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You’re probably familiar with this story by now: On December 6, 2017, Dana Falsetti was at home when she was served legal papers by Cody Inc., an online platform that sells video training programs and had just been acquired by Alo, LLC, a yoga apparel company. Cody was suing the 24-year-old yoga teacher, body positive advocate, and (now former) Cody instructor for breach of contract and trade libel, which they claimed Falsetti committed in a short-lived Instagram Story about the then-confidential Cody-Alo merger. On December 8, Alo also filed a lawsuit against Falsetti for defamation and trade libel.
In Falsetti’s Insta Story, she harshly criticized Alo, saying that the brand “lies,” “perpetuates body shame,” and that an Alo executive faced “sexual harassment/assault allegations.” The contentious post was triggered by an email Cody had sent its subscription-based customers advertising Alo apparel, which Falsetti claimed “led her students and followers to ‘reasonably’ believe she was affiliated with Alo,” causing them to express “concern and disappointment” about her new relationship with a company that they viewed as “antagonistic to her advocacy for the health and wellness of large-bodied persons.” Falsetti countersued for breach of contract and equitable indemnity, stating that the acquisition violated her Talent License and Release Agreement because it harmed her reputation.
Her counterclaim was dismissed by the court on March 8, 2018, and the Cody/Alo lawsuits were settled out of court on April 12, but what ensued on social—in both supportive and damning posts and comments—continues to ripple through the community and reveal how complicated the marriage of yoga business and social media can be.
Social (Media) Justice?
A few months after Cody and Alo sued Falsetti, Ashtanga yogi, Cody instructor, and Instagram celebrity Kino MacGregor (@kinoyoga)—with 1+ million followers—stepped in to defend Falsetti, and the yoga community broke into unprecedented, sometimes crude and aggressive commentary regarding the true nature of yoga and yoga business. MacGregor posted on her Insta that “If yogis enter business, or even seek to make money off of yoga, the yoga should always come first. Any brand or brand owner that seeks to capture the hearts of yogis would be held up to the moral and ethical standards of the practice itself.” She linked to an opinion piece on Elephant Journal in support of her fellow Cody teacher, and launched a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $50,000 to assist with Falsetti’s legal fees. While this post received almost 24k likes and some commented that they unfollowed and planned to boycott Alo in response to her message, others said that it’s not Kino’s place to criticize others for not behaving yogically, especially since she, too, has an apparel line and her own business, OMstars—a video platform similar to Cody’s. At the same time, Falsetti (@nolatrees, 330k followers) who had kept lawsuit details and references off social media, received thousands of messages supporting her outspokenness and lauding her as an inspiration.
MacGregor’s siding with Falsetti stemmed, in part, from her own negotiations with Alo. “For me, personally, it was reaching a stalemate,” Kino tells YJ. “The line was drawn when they filed the lawsuit against Dana.” According to Alo, acquisition of OMstars was part of that negotiation. “Kino MacGregor was negotiating the sale of her yoga platform to Alo in late October for more than a million dollars,” an Alo spokesperson tells YJ. MacGregor, however, says she never intended to sell her company. “I wanted to keep an open mind and hear what Alo and Cody were creating. They made me a multi-million dollar offer and told me they would glorify me and make me their ‘special voice.’ I told Paul [Javid, co-founder of Cody] and Marco [deGeorge, co-founder of Alo] thank you for the offer, but no thanks. I didn’t like the direction they were going and how they think about yoga, and didn’t want to be affiliated with them. I told them that I am running OMstars and their offer didn’t take my channel into account.”
Tension between Alo and MacGregor may have been the catalyst for a blog post she wrote on her own site in December that discussed subliminal marketing and brand transparency. In the post, MacGregor encouraged consumers to “vote with your dollars and boycott their products” if they see big companies “monopolizing the message of yoga.” The post also mentioned the Instagram accounts @YogaInspiration, @YogaGoals, and @YogaChannel—all of which include images of yogis wearing Alo apparel. Alo does own all three accounts, but only @YogaInspiration’s profile mentioned Alo, and while @YogaGoals had an Apple app store link to the Alo Yoga Poses app, it did not mention Alo explicitly. After MacGregor posted the blog, Alo sent her a cease and desist letter. According to the Alo spokesperson, “Kino had violated the terms of her contract with Cody.”
Shortly before Falsetti announced that the lawsuits were settled out of court, MacGregor received a subpoena—served to her after class in Birmingham, Alabama, as she was talking to students—on the grounds of “discoverable information,” or evidence that could be used in the Alo, LLC v. Dana Falsetti case. On our publishing date, MacGregor was still in negotiations with Cody and Alo regarding her contract and content use.
