more questions than answers


The New York Times article A Yoga Manifesto has really made the rounds of the yoga blogs with each blogger approaching the story a bit differently.

As I wrote here there is a new movement in yoga — moving away from the rock star yogi mentality to donation-based classes. Yoga to the People in New York City is riding the crest of this new wave.

On the surface I think it’s a great idea and I give YTTP founder Greg Gumucio mucho credit for what he has accomplished. I’ve always thought that yoga should be accessible for everyone and even more so for people in the lower-income bracket. But Roseanne raises an interesting question in her post about YTTP. Roseanne tried a YTTP class and has this to say about it:

“Their “manifesto” sounds good in theory ~ but my understanding of it changed when I actually experienced one of their classes in NYC last month. As I noted, the final effect was “discount” yoga, complete with fluorescent lighting and classic rock radio, rather than the DIY proletariat experience I had expected. After reading this article, I now know where the problem lies: ‘High volume is the key to [YTTP founder Greg Gumucio’s] business model — he says up to 900 people may go to a Yoga to the People studio in a single day….’

Sure, more people doing yoga is a good thing, but herding hundreds of them through a rotation of anonymous teachers in crowded studio classes… how does that improve the world? Especially when the spirituality, teacher-student relationship and, in my experience, quality are sacrificed in the name of economy.”

As I read her post some thoughts popped into my head: how many of the people going to the inexpensive classes can easily afford to pay the standard prices at a yoga studio, such as $15 or $17 a class? Are these inexpensive classes taking away from a small, independent, non-franchised studio that can not afford to price their classes at $8 or another lower rate? And if that small studio closes because of the cheaper competition and yoga teachers lose their jobs because cheap yoga put the studio out of business, how is that a good thing? Should we just chalk that up to good ol’ American marketplace economics? Cheaper will always bring in more people but is it really better?

I would rather see people doing donation-based yoga who truly can not afford standard yoga studio prices than the ones who only want a deal.

Living in my suburban area where it is difficult for a yoga studio to survive raised these questions for me. People live in $500,000+ houses (which in my area is a “starter home”) and drive Hummers, but many go to health clubs or gyms or park districts for yoga because it’s “free” (i.e., part of the membership) or the price is less than $10 a class. I’ve been teaching a long time and I’ve heard the rationalization of “why go to a studio when the gym yoga is free?” That attitude is one of the reasons that has kept me from opening a yoga studio — because there’s lots of cheap yoga around. A yoga studio is a business just like any other business and that would not be a good business decision.

Just throwin’ the questions out there…talk amongst yourselves.

addthis_pub = ‘yogagal60510’;

19 thoughts on “more questions than answers

  1. Yes. We should make yoga available to people who truly cannot afford it. Obviously.

    BUT BUT BUT…

    Like you point out, most people taking advantage of cheap yoga CAN afford it.

    Our work is just as valuable as, say, a physician's. It is OKAY to make your LIVING doing your WORK.

    This drives me batty, to tell the truth.

    We have to stop demeaning what we do — yoga teachers, artists, all of us “outsider” types. Culture demeans us plenty; we don't have to do it for them.

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  2. I've always told my students and family, that if I win the Lottery, I am opening a donation-based studio. 🙂 Where I live, the one studio just went out of business, but it wasn't because there was cheaper competition.
    Some of the people in the article commented that they were not able to experience more elaborate postures, that is where I think the non-donation studios excel. But for the non-profits, it allows more people the opportunity to experience yoga in general. Making the world a happier place. I think this world is big enough for both… but for me and my dream, A donation-based studio is what I'd like to be a part of one day. 🙂 IMO

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  3. It's the same with food. I have my priorities organized so that quailty food comes first because that what's important to me; it's not the same with everyone. Too each his own.

    If I bought cheaper food (no local, free-range meat) I could probably afford to go yoga classes more frequently. And I feel bad taking advantage of “karma” yoga pricing (so I don't) because it's not that I don't have the money, I'm just choosing to spend it elsewhere.

