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Why I Teach Yoga By Donation.

I believe that yoga should be available to everyone and that everyone can discover a mindfulness practice that is suitable for their body and their life.

Here are the top three reasons why I choose to teach by donation.

Everyone deserves yoga.

I spend a fair amount of time and energy persuading people to practice yoga and mindfulness, through my writings and conversations.

As an instructor, I aim to make my class accessible to practitioners with all levels of experience—and all sizes of budget.

Most standard yoga studio prices are expensive—prohibitively expensive for many people. And even though most of it is unnecessary, yoga gear (clothes, mats, props) can also be outrageously pricey.

When I started out teaching in 2002, I had a moral conflict with charging a set fee for yoga. I felt that yoga should be free. I taught and often got zero donations. I quit teaching by donation and had a set rate. Years later, when I had the financial freedom to do so, I went back to teaching by donation only.

I am a lazy accountant.

I’m just not into finances. This got me into a lot of trouble in my 20s when I let my credit card balances get way out of hand, but fortunately I am credit card debt free after learning that lesson the hard way.

I’m lucky to be in a place now where I can accept donations and not worry about exact accounting.

To be clear, donation-based yoga is not free yoga. I post a suggested amount for each class or workshop that I teach; some people pay more, others pay less.

Sometimes people pay me up front for four or five classes at once; other times they don’t have any cash, so they pay me double the following week. I don’t keep track of who pays what. I’ve accepted offerings of food and plants in lieu of cash and have occasionally bartered yoga classes for photography and other services.

Free yoga, too, is a great thing.

The classes I’ve offered to women and teens on a volunteer basis have been some of the most meaningful to me as a teacher and inspirational for the students, like the 40 year old women who looked 70 due to an unimaginably tough life lived in poverty but giggled in cat-cow and snored in savasana. Or the young teenage mothers who had been involved in human trafficking but had found a safe place and learned a way of calming and balancing their emotions through yoga.

It’s not my only job.

I teach yoga because I love it.

I earn income as a part-time school teacher and a writer. Yoga money is a bonus. If I were teaching yoga full-time, I might only offer certain classes by donation in order to make ends meet.

In an ideal world, all yoga would be taught by donation and all teachers would receive plentiful donations that would enable their right livelihood.

Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world. It’s not my intention to judge teachers who do charge a set fee for their services.

The key question is: how can we continue to make these invaluable, practical yoga teachings more accessible to more people who’ve never before had the opportunity?

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Image; HowardLake/Flickr

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P.J. Wallace Jan 29, 2014 12:24pm

I think it is wonderful that people teach by donation, much as my dharma and meditation teachers have over the years.It is standard practice for many in India and budhist traditions. It is understood in these situations that you only give what you can afford. For those who can't attend classes, Anmohl Mehta has lots of youtube classes for free. He also has classes for yoga teacher training and certification for those who feel called but aren't able to attend classes in person or prefer to do them online. http://yogateach.net for more information on his teacher training classes.
In defense of those who charge, not everyone can afford to give classes this way and I respect them for choosing to make Yoga their business. I think there is room for all.

yogibattle Jan 19, 2014 6:41pm

I have been teaching a "love offering" class for 10 years at my local Unity Church. The nice side effect of that is that many of my original students have stayed with me and continue to practice today. They stuck with me through my life's up and downs, through my surgery, and through my rigorous 4 year Iyengar certification process. Although at times it is frustrating to see what the Lululemon Johnny come latelys are doing to corrupt the practice, I know in my heart that once yoga as a fad fades out, so will they. My students and I will remain. As a side note, the magic formula for me is to have a career job on the outside, so I am not concerned about whether students come or not or how much they donate. Unity Church has been extremely supportive, and I wind up just giving them most of the money from classes without asking for my cut.

David Dec 29, 2013 8:22pm

I have a problem with calling yoga classes without a set fee donation classes. And granted this is semantics, but I think that a donation is giving something without any expectation of something in return. Like when you donate blood, or donate money to a charity. I personally think (and have called classes I have taught) that the term sliding scale is a better term. I think that some times the term "donation class" is used to make people feel like they are doing something charitable, or gives the studio/teacher offering the class a percieved higher morale ground than those "other" studio that charge a set fee.

A mistake in hindsight in my own experience was teaching yoga classes for free. When I give my energy to others without accepting anything back it creates a karmic imbalance. It also devalues what I offer. Thats not to say that everyone should necessarily pay $20(!) a class, and I think a sliding scale based offering is a good thing. I just don't think it should be called donation.

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Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a heart-centered writer, teacher and creator of Yoga Freedom.

She has been a columnist on Elephant Journal since 2010 and has self-published inspiring books. She incorporates dharma, hatha, yin, mindfulness, chakras, chanting and pranayama into her teachings and practice. A former advertising copywriter and elementary school teacher, she is now a freelance writer and translator. Michelle learned yoga from a book at age 12 and started teaching at 22. She met the Buddha in California at 23 and has been a student of the dharma ever since. Michelle is now approaching her forties with grace and gratitude.

Join Michelle for a writing and yoga retreat this summer at magical Lake Atitlan in the western highlands of Guatemala! https://yogafreedom.org/group-retreats/