Essential Oil Pyramid-Scheme
Infiltrates Yoga Community

by Lucas Rockwood


MLM companies target religious and social groups with their abusive business schemes, and yoga communities have become the most-recent target.

There are just three type of yoga people: those who hate Young Living and doTerra, those that are actively hawking their essential oils as distributors, and lastly, those who miraculously have not yet been pitched this dubious business opportunity.

Multi-level marketing (MLM) or network marketing programs vary slightly in how they’re structured, but the basic premise goes like this. You pay a fee to become a distributor, you then sell your new products to all your friends and family; and most importantly, you convince everyone you can to sign up in your “downline” as a distributor.

If you sell products, you get paid. When you recruit distributors to join your downline, you get paid. And every time you or someone in your downline makes a sale, you earn commissions.

Drum roll please: queue the rainbows and unicorns. Now imagine you take that whole sales-and-signup process and rinse and repeat it into infinity…

… what would that mean for your bank balance?

It would mean a downline revenue stream that rivals that of Lululemon. It means anyone with a few friends and a least a handful of relatives they can guilt into signing up as distributors can soon become a millionaire. Or can they?

This business model is a classic pyramid scheme with a product in the middle to get around legal restrictions (straight pyramid schemes are illegal). The structure is designed to fail because the failure of the masses means huge success for the 1% at the top of the pyramid who founded the company and rigged the game before anyone was invited to join.

To make this easier to understand, let’s imagine Microsoft ran their software business like an MLM company. The founder, a CEO, and a handful of senior managers would be given ridiculously high salaries. Next, all the mid-level, junior and entry level employees would make little to no money—and the majority would actually have to pay just to keep their jobs.

While occasionally a position at the top might become available, the odds of getting into one of those lucrative spots would be so low that the only person who would pay-to-play at the bottom would be someone who has been misled about the real opportunity on offer.

When you research any MLM company, you’ll find all the success stories focus on that same 1% who rigged the game in the first place, and the stark reality of average earnings is truly pathetic. Let’s take a look…

  • 2013 Avg Annual Income by Young Livings Distributors: $312
  • 2014 Avg. Annual Income by doTerra Distributors: $1,577 with 85% of distributors either losing money or making no money

Most multi-level-marketing companies report less than 1% of all distributors earn money. The remaining 99% either end up at breaking even, and much more often, end up losing money on purchases for more product than they can sell.

You can work as hard as you like, but the top spots on the pyramid were taken long before your local yoga teacher told you oregano oil would cure cancer and invited you to join her downline.

To make things worse, MLMs often bring God into the mix.

Historically, MLM companies tend to be tightly affiliated with religious communities because of the social connection, the sense of a higher purpose, and the ability to affect group think. If you’re new to the concept of MLM, this might sound like a “conspiracy theory,” but if you’ve ever been to an MLM rally (I have), you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s not uncommon for God to be referenced, faith to summoned, and for moral obligations to be intertwined with business objectives.

This type of social and emotional manipulation is very much deliberate, and again, that very small founding and management team purposefully employs this type of manipulation for their own benefit. This is why yoga people have become a new growth target for MLMs.

Yoga is not a religion, but it’s an incredibly tight social group with many of the same characteristics as organized religions: local community centers, group gatherings, shared beliefs and practices. All of this makes yoga people the perfect recruits for MLM schemes, and since nutritional supplement and essential oils are widely used by yoga students anyway, the match couldn’t be more perfect.

So what do you do when someone pitches you MLM products or an MLM opportunity?

#1. Simply tell people “MLMs are against my religion.” It’s such an off-the-wall things to say, it stops people in their tracks and they will often apologize and leave you alone. Be sure to avoid saying, “I don’t believe in MLMs,” because that will open the door to proselytizing—they will want to make you a believer.

#2. Once someone is “in,” talking them out of it is nearly impossible. In most cases, they have to lose their own battle before they’ll listen to reason. Talking to an MLMer about their business is like talking to someone about their political views or their beliefs about the afterlife. Unless you really want to dive deep, it’s best to just avoid the issue and excuse yourself from the conversion.

#3. Don’t let anyone you care about get involved in an MLM business. It’s a lousy business model that thrives on mass failure. At best, it’s manipulative, and at worst, it’s devious. Friends don’t let friends join MLMs.

SIDE NOTE: I’ve focused here on Young Living and doTerra since they seem to be the most popular among yoga people right now, but there are other companies such as JuicePlus+ and NuSkin that also have a strong presence in yoga communities as well—so remember, it’s the business model more than the specific business you need to be wary of.

As a studio owner and teacher trainer, I wholeheartedly support yoga teachers who want to create their own businesses and sell products they believe in—but there are simply better ways to do it.

If you love essential oils, for example, setup a wholesale account with a top manufacturer or even private label some oils and create your own company and your own brand. If you have a brand of yoga mats or clothing you love, again, register a wholesale account with them and become a distributor. There’s no question that more yoga teachers need to step up and take on business leadership roles, but it’s important we take on roles that truly serve our communities.