Should Yoga be Free?
This topic has been rattling around my brain for a while now, but I hadn't put it down on paper. Well, on my laptop.
Traditionally, yoga was passed down from student to teacher. It was a free, one-to-one experience where the participants survived off of alms (donated food) from people in the local villages and would live in monasteries or roam free, living in woods and caves. Clearly, a lot has changed.
The way that people experience yoga today is drastically different. In lots of studios, a yoga class, of up to 30 people, costs £15 a session, even in smaller towns. This is pretty far away from a free one-to-one devotional teaching style. But then again, the environment yoga is being taught in has changed a fair bit too.
Is it wrong to charge for yoga if it is meant to be taught for free? Does it neglect the roots of yoga to charge for it?
Almost every yoga teacher you meet will tell you that the reason they teach yoga is that their yoga practice has changed their life. I am one of those teachers myself. The reason I teach yoga is that it would feel selfish to not share a practice that has made such an incredible difference to my quality of life. It is an honour to be able to share it and a gift.
Is it wrong to ask for money for a gift you love to share?
A perspective raised in the podcast Yoga is Dead (which came out a few years ago now but if you haven’t listened to it you absolutely should) is that what people actually pay for when they pay for a yoga class is convenience. Yes, if you travel to India, hike up a mountain, and dedicate your life to the practice you can be taught yoga for free, but not many people are willing to make this commitment. Instead, you can pay for the convenience of not having to do that, and experience yoga in a town hall just down the road. There is definitely a lot of truth in this. The practicality of the world we live in just doesn’t allow for things to come for free. Although I do not have to be self-sufficient at the moment (thank you mum and dad!), every minute I’m teaching yoga, planning a yoga class, advertising, answering emails, posting on social media, updating my website and all the other time-consuming things that come with being a yoga teacher in the modern world, I’m not doing another job. Who could have time to teach yoga at all if they weren’t able to survive off it? If there are to be any yoga teachers in the West, they have to be paid for their time and skill.
However, this does not suitably answer why a practice that teaches Asteya (non-stealing) and Aparigraha (non-attachment) amongst its most important principles has become a multi-million dollar industry, with the Pilates and Yoga Industries estimated at having a revenue of over £926 million in 2020.
Additionally, charging for yoga classes, depending on the price, makes yoga inaccessible to some people. The high prices of yoga classes reinforce class and cultural divides that permeate into people’s real lives; it’s only those who have the time and money that have been able to hop on the self-care trend. When classes are expensive, a huge number of people are stopped from being able to access yoga, from being able to learn this practise that has changed so many people’s lives. Surely it’s the people that can’t afford yoga, that experience the biggest hardships, that ought to have access to it?
I find these ideas sit uncomfortably with me. Acquiring wealth is so against everything that yoga teaches, and yet is the only way to survive. I wish I could teach yoga for free, but nothing else is free. Does charging too little for my classes mean I don’t value what I do? To me yoga is priceless, but I have to put a price on it. I wish I could share yoga with everyone for free but in a way that the practice and my skill at teaching it are valued, but in this world free and worthless seem to be synonymous.
I try to make my prices as little as is reasonably possible without making a loss, and without devaluing my abilities in comparison to other teachers’, sometimes frankly extortionate, prices.
The perils of capitalism and the Wellness industry are perhaps a discussion for another time, but I wanted to share some fragments of discussion and thoughts on this topic because it’s important that we question the way things are and the way things should be.
Should yoga be free? In a word, yes.
Can yoga be free? In some places, yes. In the western world, no.
As always, I would love you to share your thoughts, either below or message me.