‘He Knew Everything’: Fear, Control, and Manipulation at Yoga to the PeopleJuly 24, 2020
When he arrived in New York in 2006, Greg Gumucio was a convicted felon, accused rapist, and former follower of the infamous yogi Bikram Choudhury. He was also a man with an idea: that yoga should be cheap and accessible. The concept would become the inspiration behind Yoga to the People, a collection of studios featuring donation-based classes and hot yoga offerings. Over the following years, the organization would prove to be a raging success, rapidly expanding into something resembling an empire as Gumucio and his associates opened studios across New York City, as well as in Seattle, the Bay Area, Colorado, and Arizona.
Core to Yoga to the People was Gumucio himself, and the people who knew and worked for him say that Gumucio’s powerful mystique was undeniable—that he had a gift for seeing through people, or at least making them think he could. But just as core to the organization, they say, was a toxic culture of total obedience and manipulation created by Gumucio, who gained the trust of his workers, many of them young, vulnerable women, and used it for his personal gain and satisfaction. For years, the pain faced by the people who worked at his studios lay below the surface.
Then, on July 3 of this year, an Instagram account called YttPShadowWork began publishing anonymized accounts of sexual misconduct, toxic management, racial discrimination, unfair labor practices, and abuse of power at Yoga to the People. Within a week of the first Instagram post, the studios, already closed temporarily for COVID-19, were shuttered for good. Gumucio wrote, in an email to students, “Where I can say that the representation being put out there feels malicious to me, I also want to say, that if people felt wronged by their experience at YTTP or myself, it never happened intentionally. We don’t accept or tolerate any form of abuse. Intention does not always equate to impact. Good intentions can cause harm because we have are [sic] own lenses to life.”
Gumucio, 59, trained for years under the now disgraced Choudhury, and over the years has attempted to draw a bright line between his former mentor—a Rolls Royce-driving, ego-driven womanizer whom former students have accused of sexual harassment, discrimination, and rape—and himself, a selfless everyman making yoga accessible to all. In 2010, the New York Times helped burnish this reputation in a profile that presented Gumucio—“propped on the ledge on a round pillow, his wavy, shoulder-length hair framed by the urban jungle backdrop of tar-covered roofs”—as ushering in a new wave of yoga.
“I truly believe if more people were doing yoga," Gumucio told the Times, "the world would be a better place.”
VICE News is continuing to report this story. If you would like to talk to a reporter or have any information to share about Greg Gumucio, Yoga to the People, or other yoga practices, please get in touch at email@example.com. You can reach the reporters directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The distinction between Choudhury's brand of yoga and his own became especially important after Choudhury sued Yoga to the People and Gumucio for copyright infringement in 2011. (The case was settled the following year, with Yoga to the People agreeing to stop teaching the yoga techniques under dispute.) In a New Yorker story from 2012, Gumucio again put distance between himself and his former mentor. The New Yorker wrote that Gumucio implied he, unlike Choudhury, respected women’s boundaries, mentioning that he teamed up with feminist scholar Catharine MacKinnon to design an anti-rape t-shirt. (MacKinnon and her assistant did not respond to a request for comment.)
But a VICE News investigation reveals that the space between the two yoga gurus might not be as wide as Gumucio would have his followers believe. Interviews with more than 30 people who knew or worked with Gumucio dating back to the mid-1990s depict him as a predator with a penchant for controlling and sexually manipulating bright and often vulnerable young women. (One of the reporters on this story, Shannon Wagner, worked for the company for five years, met Gumucio in passing only once, and left on good terms.) A review of public databases reveals a criminal record with felony convictions. And while Gumucio marketed his brand of yoga as separate and apart from Choudhury’s as he built a yoga empire and drew in millions of dollars over the years, aspects of the two gurus' yoga “teacher training” programs shared key similarities. Choudhury, according to a lawsuit against him, once referred to his own teacher trainings as “brainwashing”; Gumucio’s teacher trainings, people who participated and internal documents say, involved breaking the participants down physically and then compelling them to reveal their darkest secrets in a “truth circle.”
VICE News’ investigation has found that Gumucio was accused of rape in Kirkland, Washington, in 2004; that his criminal record from Colorado in the 1980s includes convictions on felony charges of forgery and motor vehicle theft; and that records from two states show him operating under an alias. Sources say he has a pattern of manipulating female students and teachers, especially women going through tough periods in their lives, and that he was known to make sexual advances towards the young, attractive, and mostly white women who worked for him at boozy lunches and dinners. Workers at his studios described not being issued tax documents and counting and stacking piles of cash that were at times heaped in garbage bags.
While his name wasn’t on the leases of some of his yoga studios, he was, people who worked for him say, the one to whom the money flowed. The specifics of that flow are difficult to ascertain, but a review of internal spreadsheets and daily totals makes clear that millions of dollars in cash were at stake. Based on a detailed set of Yoga to the People spreadsheets obtained by VICE News, the Brooklyn Yoga to the People studio (comprising a hot yoga room and a vinyasa room) alone brought in nearly half a million dollars over a six-month period in the mid-2010s.
A review of internal spreadsheets and daily totals makes clear that millions of dollars in cash were at stake.
The Yoga Alliance—a non-profit organization that serves as a registry for yoga studios and teachers, sets ethical standards for members, and provides workshops and resources for people in the yoga community—told VICE News in a July 22 statement that they were investigating Yoga to the People. The statement read, in part: “Yoga Alliance is aware of claims of unethical and unprofessional behavior by Yoga to the People and is purposefully investigating the allegations within the constructs of our Community Ethical Commitment and Code of Conduct Misconduct Policies, of which all of our registered members must abide.”
