Thoughts on Donation Yoga

From the beginning of my teaching yoga, I never wanted money to be what kept people from taking yoga with me, and I have always been willing to work with folks so that wasn’t the issue. I taught for more than 14 years at the (name-changing) gym in Carrboro because I liked offering the “best yoga deal in town.” (Problem was, it’s a gym with everything that goes with it, including the iron-clad contract that you can’t get out of and not-great pay.) When I first read about donation yoga many years ago, I thought, “If I ever have my own studio, that’s how I want to do it,” and I was heartened to know both that other yoga teachers felt as I do and that there was precedent for taking the radical step of not charging for yoga. When the time finally came and I found myself opening up a yoga school, the only way I could do it was by donation. There was simply no other option.

During those couple of months of preparation before actually opening the space, I experienced great fear and mental turmoil around leaving all of my known, stable and adequate sources of income (I have kids, for God’s sake!!!), but I also had times of great faith and willingness to accept whatever happened, even failure. In my heart, I knew that what I was doing was the right thing to do, the only thing I could do, but still the fear and ego-challenges were there. When I remembered that my “Boss” is the Divine Mother (She still is!… thankfully) and it is up to Her to provide for my needs if it be Her Will, and all I have to do is the work that is given to me to the best of my ability, and that failure was an OK option if that was the Divine Will, then I regained a lasting peace (and yes, it still comes and goes). So far, the Divine Will has been that this endeavor continue, which I continue to see as a Miracle of the Divine Mother.

As I understand it, historically teachers of Yoga accepted all who came to them, and the students gave what was within their means. It was the duty of the teacher to give the Gifts and learning and experience that had been given to him or her, and it was the duty of the students to support their teacher in that Giving. Amma, my Guru, is my real-world model for this: She accepts all who come to her, free of charge, and she gives whole-heartedly of herself. It was also the duty of the teacher to give without giving favor to those who were able to give more (not like the “real” world we live in!).

All the above is background for now, when people come to Loving Kindness Yoga School, they find a bowl by the door and they are free to leave whatever donation (or call it a “Love Offering”) they are able and feel is right. No one is observing or checking or making sure. In this way, we can be truly welcoming to everyone equally, and for myself, I can simply be happy with the presence that each one brings to the room.

At the beginning, I did decide that it made sense to give a suggested/requested amount for a donation toward a class since the “donation paradigm” is so new and foreign to the Capitalist one that we live in where the modus operandi is to GET as much as you can while giving as LITTLE as you can. The requested amount is to give people who are able an idea what is a reasonable and sustainable level of giving, an amount that if everyone gives, we can keep the teaching going. A sad corollary of the GET as much as possible/give as LITTLE as possible system, is that people then sometimes see the requested scale as a PRICE they must pay and then they feel, in their beautiful honesty, that they can’t come take class if they can’t give in that scale. At Loving Kindness, that is not the intention and is never meant to keep ANYONE away. Alternately, some people feel that they want to give something, or more than they can financially, and so I offer the possibility of some work exchange or other ways of sharing energy, if people want.

Is there the possibility for “abuse” of this system? Of course. But from my personal experience over the past coming up on 4 years, people are honest and generous and happy to share what they are able. As I write this, I feel the beginnings of tears in my eyes thinking about the generosity of all the people over the years who have contributed while taking classes or have given a donation “just because.” Every one of them (you!) has made it so that I could keep sharing the Gifts that I have been given. At the end of every class I bow to you and thank you, and after every practice on my own, I give love and gratitude for all of my students over the years. Thank you all for your generosity of energy, whether financial or otherwise, and I hope to be able to serve you for many more years to come.

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