By donation. ~ Claude Genest

Via on Feb 7, 2012

Originally published by our elephriends over at Recovering Yogi on January 25, 2012. 
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By donation.

By Claude Genest

Walking downtown the other day I stopped before a busker, guitar in hand, open, coin-littered guitar case at his feet, and waited for him to begin singing.

And waited.

“When are you going to sing?” I enquired.
“I’m waiting for your donation first” he replied.
“And by the way, the suggested donation is 5 dollars” he added guilelessly.
“Odd” I thought, and moved on to meet my friend for lunch.

After taking our order, the waitress just stood there.
And stood there.
“Are you going to place our order?” I enquired.
“…Mmm-hmm… Right after I get my tip, minimum 20% of the total thanks”.
In the real world this would of course never happen. Because it would never fly. Because it’s nuts.

The word “donation” means “an act of benevolence, a gift,” or, something you give VOLUNTARILY in proportion to how much the recipient succeeds in touching, moving or inspiring you.

The word “tip” originally meant “to insure promptness” i.e. something extra you gave WILLINGLY to incite or reward superior service.

But of course the rarefied air of the modern American yoga studio is not, by any stretch, the real world.

In these ecologically harvested bamboo-floored halls, common sense, good intentions and spiritual aspirations all take a back seat to the guru’s (or newly graduated teacher trainee — what’s the difference, as long as you’ve googled a sutra or two and can say Adho Mukha Svanasana with a convincing accent) entitled sense of deserving Bikram-level money and reverence money. Now. Now. NOW! Om Shanti.

I suspect that most of us Recovering Yogis share in common an understanding that the crass commercialism and profit-motive of entitled capitalism make very poor bedfellows with the stated (and mindlessly, endlessly, numbingly repeated) intentions of spirituality, altruism and a desire to create, you know, “commuuuunity.”

Among the many places where this is tragi-comically evident is the sham of the “By Donation community” class.

It was a good idea, at first — an opportunity for aspiring teachers to perfect their craft, for the studio to give back to the community, (give as in “free”), and for students to practice karma yoga by showing their appreciation with a voluntary donation. A gift. A token of their appreciation. You know, like they do in India?

When I asked the receptionist the other day here at my Los Angeles temporary studio what the difference was between the “suggested donation,” (payable up front before the class), and being charged the same amount as in my package of ten classes, she was unable to answer and said she’d speak to the owner and get back to me.

coI then asked why they wouldn’t just deduct a class from my package of ten, since it worked out to the same amount? She said it was “cash only”. I pointed out that she already had my cash in the form of a package of ten which was well and duly paid for, and what was the difference again? She was unable to answer and said she’d speak to the owner and get back to me.

She never did. But something tells me the answer would have something to do with, if I could just open my heart chakra a little wider and drop my pre-conceptions, you know…. commuuuuunity.

Every fiber of my being wanted to demand a refund and take my business elsewhere. But then it occurred to me that the business of Yoga, however filled with un-answerable and un-ethical self-contradictions, would be the same at every other studio.

So I stuffed my resentment inside, and for the sake of our commuuuunity put on my best fake-o enlightened half-smile, bowed and began inwardly chanting Om shanti, ashamed at my lack of deeper understanding for how a mandatory “donation” helps engender community. Cause that’s what it does, right?

About Claude Genest

Claude William Genest is recovering from a massive Green Burnout after 6 elections as Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Canada, receiving an Emmy nomination for the eco-show he created, produced and hosted, teaching Permaculture at the University of Vermont and chopping vegetables in the makeshift kitchen at Occupy Montreal.

With two gruelling Vipassanas under his belt, and mid-way through a year long Jivamukti Teacher’s Training in Montreal, he has finally decided to give voice to the resounding eco-greenie-yoga-woo-woo resentments that have built up over the years and hopes like hell he will be forgiven for daring to be, you know, negative. www.claudegenest.com

Artwork by: Vanessa Fiola 

About Recovering Yogi

Far from the land of meaningless manifestation, vacuous positivity, and boring yoga speak lives Recovering Yogi, the voice of the pop spirituality counterculture and an irreverent forum where yogis, ex-yogis, never-yogis, writers, and readers converge to burst the bubble of sanctimonious rhetoric. We are critical thinkers and people who just love to laugh. Visit us on our web site for some straight talk, join the discussion on Facebook or Twitter, or buy a t-shirt and support our mission.

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8 Responses to “By donation. ~ Claude Genest”

  1. I completely understand this frustration from both sides of the reception desk. I have worked reception at a yoga studio for almost 4 years, and yes, we hold "by donation"classes. But the donations from those classes actually go to a charity, so we certainly hope that the attendees would donate at least 5 bucks. Now, there are people who come in and ask if they can use their pass… ugh, sadly no, not for the donation class. It's confusing I know, but we're trying our best to raise money for a local charity here. Now, I can't speak for all studios, but that's my deal here. :)

  2. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    I attend two studios here in Philly with genuine, no-foolin' donation classes. The one studio has no cards, and the other class is attended mostly by neighborhood people who cannot afford or cannot commit to cards. Both are for real.

  3. breathingoutismile says:

    Sounds more like a cash-in-hand tax free bonus. Eek!

    Donation classes should be to benefit a named charity, surely? I like the idea of them because they make yoga available to people who might not otherwise be able to afford class passes but they will only build community if they benefit the community, e.g. the food bank. Keep chanting! jx

  4. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  5. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    Is it fair to use the word "donation" as an attempt to conceal the fact that you are really charging for your yoga or meditation classes? I say, nope! I have more respect for the teacher who is willing to charge out right than the one who hinds behind the veil of "dana." But I've been both.

  6. Tiffany says:

    I hold yoga classes by donation only.
    Someone gave me an aloe vera plant.
    Someone gave me some eggs.
    Some give me 5 euro.
    Some give me 20.
    Some say they will give the next time, and they never come back.
    It doesn't bother me at all.
    I take the class no matter what.
    I greet them with Namaste and a heart felt bow that we are one and the same.
    I make my living taking English classes.
    End of transmission.

  7. Karl Saliter Karl Saliter says:

    Great article! I love the busker waiting for his five spot before starting to play. Phillipe Petit used to do that in NY after his twin towers walk, btw, they would Fill his hat before he did a thing. Then after too.

    I’m the founder of a donation-based studio in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Our brochure says “Practice Yoga, Pay Whatever.” After class, the hotel gets half the cash, and the teacher keeps half. Our teachers range from certified last month to twenty-year pros.

    The owner of the hotel is a yogi, she wants yoga to happen in her space. Without that grace, we would be holding classes (shudder) on the beach.

    I am with you on the “donation” word being used too loosely. 15 bucks at the door is admission, not donation.

    Posting to

    Elephant Spirituality on Facebook.

  8. [...] Not everyone believes practicing at yoga studios has anything necessarily to do with yoga. “You’ve got to be kidding,” Ginny Walters, a Cleveland-area Ashtanga teacher said. “Maybe the studios are for the elite, but the practice is for everyone, money or no money.” Putting her pocketbook where her mouth is, Walters teaches many summer evening classes at a Rocky River city park overlooking Lake Erie, charging only a nominal fee. [...]

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