Gumucio did not respond to repeated requests for comment. In recent days, three VICE News reporters called a number confirmed to be his and two texted him a detailed, 3,000 word document outlining the claims in this story. This document was also emailed to his Yoga to the People email address and a Gmail account believed to be his. Using an email tracker, we confirmed that the person controlling this latter account is located in the Pacific Northwest, where Gumucio is based, and that an email sent to it was viewed. VICE News reached out via text, phone, and email to Haven Melynn Soliman, described as his wife on a studio page that was online earlier this month; she did not respond, though according to the tracker, our email was opened. We contacted the mother of his older child; she did not respond. We contacted attorneys who had represented him in the Choudhury suit; none responded. We contacted a number of Gumucio’s relatives multiple times, including his sister Katite Gumucio and his brother Michael Gumucio, both of whom are also yoga instructors; they did not reply. We left messages for Gumucio’s close associates Hilarie Larson and Michael Anderson and twice spoke to Anderson’s father Duane Anderson, who confirmed he had also left messages for his son telling him to respond to VICE News.
During the reporting process, VICE News was in touch with two people understood to be close to Gumucio. One person spoke on background and did not want their name to be used because they feared backlash from other members of the Yoga to the People community; VICE News has reflected the person’s viewpoints in the story. The second person agreed to speak to VICE News off the record but then did not answer the phone at the agreed-upon time. Both stopped responding to calls and messages in the past week. VICE News emailed two Yoga to the People email addresses multiple times, including one from which Gumucio sent his message to students earlier this month; an email tracker confirmed the emails were viewed, but there was no response. VICE News called and left a message for the studio most recently associated with Gumucio, Hot Yoga on Pearl, in Denver. The voicemail instructed callers to send a text to the number, which VICE News also did. There was no response.
VICE News reporters are not the only people who have had difficulties getting in touch with Gumucio and his associates. The landlord of one of Gumucio’s yoga studios, located in Berkeley, California, hired a lawyer to write a "notice of belief of abandonment" to Michael Anderson and Greg Gumucio. The letter, dated July 15, and obtained by VICE News, said that rent on the property had been unpaid since April.
To understand the story of Greg Gumucio’s yoga empire in New York City from 2006 to 2020, which made him powerful, successful, and even a bit famous, you first have to understand his forays into yoga in the Pacific Northwest over the previous 10 years.
The public version of Gumucio's story begins in 1996, when he enrolled in Choudhury's yoga training in Los Angeles, the beginning of a relationship that would see him working for the famed yogi until 2002. The fuller version is somewhat murkier. According to Colorado court records, Gumucio pleaded guilty to a felony forgery charge in 1982; the following year, a charge of violating bail bond conditions was dismissed after he pleaded not guilty. In March 1986, he pleaded guilty to motor vehicle theft, while charges of third-degree assault were dismissed. Later that year he was charged with attempting to escape custody as a convicted felon—itself a felony, although the case appears to have been closed without a conviction. In 1992, he was charged with theft in Oregon. (Records related to this were returned to VICE News under a search for Charles Williams Abbott, described in a 2004 incident report filed by police in Kirkland, Washington, as a known alias of Gumucio's.) The charges were dismissed in 1995 for lack of evidence; the following year, he linked up with Choudhury.
According to court filings in Choudhury's lawsuit, after being trained as a teacher, Gumucio taught for the yogi in Los Angeles, commuting from Seattle. From the late 1990s until he abruptly left Washington State for Portland in 2005 and then again for New York in 2006, Gumucio was the force behind at least four yoga studios in the Seattle area.
Even in these early days, his fondness for the young women who practiced at the studios didn’t go unnoticed. Trish Paxton practiced at the studio in Kirkland, Washington, starting in the late 1990s when she was in her mid-40s. She told VICE News that while she loved Gumucio as a teacher—he helped her find “a different kind of fitness avenue”—she often felt uneasy about his interactions with young women in the studio. “Sometimes you would walk out into the lobby and he would be massaging, you know, young women’s shoulders,” she said. “I kind of got an icky feeling.”
“I kind of got an icky feeling.”
Heather Fantin had, she said, recently graduated from high school when she met Gumucio in 1996 at his Bellevue, Washington, studio. She had recently been raped and was terrified of her abuser, who she said had threatened to kill her if she told anyone what happened. She had been a dancer in her childhood, and liked how yoga made her feel like she could move her body again, like she was strong. And she was good at it. She said she came to view Gumucio as a mentor, but that as they discussed her becoming a yoga teacher, Gumucio became controlling, demanding that she stay in constant contact with him.
“Basically, it was, ‘If we're going to be in a relationship, here are the rules’ kind of a thing,” she said. Fantin said it felt weird to her, and it was only the first of the red flags.
Gumucio wanted to introduce Fantin to Choudhury, and said that he wanted to support her so she could attend yoga teacher training that Choudhury ran in Los Angeles, according to Fantin. He later arranged for the yoga guru, not yet publicly tied to sexual abuse claims, to fly to Washington, and made sure Fantin knew what a favor he was doing her, she said.
“[He said] 'I'm doing this for you,’” she said, aware that Gumucio had talked about her to Choudhury. Before Choudhury arrived, she said, Gumucio insisted they have a meeting to discuss the impending visit. Gumucio told her he would cover all expenses for the training on the condition that afterwards she return to him and help him open up yoga studios. She recalls him telling her that he “didn’t care if I moved to Texas, he would follow me.” Alarm bells went off in her head.
