Yoga teacher Francesca Caviglia knew something was off about the studio where she worked when she got scolded for touching the money too much. At the donation-based Yoga to the People on St. Marks Place in New York City, which operated from 2006 to 2020, cash was collected in an empty tissue box at the end of class. After the final corpse pose, the teacher would stand at the back of the studio holding the oddly specific receptacle. As dozens of sweaty students filed out, they could drop in a few crumpled bills, or nothing at all. Whatever you could give that day was what the class cost. 

After students left, Caviglia tells Rolling Stone, the teacher was supposed to dig the cash out of the box, put it into an envelope and label it with the class’ day and time to be stored in a locked area. That’s where Caviglia ran afoul of the rules, which surprised her. “My instinct was to take these wadded up bills, unfold them and make a stack of them, because this is cash that someone’s dealing with eventually,” she recalls. “I remember being reprimanded once for doing that. What they wanted was for you to just transfer the cash that had been crumpled from people’s sweaty hands into this manila envelope, and there was something shady if I, like, handled it too much. It gave me the impression that it was because it looked like I might have counted it, and that was a problem.” A recent criminal complaint alleges that under Gumucio’s leadership, Yoga to the People teachers were generally “forbidden” from counting the incoming cash.

Only recently has the public begun to get an idea of where those “donations” were really headed. During the pandemic lockdown, the company shuttered permanently amid allegations that surfaced, initially on social media, of abuse, sexual misconduct and worker exploitation against Yoga to the People founder Greg Gumucio. Then, in August 2022, Gumucio and two other company leaders — Haven Soliman and Michael Anderson — were charged with tax evasion and conspiracy to defraud the IRS, accused of never filing taxes on more than $20 million in income between 2010 and 2020. (Gumucio has not faced any criminal charges for the alleged abuse or sexual misconduct.) The charges have been met with relief and, in some cases, surprise on the part of those who worked under Gumucio. The teachers who spoke with Rolling Stone saw Gumucio as the head and had not interacted closely, if at all, with his co-defendants. Some of his former staffers have been reexamining the financial practices they witnessed and participated in for the first time. 

For more than a decade, Yoga to the People was a mainstay of affordable movement classes in New York and beyond. Gumucio opened the flagship St. Marks location in 2006, the same year he moved from Portland, Oregon. By that time, Vice first reported in 2020, he had already been convicted of felony forgery and motor vehicle theft and had been accused of rape, although that case was closed after the alleged victim failed to respond to police inquiries regarding the investigation. Over the next decade or so, he opened what authorities estimate to be around 20 affiliated entities, including a total of six New York studios and locations in Arizona, Florida, and the San Francisco Bay Area. All but a few studios that offered hot yoga in New York were donation-based, and they did a brisk business. “Cash only please,” their web pages said.

Gumucio once estimated that 1,000 people came to Yoga to the People daily, but that seems like an under-count. The St. Marks location alone had four studios inside it, each of which could hold as many as 60 students during eight daily classes on weekdays. Starting in 2009, when I was freshly out of college and new to New York, I attended 6 p.m. classes at St. Marks regularly, rushing over from my low-wage media job and sometimes paying only a handful of change I’d dredged guiltily from the bottom of my bag. I also attended high school with Caviglia, as well as Emily Schoen, another former teacher interviewed in this article. They and the other sources who spoke with Rolling Stone are just some of the people who were affected by the crimes alleged in the August 2022 complaint.

In YTTP classes, teachers would often say you only needed the space of your mat to do yoga, and in those pre-Covid times, they meant it. As the rooms filled up, staff would ask you to move closer and closer to your neighbor until sometimes only an inch or two remained between mats. The hour-long vinyasa class was typically a standardized series of standing poses and lunges that put the quads to heavy use, followed by seated stretches. As Caviglia pointed out, the studio claimed to offer yoga for everyone, but the athletic series they taught was most accessible to young, able-bodied people, the likes of which flocked to St. Marks from nearby New York University in such numbers that sometimes a line formed down the block before class. “There wasn’t a lot of practical, useful, ‘here’s how to deal with different situations,’” she says of the teacher training course she took through the company. “It was like, everyone who’s gonna walk into the studio is going to be an early twenties, flexible, young, little person, and they’ll just do the thing; just tell them to do it.” Even so, the pay-what-you-can rate, compared to other yoga classes that could run $20 or more, allowed hundreds of people to take classes who otherwise couldn’t afford it. 

The Yoga to the People studio on St. Marks Place was known to get packed, like it did this Sunday evening in April 2010. Pictured at the center, in black, is Gumucio’s co-defendant Haven Soliman, who has identified herself in the past as a co-owner of YTTP.

