In our inherent willingness to believe we can change and heal
and tap into the power of our higher selves, we shell out
$10 billion annually
to those who promise to make the process as quick and painless as
possible. Despite the research that says 75% of people who make
lasting life changes do so on their own -- without the help of an
"expert" -- somehow, year after year, we still insist on paying
others for our enlightenment. The following are seven such gurus,
teachers, and entrepreneurs who have made big profits
spoon-feeding our souls that chicken soup.
Like many of her self-help teacher cohorts, Rhonda Byrne had to
hit rock bottom before hitting the big time. In her case, her
father had just died, her mother was inconsolable, and she was at
her own physical and emotional nadir.
Then her daughter lent her a copy of Wallace Wattles'
The Science of Getting Rich
In it, and other works by New Thought movement writers like
Napoleon Hill, Byrne learned about the law of attraction and how
to discover the "secret" to unlocking the power of the universe
with magnetic properties and units of mental energy and radio
waves and vibrations that are as scientifically sound as gravity
itself. Whatever the version of the Powerball jackpot was in
1910, you could win it just by believing that you would.
Byrne repackaged this philosophy in her own book and, thanks to a
big boost from the Oprah effect, sold more than
19 million copies
t -- and millions more on DVD. Her sequels
continue to push the notion that positive thinking can manifest
anything we want in life.
The consensus from the scientific community is that these books
have no basis in fact. They are "larded with references to
magnets, energy and quantum mechanics," say psychology professors
and authors Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. "This last is
a dead giveaway: Whenever you hear someone appeal to impenetrable
physics to explain the workings of the mind, run away."
Meanwhile, Rhonda Byrne will keep running all the way to the
Sure, her predictions aren't exactly batting a thousand; her
fortune-telling faux pas
even made national news recently. But that's not about to stop
celebrity talk show psychic and intermediary to the spirit world
Sylvia Browne from taking desperate people's cash to commune with
their loved ones. Nope, nothing could stop that gravelly voice
from telling it straight, on behalf of the other side.
Seventy best-selling books in -- and with the upcoming
Past Lives of the Rich and Famous
already getting snatched up in
) format -- Browne has made a tremendous living out of the dead.
Her appearances at venues like the Lucky Eagle Casino in
Rochester, Washington -- home to Hunks the Show, America's
Hottest Ladies Night -- bring in $60 a pop. She also hosts
"spiritual salons" for intimate groups of between 35 to 45 people
for $1,000 per person.
Normally, a 20-minute phone reading with Browne goes for $800,
but the rate has been recently dropped to a low, low $550.
Perhaps the discounted rate is a bit of damage control from her
very public misreading of Cleveland kidnapping victim Amanda
Berry's mother on
The Montel Williams Show
. Or maybe her followers are getting wise to
of her missing persons readings that puts her confirmable
accuracy rate at zero percent.
Tami Simon, Sounds True Publishing
Two years after Shirley MacLaine brought reincarnation into the
mainstream with the 1983 release of
Out on a Limb
, a 22-year-old would-be publisher with a tape recorder and a
dream set out to spread spiritual wisdom. Today, Tami Simon's
multimedia publishing company Sounds True boasts a
catalog of 600 "wisdom-transmitting" titles
. It is guided by a vision to "inspire, support, and serve
personal transformation and spiritual awakening" and a mission to
"find teachers and artists who serve as a gateway to spiritual
awakening and to produce, publish, and distribute their work with
beauty, intelligence, and integrity."
All that may sound like a bunch of meaningless platitudes, but
it's working for Simon who has enjoyed healthy profits from
publishing some of the world's leading teachers, Buddhist
thinkers, academics, and visionaries, including Clarissa Pinkola
EstÃ©s, Pema Chodron, and Eckhart Tolle.
It also appears to be working for legions of readers. And to be
fair, whether or not its authors are your cup of organic,
artisanal tea, this is not a spirituality-focused business that
can be accused of price gouging: Most of the company's books and
media sell for under $15 or $20.
Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler, SoulCycle
"We ride close together so we can feel each other's energy. That
being said, your neighbor does not want to feed off your odor."
Wearing clean laundry is the third rule of
for members cycling in the soul sanctuary. You see, cramming
70-plus stationary bikes into a
tends to ramp up the sweat and stink factor.
