Monday, January 21, 2013

An Honest Gander at the Rising Cost of Yoga Classes

"I am getting my butt back into a yoga class."
That was my plan end of December... I could feel the need to learn something new, and since I don't have it in my budget to attend weekly in studio classes, my hope was to find a class that was meaningful. That would add to my yoga skillz.

And then I had a quick peek at drop in class prices... "Holy crap! They've gone up"... In Halifax a drop in class is 20$ at most studios.

I think it's time we had an honest discussion about the cost of yoga.

Typically there are two camps in this (long suffering) debate: a) those who rail against the hypocrisy of costly classes that pander to an increasingly exclusive class of yogis and b) those who defensively justify the rising costs of running a studio and the offensive suggestion that yoga teachers give away their time and skill set.

Neither camps are very productive, both have points and finally, neither are good at examining the issue objectively.

The reality remains, regardless of your 'camp' : yoga is getting prohibitively expensive. By raising class prices, no matter the legitimate justifications, has consequences... Mainly that those who are able to access yoga in reputable studios by qualified teachers are those who can afford to drop over 100$ a month on yoga.

Oh, often studios wax poetic about the alternatives and flexibility of pricing... And perhaps we need to look a bit more closely at the options.

1. Karma classes: often, if a studio offers karma classes, they are at a limited time (typically not convenient for people's work and life schedules) and often times by teacher trainees. It's not very conducive to growing a yoga practice if you have limited choice in time and quality for your learning.  Let's be honest, the message is clear: if you can't afford a regular class, you can't complain with the time, quality or even style of yoga we give you.

I need something more than a random yoga class at this stage in my practice, and karma classes definitely leave quite a lot to be desired for my practice.

Lululemon offers community classes- but who wants to practice in a giant commercial on a Sunday morning?

2. Energy exchange: I've done this. For about six months, while working a full time, emotionally exhausting job, I spent one full afternoon cleaning a yoga studio in exchange, hour-hour for yoga classes. I eventually had to quit, since after four hours in that studio I no longer had the energy or desire to be there any other time during the week. I wanted yoga, not another physically demanding job.

Honestly, I think energy exchange yoga to be a bit of a cop-out. Firstly, the assumption that I had time in my busy, working full time schedule, to then work more for two classes of yoga a week was laughable. Do we really believe that people who can't afford yoga have spare time to take on another part-time job? Further, the 'energy exchange' isn't really a bartering system- as it typically only applies to cleaning or reception. I put together a proposal for exchanging a teacher training workshop on providing yoga classes for people with communication difficulties (children with special needs, adults with hearing loss) and was met with a big nothing.

If we were honest, those who do energy exchange are usually young, without children and often university students...

I will admit there are a few yoga classes in the city, generally ashtanga, that are a 10$ drop in fee. I've attended a few and they're usually in community centres or at the Y. They're fabulous, and most likely work because the teachers aren't offering the classes out of hugely swanky studios that have to pay expensive rent. However, if I want another style of yoga, it's not that straightforward to find and I have limited choice on teacher and level of class.

And maybe that is the solution... perhaps it's time to recognize that, although the aesthetics of our western studio are lovely, it's not conducive to offering affordable yoga.

Or, perhaps there is another solution that keeps the integrity of the yoga offered while paying a fair wage to the teachers. What are your thoughts or ideas?


  1. I don't know that there is a solution if a person would like to take specific yoga classes on a limited budget and while working full-time.

    A teacher/studio needs to pay rent if they want to have classes. Even with the Community Education classes offered through the school districts here in N. Minnesota, a portion of the instructors wages go to the space. Same for the few instructors who teach in the more open churches. Nothing is truly free anymore.

    With the advent of teacher certification, the cost of becoming and remaining 'certified' had skyrocketed. Most studio's and fitness centers only want 'certified' instructors now. So, just to get a 200hr certification costs $3000 (US), plus the yearly Yoga Alliance registration of $55 (or $95 if you have 1000 hrs of teaching experience), plus insurance at $125...not to mention follow-up training that can run anywhere from $250-$600 for a WEEKEND!!

    So, for the practitioner, it's a choice: Brand Name Studio, Independent Local Studio, Karma classes.

    You already noted the Karma classes are new teachers. Well, they need to start somewhere too to grow. I've taken from newbies and modified to suit my needs (ie, worked up a level in the pose, done the left side when they forgot) so at least I can take a class.

    Independent/Brand Name Studios - Make class once in a while commitment,just to get to class. Maybe once or twice a month? You get that class, but it doesn't drain the budget.

    Energy-Exchange (my studio calls this Karma opportunity). An option, but you're right, not always ideal and will depend upon each studio's needs.

    A local fitness center/YMCA - not a "studio", but there are some great (and not so great) teachers leading classes at gyms. Perhaps worth exploring? If you find a teacher/time that fits, then a membership might make the session even more reasonable than a drop-in rate.

    Just some idle thoughts from someone who teaches and tries to fit in that occasional too.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Kristin- I just want to reiterate, as I said in my post, I'm not negating the fact that studios need to pay bills and teachers deserve to be paid well. I'm simply stating a fact- yoga is expensive. I feel like we need to move beyond justification and try to talk about the real consequences of what this means and come up with plausible alternatives.