“It was like, 'I'm your mentor, I'm your guy. I'm gonna provide this support for you to do teacher training, and in exchange, you're basically committed to me for life,'” she said of the proposed arrangement.
The day Choudhury arrived, Fantin said she, the two gurus and a couple other teachers went to dinner and returned to Gumucio’s house in Bellevue to chat in the living room. Fantin had, at this point, moved to a different town and was planning to spend the night on the couch so she could attend the early yoga class Choudhury was teaching the following morning. During the course of the conversation, Fantin shared that she hoped to become a naturopath and wanted to teach yoga and be a massage therapist to put herself through medical school. At that point, she said, Choudhury told her that he would be able to tell if she had the talent to be a massage therapist, if she would give him a massage.
“So that conversation happens in front of everyone and then everyone's like, ‘Okay, time for bed,' and leaves me, the 18-year-old, in front of the fire, with Bikram, by myself.”
She said Choudhury laid on his stomach and she massaged his back. When she was finished, he turned over to say thank you and pulled her head down and locked it against his.
“He starts kissing me and putting that disgusting, wet tongue in my mouth," she said, "and I was trying to pull away but I couldn't, because he’s very strong.”
When she was finally able to get away, she said, she was terrified. He told her that it was her turn and she should get undressed and get in his bed, she said. Fantin went into survival mode, willing herself to say whatever necessary to defuse the situation.
“I said, ‘Oh, you know, thank you so much. I appreciate that so much but I'm really tired and I really want to be at your class in the morning and give it my all,” she told VICE News. He continued to pressure her and she continued to stroke his ego until he gave up and went to bed. She said she laid awake on the couch all night, terrified he would try “to do something to me.”
A few days later, she said, she told Gumucio’s then-girlfriend about what happened. The girlfriend was upset that Gumucio hadn’t “warned [Fantin] about” Choudhury.
“And I said, 'What are you talking about? Warn me about what?' And she said, ‘We’ve been hearing that Bikram has been having issues with young women.’” (VICE News asked Choudhury’s spokesperson, Richard Hillgrove, for comment on Fantin’s allegation. Hillgrove told VICE News he would respond the next day but did not. He also stopped returning emails.)
Fantin said the experience changed her life. Shortly after the experience, she said she went on a trip to Hawaii and simply didn’t get on the return flight. “The trust I thought I had in men was gone,” she said. “These were people I was supposed to be healing with.”
Fantin, 42, who now works with people to heal their trauma, says she’s speaking up to “help other women feel comfortable sharing their stories so that they can heal.”
Larissa Anderson was in the process of saving her own life when she met Gumucio in Kirkland, Washington. It was 1999 and she was 22, searching for direction after a series of traumatic sexual assaults, problems with drugs and alcohol, and a scrape with the law for her role in a merchandise-return fraud scheme at Nordstroms. When she found yoga, she found Gumucio, her first yoga teacher, and threw herself into the practice and her healthy lifestyle. Gumucio made her feel special; in turn, she wrote in a journal entry from April 2000 that Gumucio was a “very special person.” When they started dating in spring 2000, at the suggestion of Gumucio’s close female friend, who she said had also dated Gumucio, she said she felt “fully accepted.”
“I felt really at ease, I would share things with him, and he didn't judge me for anything. It was the first time that I didn't feel shame about the previous trauma,” she said.
They moved in together in 2001 and she thought they were building a life, according to Anderson, but there were cracks in the foundation. He told her she was beautiful and perfect, she said—except for the varicose veins on her legs that she’d had since she was a teenager. When she became pregnant on three separate occasions, she said, Gumucio convinced her to have an abortion each time. Gumucio had lied to her about his age from the beginning, she said, and she found out that he was years older than he had told her when his drivers license fell out his pocket while she was doing laundry. She began working for him and helping pay his bills, she said, even buying him a car and running up credit card debt in the process.
“We were building a life with each other,” she said, explaining that her own parents had joint accounts and shared expenses. “So I wasn’t thinking anything about it.”
In 2003, she said, after Gumucio sent her to help with yoga studios in Chicago and Colorado Springs, she began to feel like something was off in their relationship. In 2004, Gumucio began spending a lot of time with other women, supposedly to help them with their lives or careers, she said. She recalled an instance in which one woman Gumucio was helping came over to their apartment to give him a facial and have a conversation. Anderson knew that Gumucio was helping the woman with her marital issues and wasn’t suspicious, until she returned to the apartment two hours later and said the woman couldn't make eye contact with her. The relationship deteriorated after that, she said, when he began spending time with yet another woman he was helping.
In spring 2004, Gumucio reintroduced Anderson to drugs in a ploy to initiate a threesome with her and this woman, she said; Gumucio sent a limo to pick her up.
“The driver said ‘Greg told me to give this to you,’ and he handed me an envelope. Greg got on the phone with me and instructed me to take it,” she said of the ecstasy. “I was bewildered. But I wanted to please him. I desperately wanted to make the relationship work.”
“I wanted to please him. I desperately wanted to make the relationship work.”
When the other woman involved became pregnant and did not get an abortion, Gumucio and Anderson, already separated, officially broke up in the summer of 2004, she said. VICE News is not naming the woman to protect the privacy of the child, who is a minor.