But SoulCycle co-founders Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler insist
the sardine can-like spaces in their indoor cycling gyms help
nurture "a culture of inspiration" and are not some greedy
attempt to maximize every inch of their pricey pieces of
Manhattan real estate. Incidentally, the choice to hold classes
by candlelight is done to head off leering rather than to dim the
harsh spotlight on the reality that its members are exercising on
top of one another.
Of course, nothing clears the mind of an impending
claustrophobia-bred panic spiral like listening to boilerplate
Eastern mantras underscored by thumping house music. Cardio
workout aside, SoulCycle's success is largely due to its
spirituality gimmick that some have dubbed the
"Scientology of Spin
." Instructors are a bizarre brand of super-fit yogis who lead
class participants on their personal body/mind journeys with
chestnuts like "Today we ride with the energy with which we would
like to live" ... two, three, four. Sessions -- er, spiritual
voyages -- conclude with a
set to the meditative tones of Alicia Keys' "New York."
The bike chain is always recruiting new SoulCyclogists. With help
from recent partner Equinox, it has grown to 14 locations
throughout the country with plans to expand to
60 locations around the world by 2015
. At $3,500 for 50 classes, it still costs less than becoming an
Chip Wilson, Lululemon
When "yoga billionaire" Chip Wilson
as chief innovation and branding officer
Lululemon Athletica Inc.
) in January 2012 and handed over the luxury sportswear business
to Christine Day, he left the enormous responsibility of
continuing "to elevate our world" in her hands. No pressure,
Though outfitting Park Slope moms in $100 yoga pants probably
isn't raising global consciousness, it does at least promote
inspiring messages, namely, "The pursuit of happiness is the
source of all unhappiness," and "What we do to the earth, we do
to ourselves," which constitute the company's manifesto.
Lululemon is also hitching its wagon to the "emerging
fitness-spirituality movement" that is actually the millennia-old
practice of yoga by hosting events like
The Gospel of Sweat
at Manhattan's Riverside Church.
This "pray through our pores" push may seem like a contrived
marketing strategy, but it's a smart contrived marketing
strategy. Well, at least it was, until a product recall of a few
styles of yoga pants for being too see-through hit the company's
profit line and
Day announced her departure
. Due to these misfortunes, the stock price took a hit this week.
This ain't your Gandhi's ashram.
, the birthplace and global headquarters of India's guru de jour,
is a pink, tropical villa complex surrounded by palm trees and
nestled between the Kerala Backwaters and majestic Arabian Sea.
On the grounds are cafes and pizzas shops, gift shops, and an
outdoor Olympic-sized swimming pool. To the casual cynic, the
high-rise ashram resort may seem less spiritual Hindu community
and more five-star
. Then again, the casual cynic may just need a hug.
Translated as "mother," 59-year-old Amma earned her worldwide
fame for literally throwing her arms around it. Thousands of
devotees flock to her retreats where they wait in line just for a
quick embrace from Amma. After all, this is a woman who --
according to her authorized biography (now translated into 31
languages) -- came from low caste beginnings, and at one time
subsisted on a diet that included broken glass and human feces,
and has now performed miracles like "kissing cobras, diverting
rainstorms, and feeding more than a thou
sand people from a single, small pot."
Today, Amma's empire of the hug rakes in about
$20 million per year
. In fact, right now, "the hugging saint" is on the first leg of
North American tour
held at the ballrooms of various
) hotels as well as convention centers throughout 11 cities. For
about $300 (excluding accommodations), followers are treated to
meditation and spiritual instruction, while the lucky ones with
tokens get that coveted squeeze.
Donation boxes are reportedly never far from sight, and each
retreat hosts its own "mini-mall" of Amma merch, like $500
crystals she's allegedly touched, clothing she's worn, and a
flower tincture from her garland that can cure cancer. Amma also
receives money from high-profile patrons.
Warner Bros. Pictures Group
(TWX) president Jeff Robinov counts himself among her Hollywood
benefactors and even then-Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
donated most of his salary to her in 2003. Thanks to another fan,
the $7.8 million home previously owned by Sargent Shriver and
Eunice Kennedy Shriver is now used by Amma as her Washington, DC,
While Amma's charitable organization
Embracing the World
famously has zero financial transparency, its health and human
services work, education efforts, and disaster relief have
definitely been felt in some 40 countries. She has been referred
to as a headhunter extraordinaire, able to find the right people
to quickly fill crucial needs left by unresponsive and
red-tape-hamstrung governments. Especially in her homeland of
India, Amma seems to represent a palpable sense of hope in a
place with so little.