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Pay By Donation: An Experiment In Affordable Yoga (Not for Yuppies)

in Recession Yoga

donations-feed-meStory time gather round…Last weekend we attended a workshop hosted by the renowned and always affable Iyengar Yogi, Kofi Busia. kofibusiaA teacher of deep knowledge, Kofi is a man of quotable personality and a seemingly endless cache of metaphorical antidotes. Here’s our loose recollection of his take on “paying” for yoga (Ed. note: we’re not saying he thinks yoga should be cheaper. It’s an observation, especially highlighted in Recession – thanks to colleen for encouraging clarity)“Finances…Young people, meaning people under 60, say they don’t have the money for yoga, or the time. They spend it on what they will call “better things’. When they finally do have the time and/or money [retired at 60] their body is already in terminal decline.”

All right, not his usual jovial self, but Mr. Busia makes an excellent point not to be dismissed, especially when now there’s an even better excuse to not practice – it’s too freakin’ expensive! Really, by the time you finish shelling out for one of those status symbol $100 yoga mats and high-end butt hugging lucifer pants you’ve pretty much blown your whole load. Who has enough left over for classes? Oh we kid, everybody knows you don’t need expensive mats and all that “lifting and separating” to practice yoga right? right? Le sigh. Anyways, d-to-the-uh duh, Recession is tough! No matter what age, times is tight people, but there are some yoga-neers working hard on the sidelines to bring yoga to everyone, no matter how tight your budget, or buns.

In our latest installment of Recession Yoga comes great news from the Pay by Donation dept. It thrills us to hear about Chicago based Yogaview, a studio experimenting with a growing business model – straight up pay-what-you-wish yoga. They already have a traditional studio, but the new outpost, with its grand opening last week, is based on suggested donation – $10-20 – but hey they’ll take anything. All the cash goes in a closed wooden box, no questions asked.

A novel, optimistic idea: “We’re trying to present it as an alternative business model,” said Yogaview co-founder Quinn Kearney. “Those who can pay more help support those who can’t pay as much.”

Great! But is it sustainable? Is it worth it? Is it enough to cover overhead expenses, necessities like rent, teacher pay, toilet paper? That remains to be seen, but others seem to be making it OK…so far (see chart below).

Remember Yoga By Donation, the New Hampshire studio we mentioned back in January? Here’s their stats chart for this year so far since they opened — borrowed from their website where it’s posted for all to see, and learn from we assume.

pay-by-donation-stats-may2009

  • Attendees is the total number of students in regularly-scheduled classes during the month. If one student goes to 12 classes in the month, that counts as 12 attendees.
  • Classes is the number of regularly-scheduled classes in which a teacher showed up.
  • Attendees/Class is the average number of students in a class using the above data.
  • $ Donations is the total dollars of donations collected in the month and usually deposited as well.
  • $/Attendee is the total dollars collected divided by the number of attendees in that month.
  • $/Class is the total dollars divided by the number of classes.

Their total expenses per month = $6,000, and if they surpass that, THEN the teachers get paid. Everyone knows this going in. As you can see, they’ve not quite met their mark. However, it’s not to say they won’t going forward.

Another donation example? Yoga to the People seems to be chugging along. (they also run teacher training for $2400 a pop which surely subsidizes less than generous donations)

For some budget yogis, the familiar ‘free community class’ once a week or day isn’t enough – it’s most frequently at lunch hour or some other inopportune time when, in ideal situations, you would likely have a job and are working at it. Pay by Donation Yoga is just what we need…but we have to DONATE for it to work! Before we’re all in terminal decline, eh?

Yogaview Donation studio
1745 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622
www.yogaview.com

[Chicago Tribune]

by the way, the image above is courtesy of Fairgrove Family Resource Center in Thomasville, NC, who we came across completely randomly, but who could also use a donation.

Earlier…Recession Yoga has Arrived, and It’s Pay by Donation!

More: Recession Yoga

15 comments… add one

  • It seems like, to me, that Busia didn’t mean yoga should be cheaper. It means people need to recognize their priorities and choose between the daily starbucks and yoga classes. This is NOT to say yoga is cheap – but that it should take priority over material or unhealthy things.

  • “people need to recognize their priorities and choose between the daily starbucks and yoga classes.”

    I’ve been saying that for 8 years, as long as I’ve been teaching!

    I’m not opposed to “yoga by donation”. I would use that for people in lower income brackets (read: people of color — I teach yoga and meditation for FREE at a domestic violence shelter) who can not afford the typical holistic things that white suburban people can afford. HOWEVER, in my area, where houses are half a million and people drive Hummers, people who can afford to pay $15 for a yoga class at a studio are going to the gym for yoga because it’s “free.”