Anderson and Gumucio remained in touch, increasingly sporadically, for years, she said. In 2009, Anderson met with him, she said, to try and recoup some of her money. She had been broke and avoided bankruptcy only because her parents were able to help her pay her debts; she says he never paid her back. In 2015, she said, they met again when Gumucio “tried to meddle” in her sexual assault lawsuit against Choudhury, which was eventually settled in 2017.
Anderson sees her relationship with Gumucio as a reality of her life. She is able to look back and find value in it while recognizing that it wasn’t healthy.
“The manipulation had always been there,” she said.
Anderson—now 43, living in Washington, and still teaching yoga part-time—says she just wants to get the story out there.
“I’m an open book,” she said. “If my talking publicly helps other women do the same, that’s what I want.”
Around the time of Anderson and Gumucio’s breakup and his getting together with the woman who would become the mother of one of his children, a woman who worked for Gumucio as a teacher in one of his studios accused him of raping her. An August 2004 incident report filed by police in Kirkland describes this woman's claims in considerable detail. We're calling this woman Nina, which is not her name, for ease of reading.
Nina told police that she met Gumucio through her mother, who was attending classes at his Kirkland studio. Gumucio befriended the mother and her three daughters. "Gumucio," the police report read, "had a way of making [Nina] feel special, and told her that [Nina's husband] was not treating her as good as she deserved to be treated. [Nina] reported that Gumucio was 'worshipped' at the studio by the majority of the women. She believed he used his position as the owner/manager of the Yoga Studio to gain her/their trust, and take advantage of her/them."
Gumucio, according to the police report, insinuated himself deeply into the family's life. Nina's older sister went to therapy after her husband read references, which weren't sexual in nature, to Gumucio in her diary; the therapist revealed to her that she had two other clients who had made mention of him. (At this point in the narrative, the police officer notes that Nina told them she thought Gumucio may have victimized several women.) Nina also noticed a change in her younger sister, who was 19, after she began spending time with Gumucio, and went so far as to confront him about it after following the two to his apartment, though the younger sister denied anything had happened between them.
“Gumucio was ‘worshipped’ at the studio by the majority of the women.”
According to the report, his alleged rape of her was not, according to Nina, the first time Gumucio had preyed on her. Earlier that year, she said, while she was at his apartment, he began to remove her clothes and said he wanted to give her a massage. She said she did not want to have sex with him, but that he persisted, penetrating her with his fingers, and "kept telling her how he was going to make her a great person. As he continued to talk to her, she realized he was penetrating her vagina with his penis, and not with his fingers. He did not use a condom, and he did not ejaculate. When she realized what he was doing, she became very upset, and left." Nina told police she did not believe this was rape.
Several months after this, Nina took a job at Hot Yoga, Gumucio's Bellevue studio. Then, in late July 2004, according to the report, Gumucio called Nina at home and told her she needed to come to his apartment; "he made the phone call sound like it had something to do with work, and he sounded urgent." In her telling, he opened the door nude and, after initially covering himself with a towel, pinned her down and overpowered her while telling her to relax, forcing her legs apart and raping her. "She said he appeared to enjoy the fact she was not enjoying herself," the report said. "He quit sexually assaulting her before he ejaculated. He did not use a condom."
After this, Nina said, she met with her mother and sisters to explain why she could no longer work for Gumucio. Her younger sister "became very defensive over Gumucio," the report said, "and told [Nina] she did not believe he would do something like that." A police officer would later conduct follow up work on the case, but Nina declined to respond to phone messages and a certified letter. In October 2004, the case was closed "as exceptional status."
Shortly thereafter, Gumucio, along with the woman who was pregnant with his child, moved to Portland, where their child was born. They lived there for less than a year before moving to New York with, apparently, an idea in mind.
As Gumucio told journalist Rebecca Moss in 2012, in a story that portrayed him as having been removed from the yoga world for some time before turning up in New York, his idea was that he could, following the model of Santa Monica-based teacher Bryan Kest, do well simply by relying on donations and making yoga accessible. (His classes asked for an $8 donation, less than a third of the price charged by some competing practices.) He rented a small studio in Manhattan, according to Moss, and while his first class, held on a Sunday, attracted only 10 people, by his third class more people than could fit in the studio showed up. “Yoga to the People,” Moss's story proclaimed, “was born.”
Before long, Gumucio had set up shop on St. Marks Place in the East Village, just around the corner from New York University, which was perhaps not coincidentally home to plenty of young women on tight budgets, many of whom flocked to his classes. His empire rapidly expanded, and Gumucio and his associates would open studios across New York City and all over the country. The scope of the operation came to comprise a dizzying number of businesses.
Washington State incorporation records show that Yoga to the People Inc. was set up, with "Greg Gumuclo" listed as the registered agent, early in 2008. (Washington Department of Revenue records list his title as "President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, Chairman of the Board, Director.") This followed on the 2007 setup of YTTP Corp, records for which show Michael Anderson (no relation to Larissa) as the registered agent, giving as his address the same one "Gumuclo" gave—a four-bedroom house in Cathlamet, Washington. In years to come, at least 10 different businesses would be set up in Washington with variants of YTTP in the title (YTTP Brooklyn, YTTP Apparel, etc.) all listing Anderson, who did not respond to requests for comment, as the registered agent.