Casey Kelbaugh/Redux

In 2020, it all fell apart. In early July, as Yoga to the People locations remained shuttered due to the pandemic, former employees began posting allegations of sexual misconduct, racial discrimination, a “cult”-like environment, manipulative management practices, and more. “I can’t even count the amount of times I had someone tell me not to eat, comment on my body, comment on my food choice as ‘not a yoga teacher’s,’ and even had a manager take food out of my hands before a hot class,” said one post from a former teacher, labeled with a “body shaming” trigger warning. In another, someone claiming to be a former manager said they’d been pressured by higher ups not to file their taxes because it would force YTTP to claim them as an employee. “I was bullied into doing something illegal by the company I worked for!” the post said. Days after the first posts appeared, Yoga to the People announced it would not reopen. Soon after, exposes from Vice News and The Cut further detailed Gumucio’s alleged behaviors, including claims he manipulated staffers into sexual relationships with him and demanded total obedience from his staff. 

Jill Bayne, who trained at and then worked as a manager for Yoga to the People in New York between 2009 and 2012, and who has been outspoken about Gumucio’s alleged wrongdoing, says Gumucio used to call her in the middle of the night, just to see if she’d pick up. “He wanted you to answer the phone every time he called.” she says. Three former staffers who spoke with Rolling Stone say they often didn’t learn their teaching schedule more than one day ahead of time. “Sometimes you found out the night before that you’re working a double the next day,” Schoen says. The news arrived via text message. “It felt very, like, ‘We own your calendar, don’t we?’” Caviglia says. “I started giving them less and less availability, because I was like, I can’t just hold all of these days.” She and Schoen each recall that if you couldn’t work a class you’d been last-minute scheduled for, you often wouldn’t be given another one for about two weeks — “punitively,” Schoen says.

One of the more notorious accusations lobbed against Gumucio since 2020 — albeit absent from the criminal complaint — was that teacher trainees at his company had to participate in a practice called arm-raising, which participants felt was designed to break them down emotionally. Sources say arm-raising involved holding your arms above your head for an hour, an experience that became increasingly painful, while music Cavilgia described as off-brand Enya played. Bayne remembers Celine Dion on the playlist. At a point, participants say they became aware the exercise was supposed to end with them crying. “They were trying to make us associate the fatigue we were having with some sort of emotional breakthrough,” Caviglia says. “One of the semi-senior teachers was participating in this with us, and I think she was the ringleader to be like, ‘Here’s your example. She’ll just start breaking down in a few minutes and then you can all follow suit.’” Eventually, sources say, many people did break down and cry. Schoen says the person leading the session did nothing to help the trainees recover from such a vulnerable moment. “They left us just splattered on the floor with all those feelings,” she says. “There was no type of emotional cleanup.”

On another occasion, Caviglia and Schoen separately recall being asked to sit in a circle with other trainees and share something traumatic from their past that they hadn’t told anyone else. “I remember being like, do I have to make up some trauma right now?” Caviglia says. “It felt like maybe this is an audition for who’s prepared to enter this game.” Bayne, who also participated in the same activity during her training, recalls the session leader going first. “She stood up and said, ‘I was raped,’ and then she kind of like, curled up into the fetal position on the floor, like, OK, she’s setting an example of what we’re supposed to do,” she says. 

Bayne believed Gumucio instituted practices of probing people’s pasts to vet them to work for him and, she believed, to “groom” them for sexual relationships with him. “He would pick people that had criminal backgrounds and beautiful women who had trauma,” she says. “He rarely would have, for lack of a better term, a fat person, and there were not very often people of color.” Teachers reportedly did engage in sexual relationships with Gumucio, although none who spoke about it with Rolling Stone. Bayne says when she asked her immediate supervisor about rumors that Gumucio slept with teachers, she got an angry call from Gumucio himself. “He is screaming at me, ‘Don’t you ever talk about me! Don’t you ever talk about me! How dare you?’ and just literally scared the ever living [out of me],” she says.

Meanwhile, students kept coming by the hundreds, and someone had to handle all that cash filling the tissue boxes — where voluntary donations were supplemented by $2 extra if you rented a mat, and $1 for a bottle of water. At St. Marks, according to sources who spoke with Rolling Stone and the criminal complaint, after teachers put the money from their classes in envelopes, managers would transport it across the street to Gumucio’s apartment, a sprawling exposed-brick loft that didn’t look unlike the rooms in the nearby studio, except it was bigger, and had a disco ball suspended from the ceiling. Court documents described it as the company’s de facto headquarters. There, according to a former manager who asked to remain anonymous, they and their management colleagues — mainly women — would sort the cash so it could be counted in mandatory twice-weekly sessions known as “stacking,” a practice also alleged in court documents. “All those bills were separated, and then sat on so they would get warm,” the manager says. “So that our boss could run them through the cash counter.” Sources say they do not know exactly why the money had to be warmed by people’s behinds. “I didn’t know enough about tax fraud to think this [might be] illegal,” the manager says. “I thought it was just another example of Greg being a manipulative, power-hungry person to like, make us sit on this cash.” According to the criminal complaint, the money was then stored in Gumucio’s guitar case, which authorities allege at times contained between $20,000 and $30,000.

