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At Wanderlust, Enlightenment and Profits Collide

Wanderlust is the ultimate contrast in terms. With its mix of yoga classes, retail village, and epic nighttime pool parties, the festival is equal parts wellness Mecca and networking hub for those in the yoga business.

“My name is Caitlin Turner, but I’m also known by my online name, Gypset Goddess. And I am what you would call a social influencer of the yoga variety," Caitlin Turner says.

That social influence translates to big business. Turner has more than 250,000 followers on Instagram, which is part of what drew beauty brand Aveda to her as a social media ambassador and promotional partner for the festival. At Wanderlust, Turner helped promote Aveda’s Beauty Bar, where stylists were on hand to help festival-goers with yoga-friendly hairstyles. She also took over Aveda's Instagram feed during Wanderlust and mentioned Aveda in her Instagram posts from the even, scoring the company thousands of likes.

“I did teach yoga for a long time, but more recently I’ve been more focused on the business side of yoga than the teaching side of yoga," Turner says.

Turner’s friend Caley Alyssa only has 40,000 Instagram followers, but Radius, Alyssa’s new wellness-focused show on NBC, is helping to rapidly increase that number.

“I think in this day and age everyone has to be thinking about that, to be honest," Alyssa says. "As a yoga teacher, if that’s really all you’re doing, you’re probably not going to be able to make that well of a living. So the reality is, you have to look at other areas to make an income.”

Down the highway from Wanderlust, at Lake Tahoe Yoga in Zephyr Cove, popular teacher and studio owner Jennifer Aiksnoras, who goes by Jenay, says it’s a constant struggle to balance yoga and business, but she tries to stay focused on the metaphysical side of the practice.

“The way that I see yoga is that it’s the practice of recognizing that every thought you have, every act, every word you speak affects not only you but everyone around you," Aiksnoras says.

Aiksnoras participated in the first three Wanderlusts, but no longer supports the festival. She says it has increasingly moved away from supporting the local Reno/Tahoe community in favor of bringing in nationally known brands and teachers. It’s a problem Aiksnoras sees in the yoga industry more broadly, too, as yoga teachers move away from the origins of the practice, which included not only physical exercise, but also philosophical instruction and meditation.

“We see these teachers and their focus has been lost," she says. "They’re no longer focused on yoga. They’re focused on how famous can they be? How much money can they make?”

Ultimately, Aiksnoras says yoga is about Namaste, that classic yoga word, which she defines as being inclusive and accepting of others.

“It’s like saying hey when I look at you I see a little reflection of myself, and whether I like it or not, I get it. It’s there. And we’re connected.”

Back at Wanderlust, Caley Alyssa takes a pragmatic approach to the increasing overlap of yoga and business: in order to spend their time teaching yoga and living a yoga lifestyle, she says today’s yoga teachers need to find new revenue streams.

“The social media realm is huge, you know, and that’s been a big focus for a lot of yogis,"Alyssa says. "I mean getting your name out there and advertising and marketing for yourself is a part of the job these days.”

And companies eager to tap into the $27 billion yoga market are happy to provide yogis with a paycheck.