More businesses were set up in New York, Arizona, and Colorado, with relatives and close associates on the paperwork; the Yoga to the People empire is also linked to a number of studios doing business under the Hot on Yoga name. (One, in Colorado Springs, is owned by Michael Gumucio, Greg’s brother; the instructor’s page is now defunct, but as recently as last month listed Michael and his wife Brooke as the studio owners. Neither responded to calls and emails seeking comment.) According to a review of Internet archives, a statement announcing that Hot on Yoga was “not affiliated with YttP” was added to Hot on Yoga’s mission page at some point after June 17. Greg Gumucio himself opened a studio in Denver earlier this year called Hot Yoga on Pearl; its website is also now defunct, but as recently as July 14, it featured a message announcing that he and Haven wanted “to create an opportunity for our students to discover the teacher that resides within themselves.”
“Yoga studios make pretty damn good money,” Gumucio told Moss eight years ago. “What I did with the $8 yoga, you just get more people...so it's math. The price point is lower, so we get a bigger volume.” By 2012, Moss reported, 1,000 people a day were attending classes at four New York studios alone, which by a conservative estimate would amount to six figures—in cash—every month. The success wasn't just financial: The practice drew the likes of Sofia Helquist, who would go on to marry Prince Carl Philip of Sweden (the Swedish royal court confirmed to VICE News that Gumucio attended her wedding in 2015), and Hilaria Thomas, who would go on to marry Alec Baldwin. When reached for comment, a spokeswoman for Hilaria Baldwin, who has spoken previously about teaching at Yoga to the People, said “[Hilaria] won’t be doing an interview and hopes you please respect her decision and privacy.”
Gumucio, people who knew and worked with him say, split his time between New York and Colorado, which not only allowed him to delegate the managing of the yoga studio to his inner circle, but also served to boost his aura of mystery. While many Yoga to the People students had no idea who Gumucio was, to the people who worked there, his arrival in New York, about once a month, was heralded as the return of the king. Managers and senior teachers were expected to drop everything to attend his classes or boozy dinners, often held at Lure Fishbar. An early Yoga to the People mission statement read, "There will be no right answers. No glorified teachers. No ego, no script, no pedestals." It’s clear that Gumucio either couldn’t live up to this motto, or perhaps always saw himself as an exception.
Jill Bayne moved to New York in 2003 to pursue a music career. In 2008, she started practicing at Yoga to the People because she was young and couldn’t afford anything more expensive.
“I remember the first day that I went there and Greg just happened to be teaching. And he stopped and looked at me,” she said. “He has this very charismatic, mysterious, enigmatic, elusive aura around him, and he purposefully does that, as any cult leader does. He looked at me and I immediately became intrigued and I was intrigued with the staff because he had these beautiful, skinny, also mysterious, elusive women around him that were always doing everything for him. I mean, they completely worshipped him.”
When Bayne started teacher training in 2009, she began to have an inkling that there was something sinister behind this worship. Part of the training, according to dozens of people who spoke to VICE News, is known as arm raising, where everyone stands slowly raising and then lowering their arms over the course of a full hour. Some sources described arm raising as weird, pointless, and even damaging; some found it physically challenging in a good way. They say soaring music, including Celine Dion, played during the sessions; afterward, everyone gathered in a “truth circle” to reveal their darkest secrets.
VICE News obtained a copy of the script that management used to talk teachers-in-training (TTs) through the exercise. In the first half, the lead teacher asks students to look internally “for a sense of stability,” and then “to recall their earliest, best memory.” At the halfway point, when some TTs are in an incredible amount of pain and crying, the leader asks them to think of “a hardship or challenge” from as far back as they can remember. “Maybe someone violated your trust and what came up for you is ‘I can’t trust anyone,’ ‘I’m not loveable, I’ve got to be tough,’” the script continues. “I’d suggest it’s not possible to really love if you’re wearing your armor ...The only thing worse than not letting it out is holding it in one more day.” The final minutes of the script suggest that breaking down and giving in is what allows TTs to grow.
Immediately following arm raising, according to the script, came the “Truth Circle,” where graduates were encouraged to share their deepest, darkest secrets—“things that hold us hostage we’re afraid of other people knowing” as the script called them—as a bonding exercise. Before sharing a secret of their own, the TT was instructed to repeat the secret shared by the student before them; at the end, the students were to thank each other for sharing.
Former teacher Alyssa Yackley, 33, who taught classes between 2009 and 2013, recalls that Gumucio often flew into town for the teacher trainings only on weekends with scheduled arm raising. “I can't even imagine why he would need to be at arm raising other than to find out what everybody's dirty secrets are,” they said. “I did notice that people in my teacher training who had the deepest darkest secrets, they were the ones that got hired. They were the ones that became managers.”
Bayne now sees the exercise as a recruiting practice. She said that during her teacher training, she revealed her eating disorder, which was shameful for her at the time. “The girls that were raped, the girls that had sexual trauma, or the girls that had eating disorders or issues with addiction, or especially if they had a history in life of crime,” said Bayne. “Those were the people he wanted working for him.”
During Yackley’s own training, they said, the truth circle wasn’t sharing “juicy” enough secrets, so a teacher was encouraged to share a secret of her own. Standing alone in the center of seated students, through tears, the instructor shared the story of her sexual assault. “Greg was there and he was standing up, telling her she was doing a really good job," they said. "I remember finding that to be really inappropriate and I was scared for her. The first of many experiences in which I was scared.”
A person who spoke to VICE News in support of Yoga to the People and Greg Gumucio, did so on background because they feared backlash from the many people speaking out about mistreatment. This person cast the arm raising as completely voluntary. The person said there are teachers in the room for support and that people are free to put their arms down if they got tired. When discussing the truth circle, the person mentioned Landmark Forum as a comparison and said the purpose of the truth circle was to help people tell their stories, good or bad, and be honest with themselves.
