Adam Carney is the co-founder of East+West, a school created to connect some of the best yoga teachers with avid students from all over the world. We were mind-blown by Adam’s honest, genuine and wise answers and his deep desire to be of service to this world with his skills. We were delighted to interview him and hope you take the time to read & learn from his experience!
Take us right back to the moment when it all started, and why you moved to Bali. How was the idea of East+West Yoga born?
The story of my company East+West begins back in 2012 when I decided to go to India to do my teacher training. I’ve always been a rather extreme person, and something about learning yoga at YogaWorks wasn’t cutting it for me – I needed to go to the source.
While on my teacher training, I had a mixed experience. I hated the main teacher, and the way the program was run in general. It felt like I was in a yoga teacher training factory.
“I’ve always been a rather extreme person, and something about learning yoga at YogaWorks wasn’t cutting it for me – I needed to go to the source.”
Fortunately, while there, I met Amrit Pal Singh (Gurumukh, a name given to him), who in my eyes is the most skillful, and most humble yoga teacher on the planet today, and also my best friend (he doesn’t like when I praise him like this). I came to India with deep, wrenching personal challenges I never thought I would have answered in my lifetime. He explained all of them within 20 minutes over lunch the first time we met, and I haven’t looked back since.
There are many ways I could describe him, and they would all make him sound wonderful, but they would all also be incomplete. Each time before he teaches a yoga class or even a philosophy class, he will sit in silent meditation for 1 hour to attune himself before the class. Once, I asked him why he was walking so gently, and he told me he was thanking the earth every time he stepped. As we speak, he is sitting in his small home in Chandigarh, India, spending about 10 hours a day meditating and coming up with new ways to share yoga philosophy, so that not a single person leaves with any confusion or questions. He said to me yesterday that, often, just one hour of performance can take months of proper preparation. I’ve never met anyone who puts so much dedication into anything; this is exactly what inspired all this.
I would leave my anatomy courses in the afternoon and sit by the waterfall in Dharamshala and learn yoga from him. I got to see the world through his eyes, and this changed everything for me.
Gurumukh had many of the same feelings I had about the teacher training program and ways to make it better. His integrity of the practice was so inspiring to me. He wouldn’t compromise the ancient teachings a single ounce. You can see from here how we naturally wanted to create something together; I was the young, ambitious entrepreneur, and he was the man with the goods.
We ended up in Bali because it’s the perfect mix of East & West. It has a similar spiritual resonance as India, but without all the difficult travel. Gurumukh doesn’t teach from religion, which they aren’t always okay with in India.
Can you take us back to the moment that led to making the decisions to go to India and then Bali? You were working around the clock, right? On a startup? What was that all like?
The day I was fired I drove up to the Sonoma Ashram, where I have spent a lot of time in the past. It’s a beautiful little spot few know about, nestled in the vineyards in Sonoma, only an hour outside of San Francisco. There is a friendly and wise meditation teacher there named Babaji, from India, who has been somewhat of a mentor for me over the years.
I resolved to myself that I wasn’t going to rush into anything, a mistake I had made many times in the past. I wanted to make sure what I was going to do next was coming from my internal guidance – the voice that connects me not just to what is good for me, but also good for all those around me. I went into total silence for many days and put myself on an extended water fast, an ancient technique I had read about in the biography of Rumi, which he used to develop clarity and spiritual insight. My intuition kept telling me just to wait and not make any decisions. The crazy thing about it was that I kept getting all these calls with really appealing job offers, from people who had no idea what had happened. I kept thinking of the Buddha the day before he got enlightened; it is said many tests were put before him, and he just continued to sit in silence. I felt deep down that if I’d rushed into taking a job, it would just have brought me back through the same old cycles. The message that kept coming back to me was to start the company I wanted to run for the rest of my life.
Instead of accepting any of the job offers, I went to Thailand. While there, I found Vikasa Retreat, in my opinion, one of the coolest yoga centers in the world. I ended up staying there almost a month, and while there, despite being surrounded by beautiful women and beaches, all I wanted to do was work on East+West. So I did. I would do a 2-hour class at 7 am and a 2-hour class at 7 pm, and every other waking hour was spent working. I had never been so focused in my life. It didn’t feel like work, but totally effortless.
I was working mostly on our website, which was the key to the whole project. I looked recently; I made more than 1,200 revisions to the website that month. 1,200! Almost immediately the site started working, and we were up booking almost one customer/day within the first month. In my 10 years of experience working in tech, that had never happened so fast.
In hindsight, it’s pretty obvious to me that I was experiencing so many frustrating cycles in my work life because I was disconnected from what I really wanted to do, the company I could actually be a part of for the rest of my life. Think about it: if you were going to start a relationship, and going in, you told yourself you’d be in it for 2 or 5 years, there’d probably be a lot of problems!
How did you feel when the people you trusted — your “work brothers” and friends — let you go from that job you’d put so much into?
There was some shock, but deep down, there was also relief. I was starting to dislike the way the company was being run, and the lack of attention to people in general. The vision came down to making a billion dollar company, and no one stopped to ask why we’d do that.
I don’t have any bad feelings towards them, and we now talk on occasion. They were doing what they thought was best for the business; the decision made perfect sense to someone who sees business exclusively through the lens of numbers and data. They are good guys, in a very tough industry, trying to help people. I definitely learned a lot from them, and it has helped me create this company.
What were your initial high points — the good signs that showed you this new adventure was going to work?
Within about 5 days of me putting a simple post out on Facebook, a friend of mine who I really admire signed up for the training and paid in full.
The first signs that the business was going to work were also reactions we got from people on the phone. They would say things like “I’ve been waiting for years, and this is exactly what I was looking for,” or “something shifted inside me when I came across the website,” and so on. More literally, I think about 13 people signed up the first month, so that was a pretty clear sign. Selling out our first 5 trainings – that one felt pretty good too.
