Yoga is priceless, and yet it has a price. Ask any serious practitioner what yoga is worth, and they will not be able to come up with a number large enough; how could they, it has, for the most part, changed their lives. However, every day we are confronted with the reality that it most definitely has a cost. I am not here to say that all yoga studios should be free, teachers need bread on their table (often gluten free organic and non-GMO) and a roof over their heads just like everyone else, but how can we reconcile the spiritual with the material?
For the last year I have been the Executive Director of Karma Teachers, a not-for-profit yoga studio that offers all of our classes for free or by donation. We have no minimum donation and no mandatory karmic exchange, all we ask is that you give what you can at this moment. We have never, and will never turn someone away due to financial limitations. Our studio is located in a back alley of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, one of the poorest neigbourhoods in Canada. By all intents and purposes we should have closed down. Yet our doors stay open, not because we place a price on yoga, but because we see no limit to its value.
I write this statement not because I think our model is the way it should be, quite the contrary, our model simply works for us; it is not the way yoga should be offered, it is not the best way to offer yoga, it is not the only way, it is just our way. We do not expect each student to be the same, so why should every studio be the same? In Vancouver, we are truly blessed with so many different types of yoga studios, whatever you need you can find. We have gorgeous spaces with infrared saunas, we have studios that can fit no more than 10 people and studios that can fit over 100. There are multinational chains with set classes, and experimental spaces that can only be found in Vancouver. Just as our city has many faces, yoga too must have many faces. But what is it that unites us all in our differences? Yoga unites us, no matter the external form with which it is practiced, the underlying truth remains the same.
I will make a bold generalization when I say yoga has affected a positive change in every teachers’ life. It was the messenger that facilitated a shift in their life and provided the tools for them to heal. Why else do they teach, why else do they practice? Consequently, most teachers are ready to share their love of yoga and selflessly give back for a cause, say the tragic events in Nepal. What a beautiful thing for our community to come together to support and share our love and abundance. Recently many studios and teachers were able to selflessly organize beautiful fund raising events to alleviate the suffering of this tragedy, and I applaud them all from the bottom of my heart.
Enter free yoga. There are many teachers who are allergic to this phrase. It is seen as a devaluing of what we collectively offer. Yet, if it is for a cause then we can offer our services for free to raise funds. What if we shifted our collective perspective and saw Yoga as our cause. What if we saw Yoga as priceless? Look around you and tell me the people in this city do not suffer. Tell me there is no trauma, tell me there is no pain, and tell me there is no deprivation of the human psyche. What if our cause was to alleviate suffering at home, in the people around us? We live in abundance, those of us that are lucky enough to practice, that have forged the path to change in our lives. Let’s share our spiritual wealth. Vancouver is a Mecca of yoga in Canada, and North America. Our population is tiny compared to some American cities, say New York, yet the number of practitioners, the depth of our practice and the diversity of the teachings is mind blowing. Change cannot and will not start outside of ourselves.
I have taught all around our beautiful city, I have taught in studios, schools, gyms and community centres, but I have never seen such a diverse demographic as at Karma Teachers. Why, because we have no price to our practice. We have been asked: how do we know we are serving the right population? We know they are the right people because they come to our space. We have practitioners that have never been able to donate in any traditional way, but contribute solely with the means available to them, their awareness and presence. We have practitioners that donate $100 for a class and everyone in between. This is our community, every studio has its own beautiful vibrant community. Let’s open our doors to the world.
Think back to when you began yoga, to the darkness that your world inhabited, to the paths that you have walked, to the darkness that still lies ahead. Think to the helping hand, that beautiful voice that reached into you and showed a wondrous door that you could walk through. Now imagine that this door was never shown because you couldn’t afford to pay, because $5 for a class was too much.
Large corporations are able to sponsor free yoga when it helps them promote their brand, a teacher or a cause. Why can’t we as teachers, students and studios offer free, no strings attached yoga? In the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2 verse 47 yoga is explained as the non-attachment to the fruits of our labour. It is the joy in offering our teachings for the sake of the teachings themselves. I invite you, whether you practice yoga, teach yoga or have never even considered yoga until now, to examine your life and find one thing that you can do that lets go of any need for validation, any need for success or fear of failure, and comes simply form your heart. The most priceless gift I have ever been given is the smile of a stranger. In their eyes, in their smile Namaste is explained. In that gift, yoga is explained.
I ask this examination not to wag my finger or to tell anyone that they need to change. I love everyone in our yoga community. Every day I am reminded of my gratitude for all the beautiful souls that make this journey possible and enliven these lessons. I ask because I know that together we are stronger, together we can create a new paradigm, we can walk our talk and embody the teachings of yoga. Please come see what we do, please come see the power of our abundance and the transformative effect that it has on our lives.