Bayne said she felt that Gumucio tested her willingness to be a part of what she called his “harem” when he invited her over to teach him guitar. He led her to his bedroom and had her sit on his bed for the lesson. She told VICE News she felt uncomfortable and that she played one song and he dismissed her in a matter of minutes.
In 2010, she said, she went to a Gumucio associate to express her concerns that Gumucio was engaging in inappropriate sexual relationships with women who worked for him. The associate, she said, dismissed her concerns as rumors.
“Well, 10 minutes later, I'm walking down Sixth Avenue and I get a call from [the associate]; unbeknownst to me it's a three-way call with Greg on the other side, and [the associate] was being silent. Greg is screaming at me, threatening me, saying I can't work for him. That he'll take away my job. And, you know, ‘I gave you money, you're not allowed to talk about me,’” she said. “He never denied it. He never said it wasn't true. He just said, ‘You're not allowed to talk about me. And if I find out that you do, you know, you lose your job.' And so he was basically firing me, but I convinced him that I was trying to protect him. That the only reason I brought that up with [the associate] was because I was trying to protect him. You know, which wasn't true. But I didn't want to lose my job. And I was really scared of Greg. So then he got really quiet. He's like, 'Oh, OK, good.' And he hung up. That scared the crap out of me.”
Bayne recalled the money that flowed in and out of the studios.
“I remember going into the St. Marks [apartment] to stack bills,” she said. “Bags and bags and bags, gigantic black garbage bags filled with cash. And we had to sit on it to make it warm so it could go through the counter.”
“Bags and bags and bags, gigantic black garbage bags filled with cash. And we had to sit on it to make it warm so it could go through the counter.”
Bayne said she “escaped” Gumucio and Yoga to the People in 2012 and went home to her mom in Colorado, leaving her music career behind. She said none of her previous friends tried to contact her.
“I was discarded,” she said. “All my friends, my ‘family’ or whatever, they didn't care about me.”
One of the many NYU students and recent graduates who found her way into Gumucio’s studio was Carly Hicks. A former dancer, she taught at and managed several Yoga to the People studios in New York and on the West Coast between 2009 and 2011. She recalled that one night she had been invited over to the apartment across the street from the St. Marks studio, headquarters functionally, to count money—the donations were collected in tissue boxes and then lumped together in envelopes and delivered to the apartment. She said she was just sitting on the floor when Gumucio brought out a book on pressure points in your feet, and how they relate to different organs in your body.
“I was counting the money and he sat down on the couch near me and is like, ‘Hey, Carly, give me a foot.’ And that in and of itself didn’t seem weird, because we're yoga teachers. I was a dancer; being interested about different parts of your body is not a weird concept.”
She gave him her foot and continued counting money. He directed her to stop counting and lay on her back, continuing to prod her feet, asking her if she could feel the pressure points in various organs. She said she couldn’t and that he seemed annoyed by that. He asked for her other foot, she said, and then shifted from scientific poking and prodding to massaging.
“I was like, ‘What's going on?’ And he's like, you know, ‘Lay back, close your eyes, relax, you've been working all day, now let me give you a foot massage,’ or something like that.”
She pulled away, insisting that she needed to help count the money.
“And he kept a hold of my feet, which made me really really uncomfortable, like it was a forceful ‘No.’ And he continued [...] massaging my feet,” she said. She remembers looking around at the other teachers in the room, waiting for someone to realize how uncomfortable the situation was, but “everyone kept their heads down counting.” She got up and made an excuse about having to teach a class early the next morning and left.
Hicks also described to VICE News a culture of total obedience at Yoga to the People, part of which meant being available to Gumucio at any moment.
“I had a manager one time tell me it doesn't matter if your boyfriend's inside you, you answer his phone calls,” she said, recalling a specific example. “He called me at three in the morning and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe someone is sick like I need to get up and teach the 6 a.m. class?’” When she picked up, Gumucio asked her what she was doing. She responded that she was sleeping and asked him what was going on.
“I had a manager one time tell me it doesn't matter if your boyfriend's inside you, you answer his phone calls.”
“He said, like, ‘Oh, I just called to make sure that you would answer,’” Hicks said, adding that he told her she should “meditate on that for a while.”
Dakota Lupo was a Yoga to the People instructor in 2009. Though straight men were rarely welcomed into Gumucio’s inner circle, Lupo says he thinks Gumucio recognized value in him. He was fast-tracked as a teacher and even began watching Gumucio’s child. Lupo recalled that during his teacher training, Gumucio told the men, “The first overall rule is don’t fuck the students,” something he came to recognize as deeply ironic.
Lupo characterized his time with Yoga to the People as being full of “emotional fuck arounds.” Lupo told VICE News about one such incident. He said Gumucio showed up to the studio one day with a black eye. “He had glasses on [...] everyone was so hush hush, like, 'Oh, a jujitsu accident.’ I was like, ‘Eh, it looks like he got punched in the face.’” Later, when Lupo was at the St. Marks apartment watching Gumucio’s child, Gumucio called him into the bathroom to talk to him. “He was in a towel, like Q-tipping his ears, looking in the mirror,” Lupo said. Gumucio confronted him about “saying something” and talking about people when it’s not his business. Lupo said he apologized, and that he later heard Gumucio had plastic surgery on his eyes.