Bayne recalls drinking wine at these stacking sessions, sorting but never counting the money, and being careful not to say anything that could be used against her. “We’d be sitting around, and all of us are scared of each other, because we don’t know who’s closest to Greg,” she says. “He kept us all so isolated, so we didn’t even know what to talk about. It was a very nervous, tense situation.”

According to the anonymous former manager, who was trained as a teacher at YTTP and then taught there for multiple years in the mid 2010s, the way money was handled varied by location. At a different YTTP studio in the city, they were expected to store, sort, and count the cash themselves, and eventually deposit it in the bank. Some managers even had their own safes and cash counters, they say. Their direct supervisor at the studio location told them how to handle the money. “We always had to deposit below $10,000, and now I know that’s because that would be a red flag for the IRS,” they say, referring to a federal law that requires banks to report deposits of $10,000 or more in an effort to curb money laundering. “But I would be walking along a street in New York with a tote bag full of $9,000. That was anxiety-producing, for sure.”  

Classes at the YTTP studio on St. Marks were pay-what-you-will, largely attracting people from nearby New York University.

Casey Kelbaugh/Redux

In 2020, former employees claimed YTTP exploited its workers with long hours and low pay. Many one-time students became potential staff through the teacher training courses, which Schoen and Caviglia attended together in 2013. According to the complaint, teacher training was a major source of revenue for the company, costing roughly $2,500 to $3,000, depending on how early you registered. It happened twice a year for regular vinyasa training and once a year for hot yoga. After graduating from the training program, some teachers were invited to lead classes at YTTP, but, according to sources and the criminal complaint, they didn’t necessarily get paid right away. Instead, during a period which Schoen and Caviglia describe as “indentured servitude,” they were asked to teach 25 classes for free and expected to volunteer their spare time to clean studios to prove their dedication to the company. Bayne says she got paid to teach right away, with no explanation. “I didn’t have to teach any classes for free,” she says. “I don’t know why he gave me special treatment. He started paying me right away.”

Schoen, on the other hand, spent months working her way up to leading paid classes. She’d show up a half hour early, and stay at least half an hour late or longer, for the closing shift, cleaning mats, mopping up sweat, and restocking water. “It was a total drag, for absolutely no money,” she says. “At the time, though, I felt like, I’m getting scheduled for classes, I’m working towards something. Eventually, they’ll start paying me. But I remember once I hit that cap, the number of classes I was scheduled for during the week fell drastically.” Schoen says she went from teaching as often as six times a week for free to around one class per week. The pay was only $25-$35 per class. Soon after she completed teaching the unpaid classes, she left. In the criminal complaint, authorities allege Gumucio “maximized his unreported income by manipulating subordinates into providing free labor (e.g., teaching unpaid classes, stacking cash, cleaning yoga studios, depositing cash into bank accounts, etc.).” 

The former manager remembers regularly receiving their so-called starting salary of $3,000 a month in one lump sum of cash in a plastic bag from a liquor store. According to the criminal complaint, in 2013, one employee texted Gumucio asking, “So should all salaries be cash?” and he replied, in part, “yup.”

The former manager estimates they worked 100 hours weekly, between administrative tasks, managing other teachers, handling money, helping run teacher trainings, and teaching a whopping 20 classes per week. They recall feeling “sleep-deprived, hungry, and broke” during their time there. None of the former staffers who spoke with Rolling Stone were ever given tax forms. According to the criminal complaint, teachers who requested tax forms were typically denied. “When such a request was made, YTTP leadership treated it as a big deal, and it resulted in contentious conversations,” the court document says.

Despite prosecutors arguing Gumucio has mob ties and a fugitive mentor he has visited in Acapulco, he and his co-defendants are currently out on bond, on conditions including the surrender of their travel documents and that they do not communicate with any former employees of YTTP.  A public defender for Gumucio and lawyers for his co-defendants did not respond to requests for comment. Authorities have asked people with information on the case or who believe they have been the victim of a crime related to YTTP to reach out to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

Some people hope the tax evasion case will be just the beginning of accountability for Gumucio and his associates. To Bayne, the financial charges are just a starting point, a way to get at some of the wrongdoing she claims Gumucio put people through. “I want them to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” she says of the defendants. “I want all people to recognize and learn the signs of narcissistic and cult abuse.”

Others are thinking of the yoga community, and hoping something else might  fill the void left by YTTP. Could a different organization offer donation-based classes for everyone without – crucially – the hideous underbelly of alleged abusive behavior by yet another powerful man apparently abusing his status? “I wonder, does that model work if you’re not cheating it?” says Caviglia, who left the company after leading just a few unpaid classes and began teaching on a freelance basis. “Can you have something that is accessible at a similar level that has at least a passable part-time wage for the teachers and doesn’t have some elaborate under-the-table scheme going on? Maybe it can be done in a smaller regard. I would hope that model can work, that it’s not too good to be true.”

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