Priced Out Of Yoga?

Neal Pollack is feeling the pinch from the rising cost of yoga.
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Neal Pollack is feeling the pinch from the rising cost of yoga.

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One morning last week I went to the place where I practice yoga most often, and saw a sign that I'd long dreaded. Starting July 1, the gym was raising the price of its "community" classes from $7 to $10. You could also buy a 10-class pack for $80.

I'd known that the $7 class was too good to last. Those are 1995 yoga prices. And ten bucks for a yoga class isn't exactly larceny. I can afford that, too. But multiply the three-dollar increase by ten, which is about how many times I go to that gym a month, and suddenly you're looking at a tangible change in my monthly budget.

But the real issue here isn't my genetically parsimonious nature. Either I've got $10 to spare on a Tuesday morning or I don't, and that's my own problem. Instead, it's something that most of us face every day in our practices.

Yoga is too expensive.

Classes at the top studios run $16 or $17 for drop-ins. In big cities, the $20 class is pretty common. I once paid $25 for a "master" class in New York City. Even if you go exclusively to donation-based studios—which generally means crowded, sweaty, impersonal classes, often taught by substitutes or trainees—you could still easily spend $100 a month on yoga. Day-long workshops run anywhere from $60 to $150, and weekend ones cost more than that. There are $800 conferences, $4,000 teacher trainings, and $1,500 retreats, not to mention clothing and mats to buy. Suddenly, you're looking at a lifestyle that no one but the quite well-off can really sustain.

I know the reasons are many. When practiced consistently, patiently, and well, yoga makes you feel better than anything else does. So, naturally, people want more. In a capitalist society, institutions will arise to profit from that desire. The corporations, moguls, and rock-star teachers who make millions off yoga are just working the system as best they can.

On a lower level, you have your neighborhood studios that are just trying to pay their bills. Yoga studios don't tend to operate in low-rent areas. So they have to charge more. Some of them profit-share with their grunt yoga teachers better than others. Regardless, many teachers, at least the ones who are actually trying to do it for a living, end up working way too hard, offering too many classes while neglecting their own practices and forgetting the delightful reasons they took up yoga in the first place. I've seen it happen many times.

At the bottom of the food chain are the students, hungry for enlightenment or exercise or an end to back pain. Sometimes, they just need an excuse to nap in public. Especially when you're first starting your practice, the benefits outweigh any costs.

Eventually, though, paying for yoga becomes like filling up your gas tank. It's something you incur because it gets you where you need to go. However, unlike gas, the true teachings of yoga, at least the philosophical ones, always have been and always should be free. Exercise classes are one thing. But we should all be ashamed of abetting a system where so many people get priced out of the core principles. Tranquility of mind, the ability to let go of attachments, a feeling of empathy toward all things: these should be as cheaply absorbed as fresh mountain air.

I'm as guilty as anyone else. My yoga memoir retails for $9.99 on the Kindle store. I've made a few hundred bucks here and there teaching workshops. We've all got to get paid. Yoga isn't going to be free anytime soon. But maybe it should be.

Meanwhile, I submitted a comment card to the gym that was raising its prices. They sent me an email offering me two complimentary classes. That should get me through this weekend. Then I'm just going to have to start practicing at home. I've got the training and the knowledge, and I need to stop being lazy. When you practice alone, it's always free.