My practice “grew up” in crunchy, donation-based studios, and it only made sense for me to start teaching at the place that’s grown to be my home base for years, now: Bryan Kest Power Yoga.
Donation-based classes are amazing, and I still swear that there’s nothing like the group energy of a donation-based class. There’s little show, little ego, just a straight-up “My body and mind need this today” vibe. From everyone.
In many studios, teaching donation-based yoga means that you pay rent on your class times at the beginning of the month, and the price point for your class depends on how popular your slot is. For example, rent on a 5AM Tuesday class might be less expensive than an 11AM Sunday class, but 11AM Sunday will likely pull more students.
To put it in perspective, let’s use clean, fake numbers: pretend a 5AM class rent is 20 bucks, and an 11AM class is 60 bucks. Three 5AM classes a week = $240/month, Three 11AM classes a week = $720/month.
So, you can see there’s a risk/reward ratio that needs to be gently calculated when picking up classes, and I was cautioned by a friend or two that most teachers will lose money in their first year — the build can be slow for a newbie in town. And by “town”, I mean West LA — which is the most insanely competitive market for yoga teachers in the country. *insert eye roll here…but we’ll talk about that another day.*
I was lucky — I’ve had great weeks in my first year. Even when classes have been smaller, students are sweet, warm, caring…all of the stuff you hope for in a student base. But I’ve also had a few really, really shitty weeks — weeks where i’ve hemorrhaged rent money, or scraped by so closely that I’ve made juuuust enough to cover my class time.
Those weeks were tough. I was never in it for the money, but seeing your checking account dwindle by the hundreds is far from encouraging, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t wonder if I should drop it altogether. I’d get frustrated, stressed, sad — hell, even angry — that it all felt so hard.
But during one of those really tough weeks, something kind of amazing happened.
I was reminded why donation yoga is so cool. One morning last fall, a girl, probably my age, definitely homeless, was sitting outside the studio by herself at around 530AM.⠀
I was just like …what’s up? you wanna come to class?
Her immediate reaction was “I would, but I don’t have any money. I don’t even have a place to live right now, really.”
Very rarely are you able to answer a statement like that with “It’s fine, dude! It’s free.” I grabbed her a mat, she hung out in the corner and flowed along with us for a little while. She wasn’t going to steal, she wasn’t going to cause a problem…she just needed a safe space for a couple of hours to clear her mind.
She didn’t stay for the whole class, but what really rocked me was what I realized after: she had left two dollars as a donation.
I wish I could have caught her and made her take her money back. There’s that old saying — those who have the least give the most — or something to that effect…and man, in that moment I understood it more than ever. It was just a pure, totally humbling act of gratitude. Forget about whatever we did on the mat that day (I sure as hell can’t remember)…her attitude was yoga, through and through.
TLDR? Teaching donation yoga can be really hard sometimes, but it can also be really cool. That moment was a much-needed reminder of why it’s so damn important.