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  4. There was a yoga studio that opened up in our town of 100,000 but it only lasted a few months. Classes were $15. For someone who lives paycheck to paycheck, that is alot of money.
    HOWEVER
    I really wanted to go at least twice a month (we get paid twice a month) so I purposed to set it aside as a treat to myself. I made it a priority. (It only lasted one month since the studio closed by time I had found out about it and the city-run class is at night, where a daytime class works for me best.)
    A business is “in business” to make a profit for it's owner and while I believe we should think of others before ourselves and help those in need, I have seen first hand many times how folks will “milk the system” and take advantage of those who have a giving heart. I agree with Christine: someone doing a work for the benefit of others IS valuable. It should come from your own heart search as to how you sell/give your service.
    THAT SAID
    if you give something to someone else, be it yoga classes, a car, food…even a hug….if you don't give it from your heart, it is but a loss for all involved. Only something given to another because we care for them FROM OUR HEART will bring joy to the soul and that is where the difference is made.
    I must say though that I am not interested in a “Wal-mart” yoga…no thank you.

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  5. This was a really interesting article that got me to thinking about the competition between yoga studios as well:
    http://chakra5la.blogspot.com/2010/04/yoga-biz-how-can-studios-support-each.html

    I'd like to think that if people can truly afford it, just like everything else in their lives (food, car, clothes, etc) they will want the best quality they can get for their money. So maybe the cheapie yoga, which seems to have its drawbacks, will lose appeal eventually.

    In thinking about how I go about taking classes, I like to mix it up at different studios based on my schedule, their location, my cash flow at that moment in time, etc. I could see myself going to the cheap yoga 1-2 times a month and then to several other studios.

    I think it will be interesting to observe the patterns people take on. The good thing we can see is that plenty of people want to do yoga, and they will gravitate towards the type of studio/situation that works best for them. As I said in my blog post, is there room for every kind of studio to exist and enough students to go around?

    I'd like to open a studio, and my plan is to have several donation-based classes per week–but otherwise have a set fee and no funny business. People should appreciate that real WORK and EFFORT goes into finding the best teachers, creating a beautiful practice environment, music, etc to enhance the experience.

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  6. I'm beginning to think that sliding scale yoga classes are the best way to go. that is the way many Buddhist teachings and retreats are run…you can pay X amount to X amount. a day you are pinched, pay less, when you can afford it pay more.

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  7. thanks for the link love! and for continuing the discussion.

    i have some reservations about judging who can afford to do yoga. just because somebody has an hummer and $500k home doesn't mean they can afford to pay for yoga classes ~ in fact, they probably can't because they spent all of their money on cars and a house.

    i teach two donation-based (i prefer “pay-what-you-wish”) classes per week here in montreal. everyone is welcome, even people who appear to have money (although i must admit that most of my students are poor and actually can't afford to pay regular studio prices for yoga).

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  8. well, roseanne, I have some personal experience with the people who “live in the big houses.” I was a garden designer (technically am still in business) and I got real tired of being nickled and dimed for my services by people who lived in houses that I know cost 3X the price of my house. as I said, I was speaking from MY experience in my area.

    back in the day I ate govt. cheese and used foodstamps so I've been there, i.e., poor.

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  9. My husband, a former Buddhist monk, offers a donation based class at his studio on Sundays. It's a popular class. The other classes are paid classes. Maybe a little bit of both would be good. That way, you can support the community but still survive!

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  10. I teach several donation-based classes a week, and I just accept not to worry about the money or even think about it. I know that people on high salaries attend, as do volunteers. But for me, those classes are not about the money – because I make it that way. So I don't have hard feelings and don't bother too much about it. And 9 times out of 10, the “honesty box” policy works well for me.

    I think there's room for both in the world, and sometimes both at the one studio. I think that as long as there are serious students of yoga, there will always be yoga studios where people can get more intimate student teacher experiences and a teacher who knows their name!

    But if you're just starting out and you're willing to put up with the factory conditions, maybe these huge yoga deals are a good thing to give people a teaser and see if it sticks? Then again, of what I love about studio yoga is that feeling of coming into a studio with a good vibe and unrolling my mat on that wooden floor…

    Personally I have a home practice so when I do spend money on a teacher it's usually to do a small workshop maybe once every two years. That's what I can afford – it's expensive but worth every penny.

    Interesting discussion!

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  11. listen— if it takes going to lots of “free” classes, although you can afford to pay, to realize that generosity is yoga and yoga is generosity, so be it. but, then when you finally *get* it… start paying what you can actually afford for the classes.

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  12. Very interesting discussion. I want to believe that there is room for both types. Donation based and fully priced. I do think that people are seaching for the yogateacher that suits them best, then when finding that, or the studio, they will pay. It's a priority of what you choose to use your money for.

