donation-based yoga: subversive & awesome

I was recently contacted by a journalist in NYC who was working on an article about Yoga To the People and donation-based yoga. I teach several weekly “pay-what-you-wish” hatha yoga classes in Montréal, on a volunteer basis, and I have a strong belief in the practice. I responded with an enthusiastic email, and here are the pieces that made it into the final article:

Donation-based yoga sits within a mesh of cultural movements such as slow-food and simple living that emphasize community over pseudo-individualistic brand-identification, simplicity over complication, and frugality over excess. Canadian yoga writer and instructor Roseanne Harvey started teaching a donation-based yoga class at a local community mission in 2007. “I saw that yoga was presented with very little diversity: the predominant images were of white, fit women between the ages of 25 and 35. So I wanted to offer an alternative to the dominant cultural story.”

Harvey, who writes a yoga blog, says a second, pay-what-you-wish class attracts more students and artists. “I was just responding to something that I saw around me. I follow and am familiar with the slow food and simple living movements, though I’m more influenced by the anti-consumerism and DIY movements.” [via Otherground NY]

As I told the journalist, I love the idea of donation-based yoga tying in with cultural movements such as slow food and simple living. It’s clear that donation-based yoga is not in line with the way that yoga is marketed and presented in our culture, and it may not have appeal to mainstream yoga practitioners (especially since yoga seems to have become almost a status symbol associated with an affluent, white demographic). I also feel that yoga has a lot to offer people who are trying to live more simple and conscious lives ~ it has a subtle awareness-enhancing effect on people. Practicing yoga also provides a common experience for people and encourages communities to grow.

I offer donation-based classes in my community for a number of reasons. When I first moved to Montréal, I saw that there were very few affordable yoga classes in my neighbourhood (classes average between $15 and $20). As well, because I worked at a yoga magazine and had plenty of exposure to yoga advertising and media, I saw that yoga was presented with very little diversity: the predominant images were of white, fit women between the ages of 25 and 35.

So I wanted to offer an alternative to the dominant cultural story. I wanted to offer classes that anyone could come to, without feeling pressure to pay or have a certain kind of clothing or way of looking. In 2007, I started a Monday evening yoga class at the Mile End Mission. A group of women, mission clientele who would never feel comfortable walking into a regular yoga studio, started coming and they’ve been coming ever since. This weekly yoga class offers them a little solace and it is a gift to teach them.

I also teach a weekly pay-what-you-wish class (I prefer that terminology to “donation-based,” it sounds more active or engaged) at rad’a, a community yoga studio in the former ascent magazine office building. It’s a different demographic from the mission class because I’m offering it in a different space. The practitioners are young, college age or just working; many of them are students or activists or artists.

My wish is that donation-based/pay-what-you-wish yoga will catch on and become the next big yoga movement. While I’m not opposed to conventional yoga studios, and I don’t believe that all classes should be free (there’s nothing wrong with trying to make a living as a yoga teacher, and I know many teachers who have invested thousands of dollars in their training and studying). But I believe there should be options, and that all people, regardless of age, physical ability or body type, should have access to the power of yoga. Affordable classes in a diverse range of community locations would allow for this to manifest.

See also: the gifts of pay-what-you-can yoga, yoga do-gooders starting to get mainstream acceptance.

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pay it forward & then take it slow

  1. I think this is totally awesome. Thank you so much for doing what you do and, like you, I really hope this catches on. Kudos to the writer, too.



  2. I have been wishing for a by donation class in halifax for a long time. there are community and karma classes- but really i would like to pay the STUDIO to show my support… whether it be 10$ one week, or 15$ the next…. without sacrificing quality of classes.

    awesome article- you said it so beautifully.

  3. I think pay-what-you-wish is INCREDIBLE and I hope to be able to do this : ) Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. Cool article. I am proud of you for what you bring to yoga, and to Montreal! Very happy you ended up in this city 🙂

  5. I wonder if there is a class like this in TO anywhere…this is a really great idea.

  6. Thanks Roseanne. You are truly putting your actions where your mouth is. Are you listening A-Listers? 🙂

  7. Love this article. It makes me feel good whenever I read about Yoga being enjoyed by a greater variety of people.

    Bob Weisenberg

  8. Yes m’am! I am so over the scrawny, bendy yogini image that scares many students away. Good for you for finding space and making time to offer yoga to everyone. A beautiful thing!

  9. I love your verbalization of this hopefully rising phenomenon. I agree that yoga has become a dominantly affluent, white practice and to make the practice yogic and karmic at heart there is a need to broaden the breadth and community of yoga so that everyone can partake in some way. I am excited by more talk of this as well as this article touching on this important practice of karmic yogic teaching.

    I am also hopeful the more yoga nonprofits I see with programming I have worked on and continue to collaborate on with an organization dear to my heart called Kula for Karma ( as well as others like it nation wide who aspire to bring yoga to people in less fortunate circumstances–be they trauma survivors, incarcerated persons, recovering addicts, people recovering from eating disorders, torture and sexual abuse survivors, people with mental health issues, children with adjustment issues, foster children and adoptees…the list could go on!

    Thanks so much for writing on this and lending your expertise and passion to that article!

    Teresa at

    • That is amazing work, Teresa. Thanks for sharing!

      I’m so glad that people are inspired by this article and this new evolution of yoga. The only way for donation-based yoga to become an actual movement is to continue the dialogue. Keep talking, blogging, thinking about it, and the word will start to get out…

  10. I teach at a donation-based yoga studio in Charleston, SC. Soon we will be celebrating our first year anniversary. The time has completely flown by us all! We use the space to share, grow (within ourselves and in the beautiful garden outside), laugh, and love. The people who have entered the doors generally return because we offer a variety of classes and instructors who have a close bond, common interests, and big hearts who want to extend our gratitude with those that choose to come to class. For anyone considering it, I encourage anyone to move forward with this type of studio. The experiences are incredibly rewarding and without a doubt humbling.

    Continue sharing your light. The more you do, the brighter it gets.

  11. Since January I’ve been volunteer teaching a yoga class once a week to inpatients at the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH) here in Toronto. Many of the clients would probably feel intimidated, not `fit-in` or feel uncomfortable in the average studio environment. I love teaching them – I come away feeling so grateful after each class. The coordinator said it was hard to find volunteer yoga teachers – I was kind of surprised considering the number of teachers in this city… they don’t know what they’re missing!
    There is a Toronto studio – Starving Artist Yoga – they regularly offer series of classes in the $10 range I think (haven`t checked it out personally) … they are on FB and have a website.

    • thanks for sharing, graig! i’m also surprised to hear that the CAMH had trouble finding volunteer teachers… interesting. i am definitely familiar with Starving Artist Yoga in TO ~ my friend julie is behind that amazing project. here is her website:

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