Yogic Values Scrutinized: The Yoga Community Backlash On Social Media
The dialogues that originated with the lawsuits took a sharp turn when Instagram commentary among yogis started to heat up to dramatic levels—challenging one of the most sacred yogic principles, ahimsa (non-violence, non-harming). People, many of whom are yogis themselves, condemned those with an opposing point of view. It wasn’t just Falsetti and MacGregor who receive insensitive feedback; several prominent Alo ambassadors (who were listed in the Elephant Journal piece) were shamed for their partnerships with the clothing company. Even more troubling was the competitive back-and-forth among strangers. “People are encouraged by social media and are soapboxing each other on comment platforms and stories,” says Waylon Lewis, editor-in-chief of Elephant Journal, who published MacGregor’s opinion piece. “They split into sides and no longer view the opposing side as a good human being. Everything gets rancorous. It’s the fake news-isation of yoga.”
While this type of behavior may be surprising, given that it’s happening in the yoga community, it shouldn’t be. Social media thrives on extreme behaviors, amplifying conversations with incredible speed. The juxtaposition between spiritual agendas and commodification—after all, we spend time and money on yoga mats, teachers, malas—can breed strong feelings if a conflict questions one’s investment in a yoga practice. “Yoga is many things to many people,” says Andrea Jain, associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and author of Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture. “One of the upsides [of social media] is that yoga can be tailored to fit the needs of individual audiences so they can see themselves in the yoga world. The downside is that it provides a forum for people to claim authenticity and ownership [of yoga] and to verbally abuse those who they think are straying from the right path.”
Briohny Smyth (@yogawithbriohny), an Alo ambassador with over 100k Instagram followers and one of Cody’s top coaches, felt the effects of the community split first-hand. Days after MacGregor’s Elephant Journal article, the numerous DM requests for her opinion prompted Smyth to address the story. She wrote: “I have no personal issue with anyone in this drama, in fact, I have a lot of love for them all…Business is business. After reviewing the facts, I believe that an amicable settlement could’ve been reached if people were being sensible and not reactive.” This unleashed a flood of commentary—many applauded her thoughts, and just as many threw out insults, calling her “stupid,” and “money-hungry.” “It’s time for us to reexamine what yoga has become instead of sit there and hate it,” Smyth tells YJ in response to reactions to her posts. “We want to cultivate community, not create community through hate.”
When MacGregor started the conversation regarding the Falsetti lawsuits, her hope was that if people chose to speak out, her call to action would be handled with maturity and responsibility, she tells YJ. “Anger does not equal hate,” she adds. “I never ever, ever, directed anyone to hate or send hate messages to anyone. I am utterly heartbroken how it has all turned out.”
The lesson we can all learn here is that trying to align the message of yoga with a single entity is counterproductive. “I would encourage yoga practitioners to think of yoga as a large system,” says Jain. “We are driven to respond impulsively [on social media]. When you see something that angers you, sit back and reflect and think critically before forming an opinion or stance. It’s not necessarily about this figure or that corporation, it’s about the system in which they are functioning—capitalism.”
‘Amicable Resolution’ Between Alo, Cody App and Dana Falsetti
After Falsetti reached her own resolution with Cody and Alo, she posted a public statement via her Instagram account, admitting that she made some mistakes. “If I could go back and do it all again, I would do more fact-checking and seek a non-reactive path to expressing my concerns…” she wrote. “I failed to completely understand a contract that I signed, and that is my own fault…I spoke out of a desire to be transparent to my community and true to my work.”
While the details of the resolution were not made public, the issue of Falsetti’s content has been addressed. “Members of Cody who paid for Dana’s content are still able to access it,” says the Alo spokesperson. “However, her content has been delisted from the Cody platform. We are pleased that we came to a resolution with Dana and wish her the very best.”
As for Falsetti, she feels that at least her lawsuits sparked dialogue about important issues (like body image and how stereotypes are reflected) relevant to the yoga community now. “The foundation of a yoga practice is that we need to be listening to the experiences other people are having,” she tells YJ. “People are mad about the disconnect that exists between the yoga and wellness microcosms [on Instagram].” Her hope is that these comments are parlayed into actual in-person conversations that reach people on a deeper level, bringing awareness to stereotypes and biases, she says.
“For me, yoga is social justice,” says Falsetti. “My yoga practice is not just asana, but uplifting marginalized communities, having tough and often controversial conversations, and expanding awareness. If anything positive has come from the publicity of this situation, it seems to be the dynamic conversations communities are engaging in. The topics at hand: commodified yoga and wellness, diversity in marketing, transparent advertising, freedom of speech, ethical practices, the intersection of capitalism and spiritual practices, ableism, fat bias, and so many others, are important. They matter. Let’s not shut them down.”