    Another thought; Yogaclasses are only supposed to be for some time. Then the student is taking what's learned to self-practise. At least the inspiration should be towards that goal I'd say.

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  13. Wow, great topic! Thank you Linda. For me the question is not so much if people who have money are willing to pay the price, but the directions advertisers would like to take yoga in order to sell product. Americans have discovered yoga (for some very interesting and generational reason which is a topic for another day) and there are people who really want to cash in on it. Yoga is not a money making proposition. There are some things people get into for the love of what it, not for the money. The money may come and that’s just fine, but that’s not the goal or end point. Yoga teachers, like all instructors should be afforded the ability to make a living wage and sustain themselves in their vocation. When advertisers and bottom line business models present yoga as a commodity or the flavor of the month it’s no longer a viable vocation within the health and wellness area but a passing fad. I don’t want yoga to go the way of the pet rock or become the equivalent of a Jane Fonda aerobics tape. I really want to see yoga become part of the permanent culture. I think if yoga becomes a permanent part of our culture rather than something it and happening for the moment, if has the potential to really help us to address health issues that are crippling this culture (diabetes, hypertension, obesity just to name a few) Don’t we owe it to ourselves to give it a chance rather than just cash in on the latest interest.
    Shannon

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  14. Sitting in judgement of who can afford to pay what for yoga is just not a sustainable practice. Just do your thing. I teach lots of free classes. Just do what you do, charge what you want and do it all from an attitude of service to others. It will work out.

    People buy the same products every week and pay vastly different amounts for them. Can we judge those who are careful shoppers because they should really pay more? That's not likely to work out in the long run.

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  15. my service is teaching to Hispanic survivors of domestic violence — for over 7 years now.

    my service is teaching to women who have been shut out of the holistic services that the upper middle class Anglo women of my area can afford to pay for.

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  16. I understand that this is becoming a discussion of the cost of yoga, best practices in naming a price for a yoga class, and the price people perhaps pay karmically for taking advantage of cheaper yoga.

    But I'd like to speak out on behalf of yoga to the people. I'm a graduate student and full time teacher who lives in new york city and practices at yoga to the people–daily. I don't have a TON of extra money lying around, but yeah, I could afford to go to a studio where I had to pay 15 bucks a class. But I could only go once a week. That to me, isn't yoga.

    I've been to each of Greg's 3 New York studios a number of times…and BY NO MEANS is this a 'cheap' experience. It may be affordable, but it is not inferior.

    Peeling paint and bad rock radio? False. Please refer to the website for pictures of the studios in NYC or Berkley or San Fransisco if you need to see it for yourself. http://www.yogatothepeople.com.

    Yoga at YTTP is an incredibly beautiful, internal, intuitive, RICH experience. No teacher schedule? No problem–you are your own best teacher anyway–you know far more about what's happening in your body than anyone else could anyway. After all, it's YOUR practice. And frequently, taking the class of a teacher you don't jive with as much will teach you MORE about your body and how you REACT to things.

    So what if you don't like the song? If you can find peace and breathe with something you don't like–how much more capable will you be able to breathe with something you don't like when you're off the mat and in your life? Life doesn't show up like child's pose; life shows up like chair pose. It's not so comfortable, but it'll probably teach you something.

    Practicing a rigorous vinyasa flow in a room of sixty people (where yeah, you are about an inch from the person next to you) provides you with a delicious, energetic, vibrant community. You feed off of the people around you, and frequently, the 900 people that show up each day CHOOSE this over other yoga because of that very community.

    Why pay for pretentious yoga at 15 dollars a class, when you can fall in love with YOUR OWN PRACTICE for free?

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  17. Lola, really don't know who your angst is directed at, i.e,. your comments about music, peeling paint, etc.

    I totally support the concept of yoga for the people….I teach a free class at a domestic violence shelter….so, what's up with your rant?

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  18. I too am confused on that last comment, but I think Lola is saying for people to get over themselves and appreciate the class for what it's worth. I think, again, that some people will gravitate towards a crowded donation class and others will want to pay more for a smaller, hands-on, intimate environment. Both have their place in the world.

    I do want to state, again, that it costs MONEY for marketing, rent, good teachers, props, etc. I see yoga as a REAL, tangible service that people should try to pay for…

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