Yoga to the People is not like most yoga studios. It doesn't take credit cards. Students don't sign waivers. There are no 10-class passes, and no class levels. It's all part of Greg Gumucio's desire to remove the obstacles that keep people from experiencing the benefits of having a regular yoga practice.
After owning several hot yoga studios in Seattle, Gumucio saw that the high cost of regular yoga classes was pricing out potential students. Inspired by Power Yoga teacher Bryan Kest, whose popular studios in Santa Monica, California, have been providing donation-based yoga for more than a decade, Gumucio opened Yoga to the People in Manhattan's East Village in 2006. The donation-supported studio offers power vinyasa flow classes to all who walk through its doors, regardless of their ability to pay. Despite the unorthodox business plan, the donation-based classes have been a success: As many as 500 students a day practice at the New York location, and Gumucio opened a second location in Berkeley, California, last year.
The simple model frees Gumucio to focus on teaching, and he has found that it has a profound impact on the students. "With the donation-based model, people are so grateful for the space; they're in this state of gratitude, and it really changes their relationship to the studio," Gumucio says.
Classes are undeniably crowded at Yoga to the People, but Gumucio believes that the more, the merrier. While the students don't get the kind of personal attention from a teacher that they might in a more intimate setting, practicing in a large, varied group has its benefits. "With every level in one class," says Gumucio, "students can look around the room and see how a pose progresses." In addition, big classes teach students how to find their focus amid distractions. "There's this level of chaos—you've got people breathing next to you and the music playing—and we are continually inviting people to find peace in the midst of that chaos. If you can find it there, you can find it anywhere."
A populist approach is a key part of the model, and Gumucio insists that the success of Yoga to the People is not about him, but about being in the right place at the right time to help supply the overwhelming need for accessible yoga. Gumucio wants students to come to class because they love yoga, not a specific teacher. "I've seen people lose a teacher and then give up their practice and the sense of community they had," he says. For that reason, class schedules at Yoga to the People never include the instructors' names.
"There's a lot of personality branding in yoga, which I'm not against, but I think there's another way of being, where everyone feels a sense of ownership of a studio and everyone feels like a part of the experience. This formula really speaks to something powerful in people."