Essential Oil Pyramid Scheme Infiltrates Yoga Community

To make things worse, MLM companies often bring God into the mix. So what do you do when someone pitches you MLM products or an MLM opportunity?

by Lucas Rockwood

There are three types of yoga people: those who hate Young Living and doTerra, those that are actively hawking their essential oils as distributors, and 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. If you recruit distributors to join your downline, you get paid. And every time you or someone in your downline makes a sale, you earn a commission.

Drum roll please. Cue the rainbows and unicorns.

Now imagine you take that wholesale-and-sign-up process and rinse and repeat it to 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 handful of relatives, whom 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 one percent 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 its 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. Microsoft is not a company with the best track record, but they absolutely pay their staff—that is for sure. And if you check Glassdoor or other sites, you’ll see that employees do earn more and are given more opportunities over time. So while all companies are flawed, at least you get paid and have a real shot at growth.

When you research any MLM company, you’ll find all the success stories focus on that same one percent who rigged the game in the first place, and the stark reality of average earnings is pathetic.

Take a look:

  • 2013 average annual income by Young Living distributors: $312
  • 2014 average annual income by doTerra distributors: $1,577, with 85% of distributors either losing money or making no money at all

Most multi-level marketing companies report that less than one percent of all distributors earn money. The remaining 99 percent end up breaking even or more often, end up losing money on purchases for more products than they can sell. Now you’ll see people commentingthat those people just “didn’t work hard enough” or “never treated it like a real business.” If this is true, why did they pay and sign up to be a representative? High quality essentials oils are available in every pharmacy and on Amazon in minutes, the barrier to access is zero. Next, people will say, “But they are not therapeutic grade!” Therapeutic grade is not a real thing. It’s like the term “all natural,” totally meaningless. Both Young Living and doTerra make good oils, that is true, but there are a dozen companies that make equal quality oils without the ponzi scheme attached.

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. These wild and unfounded medical claims are another reasons MLM companies thrive. The parent company cannot claim that their oils should be eaten (they should not) and cannot claim they can cure herpes and cancer, but their distributors say this all day long on social media. They have literally outsourced the work, liability, and marketing of their entire product. It’d be genius really, if it were not sinister.

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

Historically, MLM companies tend to be affiliated with religious communities because of the social connection, the sense of a higher purpose, and the ability to affect groupthink. If you’re new to the concept of multi-level marketing, 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 be 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 MLM companies.

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 supplements and essential oils are widely used by yoga students anyway, the match could not be more perfect.

Lastly, these companies use their distributors to make medical claims that are straight-up illegal. If you go on Instagram right now, you’ll see all kinds of oils reps making claims about essential oils curing the flu, fighting cancer, and fixing Crohn’s disease (among others).

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 response, it stops people in their tracks. They will often apologize and then 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 people are “in,” talking them out 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 conversation.

#3. Don’t let anyone you care about get involved in an MLM scheme. 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.

essential oil

SIDE NOTE: I’ve focused here on Young Living and doTerra since they seem to be the most popular among yoga people right now. However, there are other companies, such as Juice Plus+ and Nu Skin, that also have a strong presence in yoga communities—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, set up a wholesale account with a top manufacturer, or even private label some oils and create your own company and brand. If there is a brand of yoga mats or yoga clothing you love, again, register a wholesale account with that particular brand 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.