Hosting boozy lunches or dinners, often at Lure Fishbar in Soho, was one of Gumucio’s go-to moves. One former Yoga to the People teacher and manager, Julia Eda Shemesh, described to VICE News an incident she says occurred at one such dinner in 2011.
She said it was her first official dinner with senior teachers and Gumucio. She ended up sitting in the booth next to Gumucio. The alcohol was flowing. “Greg poured me a glass of wine or something and then put his hand on my knee,” she said. “I scooted away, he kind of moved his hand higher like towards my crotch. And at that point, I basically got up and moved over and pretended I needed to go to the bathroom or something like that. I remember being very physically abrupt with my body when he did that.”
She said she wanted nothing to do with him after that, telling VICE News it was clear to her that Gumucio’s manipulation tactics were “intentional and malicious.”
Other teachers describe Gumucio encouraging them to drink wine or do shots at meals and then being drunk while teaching their classes. After one such lunch at Rosa Mexicano in the fall of 2013, a former manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they still teach in hot yoga studios and fear possible retribution, said Gumucio “encouraged slash bullied” everyone to take double shots of tequila.
“By the time I got to [the studio] I was drunk. And I had no choice but to teach drunk, because I would have had to scramble and find a cover for my class. And even as a manager, you're not allowed to get covers willy nilly,” this person said, adding that there was also no such thing as holidays or vacations.
Sarah Thomas was a student at NYU when she started practicing at Yoga to the People in 2016. She said she started teaching there in 2017, when she was 18. She was desperate to become a manager so she could make more money, and worked long hours cleaning studios, fixing toilets, changing light bulbs, and doing anything else that needed to be done. She said when Gumucio came to town in 2019 and invited her to dinner, she saw a chance to make an impression on the founder and get promoted.
“We went out to an expensive sushi restaurant, lots of wine, lots of food,” said Thomas, who said she had just turned 20 at the time. “He would ask me about my love life, about what my parents thought about dating, about my boyfriend at the time, which I found really uncomfortable, but every other manager was so open with him about their personal sex life, so it seemed weird but normal. He asked me personally about my sex life, which I found incredibly invasive because he's so much older than me. So I quickly kind of turned that off and decided not to drink more.”
Olive Garguilo, 25, who came to Yoga to the People in 2012 straight out of high school, went through the arm-raising experience, which she said resulted in shoulder problems that never healed. “They were in excruciating pain the whole time. I just remember feeling really disturbed, like looking around me and seeing all these people just crying. I was so distraught. I've never seen anything like it in my whole entire life.” Olive was in a relationship with a fellow teacher, who shared with her other teachers’ traumatic secrets from the truth circles. This alerted her, she said, to the carelessness with which staff treated each other’s intimate information.
“I just remember feeling really disturbed, like looking around me and seeing all these people just crying.”
Garguilo was paid only $45 per evening for “caretaking” janitorial work, and $17.50 per hour for teaching; while she was living with her parents, she said, she “cannot imagine how [other staff] were able to support themselves with what we were being paid.” She said she was never issued tax documents for her time working there.
Garguilo also experienced Gumucio’s abusive reactions to seemingly innocuous questions. After Garguilo inquired why another studio caretaker had a key to the space and Garguilo herself did not, within a day she was placed on a three-way call where Gumucio called her “ungrateful” and said that an opportunity he’d offered to set up for her to teach at a California studio was “off the table.”
The person who spoke to VICE News on background in support of Gumucio and Yoga to the People characterized Gumucio as mostly absent from the day-to-day operations of Yoga to the People. The person said Gumucio only wanted to create a safe space for accessible yoga and that managers were responsible for what happened at the studios.
In 2013, Erin was attempting to put distance between herself and the previous life she’d led as a “party girl” in New York City. Deciding to spend New Year’s Eve of 2014 sober, she decided to take class at Yoga to the People St. Marks. “The line was around the block. That felt powerful.” When class ended, she called her mom, exclaiming, "Oh my God, I just had the most beautiful experience for New Year's."
Erin, who asked that her real name not be used out of concern for her professional reputation, enjoyed the classes so much that she entered teacher training with Yoga to the People. Two weeks into her training, she took her first class as a student with Gumucio. On her way out, she said, she let Gumucio know she was involved in teacher training and thanked him for the class; she was then invited to lunch at Lure Fish Bar, she said. (She was later told, she said, that Gumucio had asked one of the senior teachers to extend the invitation.) Shocked, but excited, Erin accepted the invitation.
She watched the senior teachers flirt at Lure, feeling as though they had all taken their hair down, she said, and was shocked to see everyone drinking at 2:00 in the afternoon. “I honestly felt like the table had 35 wine glasses on it, ready to go for all the different types of wine that they were pouring,” she said. She remarked that the crowd “all kind of looked the same. White and thin.”
Erin moved from teacher-in-training to caretaker and part of the “inner circle” in under a year as friends “burned out” from the grueling work and low pay. Shortly after she was promoted to a management position, she said, Gumucio flew into town and Erin took his class, positioning herself in the front row, where senior teachers and the inner circle were expected to be.
As he cued the class into Warrior One pose, a lunge with an overhead arm extension, she said, Gumucio stood behind her. “He grabbed my wrist in a way that I've never been grabbed in a yoga class before … he bound my wrist and then he yanked my arms up to the sky,” Erin said, recalling that she smelled liquor on his breath. “The adjustment felt rough and inherently sexual.”
