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December 6, 2013

Free Yoga Does Not Exist.

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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