But the single best moment for me was the call I got from Gurumukh thanking me for his salary. He told me it allowed him to not have to worry about money anymore for him and his family, and that he could resume focusing all his attention on his craft. It’s hard to put into words what this made me feel. It was empowering to know that my skills could be valuable to his life the way his have been to mine. Since that happened, everything else has just felt like a bonus.
What were your initial low points — did anything happen that made you question your decision to move to Bali and start this business?
Honestly, and I’m not just saying this, no. Not one, not for a single moment. Everything has just worked from day 1. It’s been a pretty surreal experience, and I don’t know what to do other than be grateful for that. Whenever we have a serious need for the company, it always seems to show up without us putting much effort towards it.
When did you start practicing yoga? Were you practicing regularly when you got fired?
I first started practicing yoga when I was 19, on the DVD from the p90x program. A great program, which to this day is still the hardest yoga I’ve ever done.
I was practicing every day while working for my old company. I would get to work early before everyone else and go practice at the park next to our office. I would show up in the office, and everyone would look at me as if I were strange; I genuinely didn’t care. I think I was wearing yoga pants when I got fired.
If you’d given me a choice back then to maintain my practice or my job, I wouldn’t have to even think about it. My practice is the single most important thing in my life.
When exactly did you get the idea to create East + West yoga?
This is where it gets a little mystical…
There have been 3 times in my life when I have been visited by a powerful voice that was not my own. Each one of them changed my life.
The first happened while living in Hawaii.
I had taken a semester off college to study meditation with a Tibetan Llama, named Llama Tempa, just outside Honolulu. I was on a stand-up paddleboard one day, and suddenly a voice swept over me and told me I needed to drop out of school and never go back. I had not once previously considered it, and have not for one moment since questioned it.
The second happened in India, during the final week of teacher training.
I was in the middle of a group meditation where we were all sitting cross-legged, holding hands and circling around repeatedly – a form of kundalini meditation. To my left was a woman who claimed she knew me from a past life where we were monks together. On my right was Gurumukh, who is my co-founder and head of meditation at East+West. The voice told me to stop drinking alcohol and to never drink again. I did, and I won’t. It was a curious message to receive, as I was never more than a moderate drinker. Almost a year later I got asked to join a very promising new company as a co-founder, a company in the addiction recovery space.
The third was in October of 2017.
After a stressful week in LA at the office, I took a trip out to my vacation home in Palm Springs. Basking in the sun setting over the San Jacinto mountain, I was sitting in silence for what must have been 2 hours or longer. I was very peaceful and calm, and there was nothing in particular on my mind. Suddenly, a wave of inspiration came to me, similar to the one I had experienced 8 years before on the stand-up paddle in Hawaii. The voice told me now was the time to realize Gurumukh and my dream of running teacher trainings, and to name the company East+West. It was a strange message to receive as my company had just raised a $3.5 million dollar round of financing from a major Silicon Valley venture firm. I also didn’t much care for the name. 2 weeks later, I’m called into the office by my co-founders, and they tell me I’m being terminated from the business, and that they are retaining my stock options.
At this point in life, I had learned to listen to the voice, so it was about a month after this happened that I started the business, and named it East+West.
I was nearly a millionaire on paper the morning I walked into the office, and I left with a mere $15,000 in severance. The $15,000 ended up being almost exactly what I needed to rent the resort for the first month to run our first training.
What’s one big learning experience from this journey with East+West that you’d like to share?
From this project, I have learned the power in creating from the situation given to us, not from our own limited vision. Visions can be problematic because they only belong to us, we are then put in a situation where we want to impose that vision we had, once in the past, on the world. That’s a recipe for stress, a bit like taking pine trees from California and trying to start a forest in Bali: it sounds cool but it just wouldn’t work because the environment isn’t conducive for it. It’s only a struggle when we’re working against our environment and circumstances. A business becomes effortless and starts to help people when we create while being honest about what resources we have, and what’s the best we can do with those. I just happened to be best friends with a bunch of yoga masters and tech people, and this is what we got! It truly doesn’t feel like my “vision.”
The key to creating a company that is effortless and in alignment with spiritual principles is to respond to your life circumstances rather than try to create it. Babaji once told me a story about their ashram in Varanasi, India; one day someone dropped off two kids, a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old whose parents had just been killed in a car accident. They didn’t know what to do, but they had the resources to raise them, so they did. It went so well, they started taking in others, and now it’s an orphanage that takes care of dozens of kids. They were responding to what they were presented from a place of genuine service. This, to me, is the secret key to running a truly aligned organization.
I don’t buy into the idea that a “dream life” exists. It’s sort of a fallacious concept. Even if it comes, it’s quick to shift or disappear. The best we can do is be active participants in our lives and balance ourselves daily with a practice. External circumstances appear to create that experience of “dream life”, but that’s an illusion: the dream life we see on the outside is just a reflection of someone’s process of living and daily habits. It’s only with the dedication and diligence to a practice that we can create something close to a dream life.
The real truth is that my heart called me to create this company so I could spend more time with my friend and teacher Gurumukh. I wanted to give back to him by helping him make a living, as that’s very hard to do in India. It was the only way I could repay him for what he has given me in this life. We’ve done that now and whatever happens next is just a bonus. The world can take everything away again; it probably will someday. And if it does, we’ll start again tomorrow and do it again, practicing yoga the entire time.
- Visit East+West Yoga.
- Learn how East+West Yoga gives back here.
- Learn about the yoga practice, teaching, and training here.
Enjoyed reading this article? Consider supporting us on Patreon. $2 donation will allow us to publish many more amazing articles about yoga and mindfulness.