“He bound my wrist and then he yanked my arms up to the sky.”
Erin was alarmed, but conflicted. “When someone's abusing their power in a really discreet way, and this person is your leader, that makes you feel special at the same time. It's just so hard to walk away from.”
She felt Gumucio used intimate knowledge about his staff to manipulate and control them. “He knew what all of us had been through or were going through, because of the truth circle. He knew who had been raped. He knew who had issues with drugs, alcohol. He knew who had body dysmorphia. He knew who was gay. He knew everything. He manipulated so many situations.”
A few days later, on the evening of a Teacher Training graduation, Gumucio invited all of the senior teachers to dinner. Erin was not invited to the dinner, she said, but asked to stay behind and clean up the graduation party instead. She expressed to a friend that she was tired from the long hours, and the fact that she had been working every day for two weeks.
The following night, after teaching the evening’s last class at the St. Marks studio, two managers approached Erin, she said, and invited her across the street to Gumucio’s apartment; they led her into a back bedroom and shut the door as they called Gumucio, placing the phone on speaker in the middle of the bed. Gumucio berated Erin, she said, for expressing exhaustion in confidence to another teacher. “You're off the schedule,” he yelled. “You’re tired? We’ll see how tired you are. You’re off the schedule for two weeks.”
Baya Voce was 21 when she moved to New York in 2008, and “struggling with low self-esteem,” she told VICE News in an email. “I had a sort of desperation to find myself and heal, and spent the last of my savings to pay for the training, which I saw as my answer.” As part of the teacher training, she said, she went on a silent retreat with Gumucio and some of the other trainees, which involved going into a sweat lodge. Voce said this terrified her because she’s claustrophobic. She said Gumucio encouraged her to sit next to him near the door, which she did, and that she sobbed the whole time.
“Afterwards we all lined up and silently acknowledged each other. When Greg got to me he stopped and whispered about how brave and beautiful I was,” she said. “That one interaction started the whole thing.”
Back in New York City, Gumucio squired her around town to fancy restaurants and concerts and shows, she said; she felt special and seen.
“But behind seeing each other was this: We can’t use condoms because what we have is sacred. We have to keep this silent because it's sacred. Don't tell anybody, it’s sacred,” she said.
“‘We have to keep this silent because it's sacred. Don't tell anybody, it’s sacred.’”
When she found out that Gumucio was sleeping with other women, she was shocked. When she confronted him, she said, he blamed her for ruining what they had.
“He looked at me and, for the first time, I saw his anger. He told me, as he had so many times before, that what we had was sacred, only this time it was accompanied by him saying that I had ruined our sacred connection by getting involved in the gossip,” she said. “He said it was over and ushered me out of his apartment. I left believing I did ruin what we had and it was my fault."
She left Yoga to the People soon afterwards, but the experience profoundly affected her.
"Looking back, I realize how the whole experience, from choosing me, to the grooming and gaslighting, was all so textbook. What has taken me years to understand is that regardless of my participation, what happened and the abuse of power was never OK,” she said. “I decided to speak out because I don’t want anyone going through something similar to feel alone."
As of the publication of this story, the YTTPShadowWork Instagram account continues to publish anonymous accounts about experiences within the Yoga to the People community. On social media, former managers and teachers continue to reckon not only with how Yoga to the People harmed them, but with how they were complicit in harming others. Other people tied to Yoga to the People remain loyal to and defensive of the community, decrying the haters in Facebook posts. (VICE News reached out to two of these people for their perspective; one did not respond, the other said they would be willing to talk, then changed their mind.) The idea of closure and justice is different for each person involved. Some want to heal through community and conversation. Others just want to forget. Even after so many people have told their stories, as many questions as answers remain—many of them questions only Greg Gumucio can answer.
One that lingers is the nature of his relationship with his former mentor, Bikram Choudhury. The two gurus took shots at each other during the copyright lawsuit case, but photos on social media show that Gumucio attended a Bikram yoga teacher training in Acapulco in 2018. VICE News asked Choudhury’s spokesperson, Richard Hillgrove, for comment on Choudhury’s relationship with Gumucio and whether the former invited the latter to his teacher training in Mexico. Hillgrove told VICE News he would respond the next day but did not. He also stopped returning emails.
Choudhury’s continued relevance in the yoga world was, by itself, enough to discourage some people from speaking to VICE News on the record. Choudhury was accused of rape, sexual harassment, and discrimination, which he has denied. He was sued and settled some of those cases—one for millions of dollars—only to flee the country and continue where he left off, boosted by the loyalty of people who can’t or won’t accept what he’s done to women. What that means for Gumucio—who, after closely watching Choudhury for years, allegedly built an empire so closely resembling his—remains to be seen.
Two months ago, a family in Cathlamet, Washington, was told they had to move out of the house that they had been renting for years from Hilarie Larson, said one of the people who used to live there. Speaking on the condition of anonymity because they don’t want to be involved with Gumucio in any way, the person said that Larson told them her “family” from Colorado needed a place to live and that it “wasn’t a matter of choice or convenience,” according to a text message from Larson reviewed by VICE News. The person said Larson even hired a local attorney to push them out. (Neither Larson nor the attorney responded to requests for comment.) The person later found out that the family moving into the house was Greg Gumucio and his wife and children; they said Gumucio was remodeling the house.
Yoga to the People is dead. But as Gumucio’s history has shown, he has no problem starting over.
Additional reporting by Casey Johnston, Tim Marchman, Anna Merlan, and Maxwell Strachan.