Somewhere outside Sequoia National Park—and somewhere inside a yurt—a group of more than 50 turban-adorned women, clad in all white, are laughing uncontrollably. One of them is kicking drugs. Another is reeling from the dissolution of her 25-year marriage. Two are pregnant. And then there’s the famous face in the sea of sheepskin mats, along for the ride on this bunk-bed-filled retreat—until she departs abruptly the next day after being outed as an A-lister. Overseeing the giggling exercise from atop a perch on a lifted stage built specially for the occasion is their spiritual guide, Guru Jagat. The 36-year-old Los Angeles–based Kundalini master is here as part of just one of several stops on her six-month, sold-out, all-female “Immense Grace” program, offering guidance on matters that span from sex, money and career to body image and aging gracefully—for just $2,900 per person.
Welcome to the booming business of spirituality and wellness, an industry set to rake in beaucoup bucks this year, and especially so in Los Angeles, where more than ever people are spending less on material goods like watches and clothes in favor of more “meaningful” experiences and products. “They view it as a 360 approach to having a better life,” says Milton Pedraza, CEO of The Luxury Institute.
Seeded amid the rarefied beachside air of Los Angeles’ Westside, a new breed of female entrepreneurs has emerged to cater to this discerning, beauty-from-the-inside-out consumer, a spiritual sorority that has launched everything from juiceries to yoga studios to organic skin-care lines, all within close proximity of one another. They are the new and improved L.A. ladies who lunch, uniquely positioned to leverage their locally sourced, all-organic lifestyles into not just profits, but a form of status and air of superiority over their lounge-about contemporaries.
With Gwyneth Paltrow as their de facto inspiration, many of these women are financially independent moms who choose to work, compelled to espouse their good-for-you secrets to glowy skin, shiny hair, weight loss and—ultimately—happiness to an ever-eager-to-ape audience. “Any time a woman finds something that helps her, she’s wired to want to share and help others,” says Guru Jagat, whose teachings have served as a sort of post-grad course in spiritual entrepreneurship to women throughout Los Angeles. “That’s why it’s a good thing for women to take over running the free world.”
Naturally, entry into this sisterhood does not come easy. It requires an all-consuming devotion to the lifestyle, with work as a mere extension. Any signs of charlatanism are cause for immediate expulsion, or at least some really nasty gossip. For example: “My ex-husband’s girlfriend founded one of the first juice companies that really went big, and she was a New York partier drinking every night,” snipes Guru Jagat. “The New York spiritual mafia is very tenuous as best. Behind closed doors, that’s not what’s going on and you can feel it.”
The L.A. crew, on the other hand, “walk the walk and talk the talk,” she insists. And they pull strings to help one another succeed. “It’s only a denaturement that women catfight and are competitive and weird,” insists Guru Jagat, who declines to reveal her birth name; the “guru” moniker was given to her by a teacher some 10 years ago, back when she was just a “nice Jewish girl” from West Virginia. “That is such heavy programming that successful women should be at each other’s throats. That’s not how real successful women roll.”
In fact, although Guru Jagat now serves as a mentor to many in L.A.’s spiritual-wellness entrepreneurial community, it was her best friend, Amanda Chantal Bacon, the Goop-endorsed founder of the wildly popular Moon Juice shop and line of products, who first set her on her path to profit. “I was a huge fan and supporter and really egged Guru Jagat on to open RA MA,” the “Institute for Applied Yogic Science and Technology” that Guru Jagat introduced in Venice in 2013, says Bacon, a former fine-dining chef and single mother of one who sells feel-good concoctions and “all-natural enhancements” like Moon Dust—powdered supplements for better brain power, love and even sex (now also available at Urban Outfitters)—for $55 to $65 per jar.
Since Moon Juice debuted in 2012, Bacon, and her highly sought-after glowing, poreless skin, have become Internet famous, yielding many job applications. “This whole wave of ‘It’s cool to work in wellness’—I can totally attest to that,” she says. “When you decide you want to quit your job in fashion, beauty or, like, editorial, the first stop is Moon Juice.” She adds of the appeal, “It’s certainly an industry that is run by women and run around this notion of wellness, balance and happiness, and part of that is the feminine gets to be the feminine.”
Her 38.7k-strong Instagram following devours photos of her daily menu—like a recent post of toast topped with ghee, rose petal preserves and bee pollen—which she says “save lives,” including her own. “I would really describe myself as a missionary,” she says. “I work seven days a week. I don’t get tired of it. This is my offer to the world.” Although she declines to reveal Moon Juice’s financial figures, she has leveraged the aspirational fan-love of her esoteric lifestyle and exotic eats into a full-blown business, with a two-book deal and an East Coast outpost of her juicery in the works. And now she wants to see her friends succeed.
Neither woman feels conflicted about capitalizing on spirituality—or the relative misfortunes of others—to earn a living. “I have made incredible personal sacrifices on many, many different levels, from relationships to having a baby at a more appropriate time in my life to not making a penny for years on end and putting all of my money into making sure there are places on this planet where people can come and heal,” says Guru Jagat, who, now that she runs a multimillion-dollar business, admits to indulgences like twice-daily cappuccinos and designer shopping binges.
“I feel very clean about money, and it doesn’t feel like any kind of discordance. In fact, it feels like a very good thing because for me to do my job, I shouldn’t have to worry about paying my bills.” She says of the wellness boom, “I think it’s a trend of the next 5,000 years. It’s going to trickle down and people are going to buy Amanda’s juice and my book when it gets into Walmart!”
Her capitalist attitude, decidedly uncommon among most referred to as “guru,” has inspired and empowered students to pursue their own moneymaking wellness ventures, like Madeline Giles, who now offers at-home Angelic Breath Healing classes for $200; Carly de Castro, whose Pressed Juicery has more than 60 locations; and Shiva Rose, who launched her own organic, locally sourced skin-care line after taking private sessions with Guru Jagat following her split from actor Dylan McDermott. “She’s like the ‘girlfriend’s guru,’ ” says Rose, who is 46. “I was feeling lost. I wanted a community. For me, I think it was a yearning for something deeper and more complete.”
Rose says her own entrepreneurial aha moment came during one of her sessions with Guru Jagat. “I saw the vision for [my company] and the image of the line,” she says. Now, she shills her signature rose face oil for $85 a bottle in high-end boutiques and on her website. “The three of us, we’re really intertwined,” says Bacon. “We’ve all supported each other deeply. We couldn’t have done it without each other in so many different ways.”
Inside the yurt, more sisterly bonds are forming. For the first time all weekend, the women have traded their white leggings for flowy ceremonial dresses. One by one, they place onto an altar items that represent their goals and dreams, ranging from a plum to a sonogram of an unborn child. The women perform dances of gratitude for one another during the closing ceremony as their Rick Owens–clad leader smiles contentedly.
“Sat nam,” they chant together at the end of the night as they usher in the new moon with their freshly penned list of intentions. “Sat nam.” And then they all set their alarms for 4 a.m., take the recommended cold shower and start all over again.