I was recently contacted by a journalist in NYC who was working on an article about Yoga To the People and donation-based yoga. I teach several weekly “pay-what-you-wish” hatha yoga classes in Montréal, on a volunteer basis, and I have a strong belief in the practice. I responded with an enthusiastic email, and here are the pieces that made it into the final article:

Donation-based yoga sits within a mesh of cultural movements such as slow-food and simple living that emphasize community over pseudo-individualistic brand-identification, simplicity over complication, and frugality over excess. Canadian yoga writer and instructor Roseanne Harvey started teaching a donation-based yoga class at a local community mission in 2007. “I saw that yoga was presented with very little diversity: the predominant images were of white, fit women between the ages of 25 and 35. So I wanted to offer an alternative to the dominant cultural story.”

Harvey, who writes a yoga blog, says a second, pay-what-you-wish class attracts more students and artists. “I was just responding to something that I saw around me. I follow and am familiar with the slow food and simple living movements, though I’m more influenced by the anti-consumerism and DIY movements.” [via Otherground NY]

As I told the journalist, I love the idea of donation-based yoga tying in with cultural movements such as slow food and simple living. It’s clear that donation-based yoga is not in line with the way that yoga is marketed and presented in our culture, and it may not have appeal to mainstream yoga practitioners (especially since yoga seems to have become almost a status symbol associated with an affluent, white demographic). I also feel that yoga has a lot to offer people who are trying to live more simple and conscious lives ~ it has a subtle awareness-enhancing effect on people. Practicing yoga also provides a common experience for people and encourages communities to grow.

I offer donation-based classes in my community for a number of reasons. When I first moved to Montréal, I saw that there were very few affordable yoga classes in my neighbourhood (classes average between $15 and $20). As well, because I worked at a yoga magazine and had plenty of exposure to yoga advertising and media, I saw that yoga was presented with very little diversity: the predominant images were of white, fit women between the ages of 25 and 35.

So I wanted to offer an alternative to the dominant cultural story. I wanted to offer classes that anyone could come to, without feeling pressure to pay or have a certain kind of clothing or way of looking. In 2007, I started a Monday evening yoga class at the Mile End Mission. A group of women, mission clientele who would never feel comfortable walking into a regular yoga studio, started coming and they’ve been coming ever since. This weekly yoga class offers them a little solace and it is a gift to teach them.

I also teach a weekly pay-what-you-wish class (I prefer that terminology to “donation-based,” it sounds more active or engaged) at rad’a, a community yoga studio in the former ascent magazine office building. It’s a different demographic from the mission class because I’m offering it in a different space. The practitioners are young, college age or just working; many of them are students or activists or artists.

My wish is that donation-based/pay-what-you-wish yoga will catch on and become the next big yoga movement. While I’m not opposed to conventional yoga studios, and I don’t believe that all classes should be free (there’s nothing wrong with trying to make a living as a yoga teacher, and I know many teachers who have invested thousands of dollars in their training and studying). But I believe there should be options, and that all people, regardless of age, physical ability or body type, should have access to the power of yoga. Affordable classes in a diverse range of community locations would allow for this to manifest.

See also: the gifts of pay-what-you-can yoga, slate.com: yoga do-gooders starting to get mainstream acceptance.