    When I taught at a studio that had a small retail section, I saw women dropping $100 on yoga clothes and chakra jewelery (read: crap) but they would pass up dropping $1 into a donation box I had for a yoga fundraiser I was doing for the shelter. So don’t even begin to tell me how people can’t afford yoga anymore. bullshit.

    and check out the link that YogaDawg sent me — I plan to blog about it!
    http://www.nypost.com/seven/05262009/entertainment/health/final_lotus_170940.htm?&page=0

  • This is really interesting. These stats say to me that people think studio classes are worth $5 a class — they are voting with their dollars. (Students at that studio in New Hampshire, anyways.) But the cost of providing the space and the teacher is about $15 per student per class. Something’s gotta give. Or the volumes have to keep going up for studio classes :/

  • There’s a restaurant business here in Australia that operates on a similar principal: http://www.lentilasanything.com/

    I think at one point they had to give people a gentle pointer, as many were taking advantage of the system. But they’re still in business, so hopefully the ‘yoga by donation’ works out, too.

  • Yogini

    @yogoer:

    Really! While the economy was flush, there were many of us regular, working people – even families – who could not afford to participate. There was never a policy of people being allowed in despite real inability to pay. The class I could have afforded met much too early in the evening for me to get to it.

    One good thing about the recesssion and the studios losing customers: It’s time yoga studios woke up to the fact that, like it or not, they are a community resource, and not just some clearing house for private shamanic healing sessions and exotic retreat travel!

  • Yogini

    @yogoer:

    Really! While the economy was flush, there were many of us regular, working people – even families – who could not afford to participate. There was never a policy of people being allowed in despite real inability to pay. The class I could have afforded met much too early in the evening for me to get to it.

    One good thing about the recession and the studios losing customers: It’s time yoga studios woke up to the fact that, like it or not, they are a community resource, and not just some clearing house for private shamanic healing sessions and exotic retreat travel!

  • “It’s time yoga studios woke up to the fact that, like it or not, they are a community resource…”

    “community resources” still have to pay the rent and keep the lights on or else there’s no more “community resource.

  • The pay-what-you-can model is interesting, and I’m curious to see how it works out for these studios. But there’s a part of me that hopes that the current economic climate might mean the downfall of the yoga studio, so yoga can enter other spaces. It would also be interesting to see studios offer more than just yoga (and not yoga + pilates, or massages, or whatever) – to offer space for different ways of working, community resources, non-yoga workshops. While it’s nice to have spaces designed solely for yoga, we don’t *need* to practice, or teach, in studios.

    In this conversation, I am reminded of the following quote by Michael Stone (who teaches out of his garage in a working class Toronto neighbourhood): “I think that these teachings belong in alleys, in the gaps… We develop a relationship with people over time. And they develop relationships with each other, so that we can drop into deep practice without the constructs of institutions, even the institutions of the commercial yoga studio.”

  • @yogini:
    I know studios here in New York that pay $10,000 or $17,000 a month in rent. I empathize with owners who have little business training, just passion, and enter personal bankruptcy for their studio. We could all just practice at home — there are plenty of yoga DVDs and books — but if we enjoy the community space we have to support it. And if we’re really unable to pay, there are many many studios that have always offered work exchange programs.

  • PS — My favorite model is the membership model, a monthly fee for unlimited classes, since it encourages students to practice frequently and get “a good deal”, instead of feeling like each class they take is only encouraged for profit’s sake. And it’s more stable for the studio.

  • Yogini

    Depends on the deal. This is an opportunity for a studio to use lowballing bait and switch tactics, which I could smell a mile away when one such thing happened–”recession special” as mirage. So much for diversity in the membership.

  • Yogini

    On the other hand, I think this yoga teacher is far from all bad (there is evidence of obsessiveness and hypomania in the approach, as in the business model that reflects the person). I also don’t have the best of karma myself, so who I meet on the path is a reflection of who and what I am, too. Someone with MAJOR problems. That said, I am more or less pay-as-you-go (not an overpriced walk-in, but regular use/pre-registered); in my current life space I have room for a strong home practice.

  • Hi YD!
    Adding to the roll call of donation based yoga studios-
    LOVE Yoga Coop and Black Swan Yoga in Austin, TX. Both studios were founded by folks who wanted to provide a way to create a sense of community and support wellness at the same time.
    Cheers,
    Kelly

  • The foundations of yoga including the Yoga Sutras, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, help us to understand that we are not to escape the responsibilites of this world, but to do our duties with joy and detachment from results. It is not “unyogic” to charge money for services. One does not pursue the teaching of yoga to get rich (good luck) but to make an honest living at something one lives and loves as a service to all our relations. If you are following the yamas as a teacher, there is no reason why you cannot charge a reasonable rate for your services. If you can afford to not charge than more power to you. What about going giving free classes to low income families or offering free classes in other contexts. The attitude that yoga should be by donation only and if you charge you are just a greedy soul is new age mumbo jumbo. Whether you have yoga by donation or charge a set fee, you are STILL IN THE BUSINESS OF TEAHCHING YOGA. Being a yoga educator is an honorable profession, one that I take seriously, devote my life to and dedicate my life to realizing God in all. If a student truly cannot pay for classes, how about taking responsibility for that and asking if there is work-study or some other arrangement to be made? Taking responsiblity for one’s financial well-being is also a practice that can lead to yoga.

  • Sarah

    There are also a lot of free classes in your neihborhood that people may not know about. Every lululemon in the country offers a FREE community class on Saturday or Sunday. They ask instructors from local studios to come and volunteer their time to teach. It is a great way to check out different instructors who inspire you and practice yoga at least once a week with no damage to your pocket.

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