Free and Almost Free Yoga
We Hate to Brag -- But We Predicted This Trend
What began with Bryan Kest’s donation-only “Power Yoga” classes on the West Coast, some thought ended with Yoga to the People in New York City’s East Village.
Wrong! Whether it’s due to a new generosity or the brutal recession, donation-based studios and brand new, exceptionally cheap studios are blossoming around New York.
In expensive cities like San Francisco and New York, donation-based studios may seem like a less-than-viable business model. But according to the brave owners, it seems to work.
Lily Cushman and Jeremy Frindel opened Dharma Yoga, a donation-only studio, last month in Park Slope with the intention of bringing affordable yoga to a community that normally trucks to Manhattan for their practice.
“The donation based idea was the reason why we started the studio,” Jeremy said, adding that he and Lily took their inspiration from donation-only studios on the West Coast. “We want to teach so that anyone can come and be able to practice.”
And, he and Lily said, it works—even in gentrified Park Slope, one of the more pricey pieces of real estate in Brooklyn. The secret? People are inherently generous, they said. And although donations vary from person to person, if you get enough customers, you’ll make rent.
“Even if people are only giving a few dollars, if enough people are coming, it’s enough,” Lily said.
Always-At-Aum Yoga School opened this March in West Babylon. Always-At-Aum is Long Island’s only donation-based studio and offers everything from hip-opener classes to Tantra workshops to kids yoga to candlit Vinyasa flow classes. Body & Mind Builders in Tribeca recently create a donation-based offshoot called Do Yoga Do Pilates. It offers Vinyasa, restorative yoga, Pilates, meditation and other classes seven days a week.
Cheap studios have also been springing up around the city. Yoga celebrity Tara Stiles recently opened a studio in Noho, Strala, offering multiple class levels for $10 each. Yoga Vida NYC, a sunny loft-style studio in Greenwich Village opened in January, offering $5 basic, intermediate and advanced Vinyasa classes for students and $10 for non-students.
Keeping it affordable was the point, said Yoga Vida owner Mike Patton. “Yoga shouldn’t cost 20 bucks,” he explained. “It should be available to anyone and everyone.”
His business model, Patton points out, is the same as donation-based studios: attain high volume by providing a high-quality but affordable service.
And then there is the yoga that won’t fit into either category—the New York Yoga Club. Founder Melanie Snyder, a health food distributor and retailer, founded the concept of the Yoga Club in Charlotte, North Carolina about two years ago as a way to make yoga affordable to everyone.
The idea is simple. Recruit well-respected teachers from different studios to teach donation-based or ultra-cheap ($5 to $7) classes, convince yoga companies, health stores and other businesses to offer discounts to members and you’ve got a club.
Melanie started the club while trying to find cheap studios in Charlotte. She began taking free classes at Lululemon, and found that her favorite classes were held outside in the park.
“I’ve got to continue doing this,” she thought at the time.
“I grabbed some instructors and asked them to come out, and they did,” she said. The club in Charlotte grew to offer 25 classes a week, with eight different styles of yoga. Most of the time, Snyder said, the club holds classes outdoors. But when they can’t, they partner with local gyms and studios that donate their space and hope the free advertising will attract newcomers.
Snyder recently flew to New York to hold auditions for teachers and organize the logistics for New York Yoga Club’s inaugural classes, which will kick off the first weekend in May. She plans to hold classes in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, in Central Park in Manhattan, a class in Hoboken and a class in Queens.
The club concept has caught on in many other cities, including Atlanta, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. That may be because as Melanie pointed out, the club is so accessible.
“We try to offer a smorgasbord of activities and make sure we have high quality instructors,” she said. “We just want to have a little bit for people to sample. People who can’t afford yoga can find it through us.”
Melanie added that despite the fact that membership and the classes are so cheap ($35 a year for a membership and only $7 classes for non-members) cutting out the studio and owner increases profit.
“Instructors tend to make as much if not more than they would through the studios, because there’s no rent overhead and because I don’t touch any of the money that funnels through the classes,” she said. “There’s no studio owner or rent to pay.”
The common thread that runs throughout this growing trend is the determination to make yoga affordable to everyone, regardless of their income level or familiarity with yoga. Bringing yoga to people while simultaneously easing yoga away from its business focus may, some hope, will help bring Western yoga a bit more down to earth.
“Yoga has been pushed through the western business model,” Lily said. “It’s started to affect the purity of the teachings. If you have to pay a lot of money for something and the teaching is spiritual it just….Feels really different.”
Lily trailed off and paused.
“If it doesn’t work,” Jeremy said, laughing, “We’ll shut our doors and go home.”
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