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It was the weeks following Hurricane Sandy, and the lack of electricity meant that most of the yoga studios in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan were dark, cold, and closed. But the Shala Yoga House on Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn stayed open. Dedicated students came to practice at the Ashtanga and Vinyasa studio owned by Barbara Verrochi and Kristin Leigh, not only to help stay warm but also to help raise money and offer supplies for those hurricane victims in need. Teachers Ashley Dorr and Brian Liem both led donation-based classes that week for the American Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. Along with another benefit class held on Thanksgiving, the studio raised $800.
“We had no heat or light,” says Dorr, “but the studio was still warm and we just generated a lot of heat with the practice.”
“It was exhilarating to get out of my electricity/water-less apartment and do something to help connect people,” adds Liem.
Three thousand miles away, in Los Angeles, Alex Dawson was also raising money for those who were affected by the storm. Dawson, who has, through yoga teaching, donated to causes such as breast cancer research, Haiti’s reconstruction, and the organization Save Darfur, teaches at the West Hollywood Equinox. In the days following the hurricane, the management at Equinox asked Dawson to teach a benefit class with fellow teacher Heather Dawn. In this well-heeled neighborhood, the suggested donation was $100 per person and, with a matching corporate donor, the studio raised $1,500 for the American Red Cross.
“One hundred dollars sounds like a lot of money, but if people shift their psychological bank, it really isn’t,” says Dawson, who said she was moved by the generosity of the eight students who showed up, and the donor who matched their contributions. “No one in LA lost work for a week.”
On Dec. 22, Seane Corn puts her prodigious energy behind a relief effort for Hurricane Sandy New Jersey victims with a benefit class and gift drive that will be streamed live from the Atlantic City Convention Center. The minimum donation is $25 and Corn will teach along with Fred DeVito, Elisabeth Halfpapp, and Beryl Bender Birch.
It’s not surprising that so many Hurricane Sandy benefit yoga classes have popped up all over the country. In recent years, there has been a trend toward karma yoga (selfless service), with more yogis feeling inspired to want to participate in and help our global community as an extension of their yoga practice. Studios regularly hold benefits for both international causes like AIDS prevention and ecological conservation, as well as local causes, like for teachers who fall into harm’s way.
Curious about creating a benefit yoga event in your own town? Here are some helpful tips for getting started.
If you are a studio owner: Find out if any teachers at your studio are active in raising money for causes or interested in doing so, and who will be enthusiastic enough about the event to promote it wildly. Remember: the main idea is to raise money.
If you are a teacher: Propose your idea to your studio manager with specific details, including a date, the amount you want to charge, and what the event will entail. Be sure to remind the manager that benefit events are good PR and have the potential to bring new students to the studio!
If you are a student: Inquire with your teacher and your local studio’s management if they’d be interested in doing a fundraiser. Both will be giving up their time and income to do so, so do some research to make sure your fellow students and community would support the effort. Help out with promotion, refreshments, or anything else that would share the work, then get out there and tell everyone you know to come!
If you work for a charity, and want a yoga studio to do a benefit for you: Research the studios in your area are see which ones are most open to hosting benefit events. Then, give them clear ideas of why you think it would be a good partnership, and what kind of publicity or shout-outs you might be able to offer them in return to help them build their business.
Choose a Cause
For a one-off benefit, there is often already an obvious and immediate cause, like Hurricane Sandy—or when Washington, DC studios came together to raise money for Michael J. Hall, a popular yoga teacher who was attacked in a hate crime. But you could also start a weekly donation-based class that contributes to a cause close to your heart. Martin Scott in San Francisco teaches one donation-based class a week for the organization Headstand at Union Yoga or a monthly series where the cause is different each month. If you are the one organizing the event or series, choose something you feel drawn to; your enthusiasm will show when you promote it.
Choose an Organization
You may know the cause, such as Hurricane Sandy, but do you donate to the Red Cross? Or to a local organization like Occupy Sandy or the Mayor’s Fund for Hurricane Sandy Relief? Research is your best tool. Ask people you trust, read the newspapers, and check out charity websites. Charity Navigator is a respected guide for rating charities. You’re taking your students’ money. You want to feel good about where you send it.
Choose an Amount
You can either set a price or ask for any contribution. The set price, of course, is going to help you reach a higher goal but may be unreachable for some who would like to help. Making the event a little extra special (with music, refreshments, a guest teacher or an extra long or themed class) might inspire people to pay more. And tell your students who can’t make the class that they are still welcome to donate.
There’s no point of a benefit if no one shows up, so promote it! Facebook, Twitter, blog posts, emails to your mailing lists, emails to personal friends, flyers and posters. Do what you need to do to get the word out.
You can collect cash and then simply donate the money yourself online, or you can ask people to bring checks and send those in for them (if they want a tax deduction, they should do this). After the even, make sure to let everyone know how much money you raised, so they feel good about having attended and making a difference.