I have been wanting to write about donation yoga for a while and haven’t been able to articulate what I want to say. It seems like a very straight-forward idea, people coming to practice and breathe together in an affordable way. The only thing that is discounted is the cost. Yet, here in Chicago people appear unimpressed with the notion.
When I opened Imagine, I really wanted to do a donation only studio. Doing yoga should not be unattainable, it should not be out of anyone’s price range. The first year of my practice I was lucky to only have to pay five dollars a class. I want people to be able to practice as often as they want without having to forfeit their rent. Of course, we have to be able to keep our doors open, but I optimistically hope that providing a space for people to better themselves both mentally and physically, the money will just fall into place.
My plan was to model our studio after my favorite yoga studio in the city, who basically made a duplicate model of their traditional studio only this location was donation only. I thought it was genius! Give people the same teachers, the same classes but let them pay what they can. How could this not work?
My favorite studio recently ended this experiment. It left me feeling very sad for the students who were able to take advantage of fabulous teachers sharing the gift of yoga to anyone who could chip in a few bucks. Donation yoga isn’t a new idea or even an original one. There are several studios all over the country who only have pay what you can yoga. And they are wildly successful. So why not here? What is it that turns people off?
At many studios in the city (including my favorite) you can walk in to a class with 60 eager yogis, all who paid full price. You walk in a donation class and there is maybe 10 eager yogis. It doesn’t seem to matter that it could be the same teacher teaching the packed to the gills class! So I ask again, what is it about donation yoga in Chicago that doesn’t work?
It could be that people associate donation with cheap and perhaps assume the class won’t be a quality class. Or maybe people like the idea of spending money. Or worse, some yogis may not want to practice with people who cannot afford to pay drop in fees. I hope that’s not the case. But who knows? I digress, this post isn’t about trying to delve into the collective psyche of Chicagoans.
A small idea finally started to form in my head after months of incessantly looking at studios such as Yoga to the People and Black Swan Yoga in Austin, Texas. And one day it came out in such an obvious way, I felt silly for my inner dueling of what they were doing and what we weren’t. It’s so plain and so simple.
Those studios are not running a traditional format. In every sense of the word. There are no levels, there are minimal class variations. The basic idea is, you show at the time class starts and you do yoga. That’s it. End of story. How could I have missed the most essential part of their formula? By forcing students to try and mold themselves into a certain level of practitioner or making them choose between the seemingly endless types of yoga, you are making it harder for them to just do yoga.
I don’t mean to say that I don’t respect different styles of yoga, I do, very much. But by giving the teacher license to teach in their style at their designated time, the student’s only responsibility is to find a class time that fits with their schedule. Cue the parades! I solved my mystery! I feel pretty excited to have stumbled upon this little gem.
So where does that leave us? Glad you asked. It may seem radical and it may seem crazy, but if you don’t take a risk or stay true to what you want, what’s the point? And what I want, as previously stated, is for as many people to do yoga at an affordable price. This isn’t the first time we’ve shaken up the schedule, but at last we found a way to move closer to the end goal of a donation studio. Starting on March 1, we are going to streamline our schedule and make it more accessible to the masses. I’m nervous, I’m excited and most of all quite intrigued to see how people react. By removing class labels and just advertising that we teach “yoga” I’m hoping those who are curious about starting to practice will feel less intimidated. By removing levels, I’m hoping that people can start to let go of ideas of being advanced or moving on to more difficult poses and be excited about what they can do today.
No one else in Chicago (that I know of) is doing this. So that at least makes us different. So Chicago, how about it? If you want to practice yoga in a great space with some awesome teachers, try us out. Come to a class labeled yoga. You’ll love it.