ARTICLE: February 2006, Donation-Based Yoga
COME ONE AND ALL
Find your breath at donation-based yoga
By Amanda Davidson
An optometrist-cum-nomad, a life coach, a photographer, and a yearling yoga teacher stand in a disheveled semicircle, grinning. We've just taken Jonathan Reynolds's Meditation Vinyasa class at Yoga Mob, a new yoga studio operating as a sort of speakeasy out of a Mission District artists' warehouse. Everyone is sweaty and happy and emanating that high-on-endorphins glow that follows a great class. Another reason for our contentment? We've all paid only what we could afford. No questions asked.
Get ready to stretch! Donation-based yoga has arrived.
A few days after that Yoga Mob class, I catch up with Reynolds and fellow donation-yoga movers-and-shakers Catherine Levy, Jaime Lindsay, and Steve De Cosse to discuss the emerging movement.
With nothing but a small sign taped up outside the front door, Yoga Mob is not a typical yoga studio. Stepping off the noisy street into the warehouse feels like entering a combination home, art studio, and sanctuary — albeit a funky one.
"We have a chicken now!" says Yoga Mob founder Levy, pointing to a rubber chicken on a kitchen table just inside the front door.
Levy brews a pot of mint tea, and we move into the living room, an open, brick-walled space replete with a fish tank, TV set, and couches. In the yoga studio, which opens off of the living room, electric guitars hang above a sprung floor.
It's a far cry from where Levy first took yoga. "I was a computer professional," she says, settling into a couch. "My first yoga class was a corporate introductory session at an office."
When Levy left that job in 2002, she could no longer afford yoga in the Bay Area, where the average cost of a drop-in class is $15 and rising. After a good dose of soul searching mixed with several months of travel, Levy returned to San Francisco and put a call out on Tribe.net for collaborators; soon the Yoga Mob project was under way.
Yoga Mob is one of many local projects offering yoga classes on a pay-what-you-can basis, although as Lindsay points out, "calling it a movement is a little weird 'cause it's not organized." Still, the idea has definitely gained critical mass in recent months. Lindsay, who began offering a donation-based class at Grace Cathedral almost 10 years ago, shifted to an entirely donation-based teaching schedule in 2004. This fall, two dedicated by-donation studios opened: Yoga Mob offered its first class in November, and in September, De Cosse opened Ritual Yoga, a by-donation studio in the Marina District. And individual instructors such as Lindsay, Rusty Wells, and Tony Eason offer pay-what-you-can classes at rented studio spaces throughout the city.
These teachers see donation yoga as an antidote to the exclusivity and sense of commercialization that come along with the rising price of yoga classes. "Yoga means unity," Reynolds explains. "Anything that separates is not yoga."
De Cosse points out that by-donation yoga classes refocus the practice on community rather than commodity. "People want to serve, be generous, give. They want to be part of something," he says.
It's the something-more that these teachers want to put out there by removing financial barriers to yoga. "I actually believe the world is better when people are doing yoga," Lindsay asserts, an idea that's emphasized by all present. When I ask him to elaborate, he says, "It gives people quiet minds, space between impulse and action, freedom to actually make a choice — and better orgasms."
"Better orgasms," everyone agrees.
"I've really got to get that on my Web site soon," says Lindsay.