inherent resilience.
  • Autonomy: Toxic systems often suppress individual autonomy in favor of centralized decisions. Acknowledging the importance of autonomy can prompt efforts to devolve decision-making power, reducing dependency on a few leaders.
  • Holistic Understanding: Systems theory encourages a holistic understanding of a system’s components and interactions. This can reveal how leadership dependency is interconnected with other issues, prompting comprehensive solutions.

Overall, understanding self-organizing principles can highlight the potential for positive change within toxic systems. By fostering emergence, breaking harmful feedback loops, promoting adaptability and resilience, empowering distributed intelligence, and valuing autonomy, a shift away from toxic leadership dependency becomes feasible, leading to a healthier and more balanced system

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Victoria
7 months ago

Very important discussion for ethics in schools of yoga 👏