Free Yoga Does Not Exist.

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I don’t believe in free yoga.

It doesn’t exist.

If it was truly free, it wouldn’t be worth anything and no one would attend. Someone donates the space to make the class possible. A teacher donates their time to facilitate the class. A participant offers their presence, and ideally their devoted studentship. That teacher has likely invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in their own education.

I am honored to hold in company with colleagues who have dedicated years of our lives to study of yoga, to our daily practice, to the sacrifices that have made the journey long and worthy.

Donation based yoga can be a potent, beautiful exchange, when properly honored. To do so, we look at our relationship to money and the nature energetic exchanges.

My relationship with money has been long, arduous and interesting.

I arrived in NYC after working on relief project in Indonesia post-tsunami in 2005. I was disgusted with capitalism, corporate America and all things U.S. currency related. I managed to make less than $7,000 the subsequent year, spend less than $5 a day on food, support myself through my first yoga teacher training, donate hundreds of hours to relief organizations and couch-surf a ton.

I was so proud of myself for living on so little and shunning materialism.

Looking back, I am grateful for the family and friends that supported me, the health insurance I took for granted and the generosity that was abundant in my life to make my choices possible. I was however, making energetic exchanges on a daily basis with my time and efforts. I don’t know if I can count the yoga blankets I folded or bathrooms I cleaned that as a work-study.

I burnt out after a few years of this.

I cried when no one showed up for a class because I was worried about bills.

I decided that ketchup on fries counted as a vegetable.

This is a circumstance that I alone created. How could I ever think to offer from my heart of hearts when I was so empty?

There was one major shifts that I made which have changed the game. I decided to look at how I thought about money. The three words that came up from my meditation? Dumb, annoying, scarce. And my relationship with money reflected this. I picked three new words and clung to them through thick and thin: easeful, spacious and abundant. Slowly, but surely a shift has occurred.

“It’s not having what you want, It’s wanting what you’ve got.”

~ Sheryl Crow

A few years ago, I made the jump to teaching full time. My most lucrative and well attended class ended up being the donation based one. I spoke at the beginning of each session about the value of yoga (a synopsis of this piece to say the least) and welcomed the donations that worked for my students: sometimes it was cash, sometimes it was a pound of coffee or honey.

It was the most satisfying class I have ever taught—as no one was turned away for lack of funds, I felt taken care of and was able to give from my heart in return.

Students: I ask you, to consider these circumstances when you walk through the door of a free/donation class.

If you don’t have time or money to donate, what can you give energetically to support your teachers? If it isn’t worth giving anything to you, then why are you walking through the door? We all have something to give that is unique and wonderful—figure out what it is and see what happens when you offer. Effusive gratitude does not fall on unappreciative ears, especially if you bring a friend to class

Teachers: If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else.

Do what you need to do to take care of yourself first. “You yourself more than anyone else in the world deserves your love and affection.” If you are a generous, nurturing, kind person—then don’t you too deserve this in your life from your students, colleagues and employers? Figure out what your value is and then ask for it. Trust me, please try this and just ask.

So what is yoga worth to you?

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Pixoto.}

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Deven Sisler

Deven Sisler, an evolution junkie, E-RYT- 200, is a certifed Hatha Vinyasa Yoga, AcroYoga and CircusYoga Teacher, known for her joyful, playful approach to partnership and collaboration, and her articulate teaching. She has trained in Thai Yoga Massage at the New England School for Thai Yoga and in Thailand. An outdoor enthusiast she weaves her experience and on and off the mat into creative, relaxing and inspiring classes internationally. She offers a holistic approach to exploring biomechanics and the subtle body through movement. She spends her free time in the mountains, at the beach, in the ocean, at a local Farmer’s Market or in the woods.

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anonymous Dec 10, 2013 11:45pm

Satyam,

This is certainly one perspective. I thank you for taking the time to reply and sharing. And i disagree that no one can teach or lead you to helping finding your yoga. i am on the path that i am to a calmer, more whole version of myself because of the teachers i have enountered. i am curious to know more about the free sources you reference.

anonymous Dec 10, 2013 10:39am

Yoga is life. By it’s very definition it is simply living in the moment. Another understanding is cession of thoughts. No one can teach you this. Yoga is life it is not computer science or auto mechanics, it is your discovery of your very being. Yoga is not something that can be practiced it is simply that which you either live or not. No one can live anybody else’s yoga it is totally individual. Certified yoga teacher trainings are a scam, everything to know about yoga you can get for free from multiple sources, it’s simply a question of living life as yoga.

anonymous Dec 10, 2013 7:52am

Yes!a mutually beneficial relationship is where we can sustain in truth & light… Thank you for sharing!

    anonymous Dec 10, 2013 11:40pm

    Thank you for reading & being inspired!

anonymous Dec 8, 2013 9:40am

I have been teaching a donation only class every Monday nite for the last four years. When I made the investment in myself to take teacher training, I didn't do it to make a living. I have another profession, so making a living is not an issue for me. I know I am lucky to be in the place iI am in my life. My goal in taking teacher training was to offer this class, for as long as I could find a place that would support this vision and that I have students that would come. I purchased blankets, mats, straps and bricks, which are the backseat of my car. All donations go to the church that graciously offers their space each week for us to practice. I consistently have been 13-20 students. Not all donate, I am sure, only as they can. This class is precious to me even on the days I am beat from a 12 hour day at work before I teach. And you are right! It is not free. I donate my time, the cost of my education and the supplies. It is what I have been called to do and it is a privilege.

    anonymous Dec 9, 2013 6:51pm

    Thank you for sharing this, it is so wonderful that it works for you and it sounds like your teaching offering fuels you as much as it fuels your students. What a beautiful circle!

anonymous Dec 6, 2013 10:23am

Thank you! Students and teachers need to hear this.

anonymous Dec 6, 2013 9:20am

"Suggested donation" classes that name an amount or a sliding-gradation/ballpark area of amounts, rather than straight donation classes, are not the worst thing in the world to a truly budget-oriented student. They keep the more seasoned yoga teachers (I will not say – necessarily "better" or "certified" or "more properly trained" yoga teachers – those are judgment calls and could be quite subjective) teaching.

This seems to be a workable model, and imho, does not force the issue. If you really want "free" or lowest-cost yoga, it's always available from your nearest YouTube playlist, etc. … I do not think it's such a good idea anymore to hit up a commercial retail athleticwear store for that purpose … assuming one wants to learn something in the right environment — and learn it well …

    anonymous Dec 6, 2013 10:12am

    Thank you for the feedback!

    Suggested donation are great– and I would also say sometimes limiting on either end of the spectrum. I have received feedback that "putting a cap on it" discouraged people from actually giving more (which they have). And we are so accustomed to a price being a price that unless there is conext I have seen people avoid a suggested donation they couldn't afford. In the end, I think it is about creating a community culture that understands the "WHY" behind the offering.

      anonymous Dec 6, 2013 12:02pm

      I've seen commercial yoga teachers being offered a tip, after class was over. Now, I wouldn't do it, myself. And if I were the teacher, I would consider it a little demeaning. More so now that I've extricated myself from that scene and practice practically totally at home, and feel at quite a desirable (for me, YMMV) remove from the situation. There is a reason you tip the beautician, the shoeshine person and the waitstaff. No reason to tip the yoga teacher or studio owner.

      I am CERTAINLY NOT of the tipping category of students, for pragmatic reasons as well; so it's been suggested to me I go to Yoga to the People. Assembly-line, mega-class-size donation yoga classes? No, thank you.