      I was considering a once a month yoga class- but man do I have to choose carefully if it's going to be a 20$ commitment. At this stage in my practice, honestly, I want to learn something- otherwise I could just take a class from Yogaglo... (at 2x a month, that's 480$ a year....)

      as for karma- i think it's great for new teachers to start somewhere (but I was actually referring to teacher training students, so not yet completed their training), but like I said above, it's just too much money for something I'm not going to gain more than I would from my personal home practice. I just don't have that monetary luxury.

      I was thinking of looking for some Y, or community hall classes, they are just so much more difficult to find and in Halifax are mostly Ashtanga... which just isn't my go-to... but it might have to do. (plus I always learn from Sarah MacKeigan's classes- she offers fantastic 10$ drop ins for all those ashtangi-haligonians reading!)

  2. this is tough because yoga teachers need to be able to earn a living. there is a yoga studio in my neighborhood that has a model i think you'll find interesting. classes are offered on a sliding scale of pay what you want between $7-15, based on what you feel like you can afford. most people end up paying $10 because it's an easy denomination to have on hand. then the money is pooled together and all teachers are paid equally to eliminate competition over class times.

    1. I really like the idea of a sliding pay scale actually! i have these hopeful dreams that studios could make this work- perhaps even integrate a few sliding pay scale options (so instead of having one, inconveniently timed 'karma' class a week, have 25-50% of their classes be sliding scale on a pilot basis?)

  3. I love how honest you are about this stuff. I agree about energy exchange. It *seems* like a great idea, but you're so right - who has time for that, especially if one is struggling, financially.

    1. thank you! i was all excited about energy exchanging it up- until i tried it... lol

  4. There's an interesting article in Roseanne Harvey and Carol Horton's 21st century yoga. It's by Matthew Remski and it's called "Modern Yoga Will Not Form a Culture until every yoga studio can also serve as a soup kitchen." One of his points deals with the near impossibility of keeping a yoga studio afloat. He thinks that instead of the studios drowning in rent, that they should gather practitioner donations (those who are able) to put a down payment on a building, and then the class fees would go towards sustaining the building. So much of what people are paying are going straight to the rent, and not to the teachers, or the business owners. It's a really tricky situation... From what I've heard, Darby, my teacher in Montreal, is closing his doors. This is the only certified Ashtanga teacher in Canada, and he was working in a big city. He was very generous with accommodating people's financial struggles and letting people do reasonable energy exchange. I did it and it definitely wasn't hour for hour... Sometimes he had up to thirty people coming to morning mysore. Still, it wasn't enough to keep a full-time studio with employees running. Thankfully, I hear that he will be teaching daily mysore at another location.
    I can certainly sympathize with your dilemma. That said, having saved for months to go to Miami to study with Kino MacGregor and Tim Feldmann, I honestly don't regret a penny. I'm also saving up to go to Mysore, India, which may take me awhile as it's certainly not inexpensive. But I guess these things are much different from the odd drop-in class where you're just dipping and dabbling and you have no idea what you're going to get! Thanks for this post and discussion. And don't forget Guylaine Williams has her donation based classes here:

    TUESDAY EVENINGS 7:00-8:15 PM @ The Bloomfield Centre Street, 2786 Agricola Street, Room 200

    THURSDAY EVENINGS 7-8:15 PM @ 1313 Hollis Street
    I'm pretty sure that Thursdays are more Ashtanga based than Tuesday, when she mixes it up a bit.

    All the best, Lisa.

    1. it is a tricky situation- most certainly. Like I said, not denying that studios aren't doing enough, or that they shouldn't pay rent- just that we need to be honest about what the cost of yoga will mean. it's a shame that most efforts to run a now 'typical' yoga studio mean that the price of classes go up or the studio closes. there has to be an alternative, and I truly am starting to think we need to move away from typical studios.

      yes! Like I said- it would appear the ashtanga community have some fantastic, non-studio, affordable classes. Not exactly for me- but I always learn something when I go :) Thanks for sharing these classes Erica!

  5. I've wanted to try yoga for years but the cost has kept me away. I've even tried to take the classes at the rec centre, but they fill up so fast because they are too small. I have a couple of DVDs that someone gave me, so I could try at home. Not sure if I'll do it "right" if I don't have a teacher though.

    1. Yep, I definitely started with a dvd, and yogaglo rocks, but i always learn the most from a good teacher in person. Beginner classes are hard to find- as they are typically either at a studio drop in, or they're part of a package deal.

  6. I am a part of a community that does karma classses - some studios offer one once a week, others 3 times a week - and they are always with certified teachers. We do energy exchange, but nothing like the hour-for-hour scenario you describe - that is ridiculous. We also provide community classes that are typically $5, and yes, they are with newer teachers. I can still have an awesome experience with new teachers - often times as good or better than the most senior teacher. We also have an unofficial policy that if you need classes and you don't have the money, something can be worked out. I have personally given away year passes, individual passes, month-long passes, workshops and teacher trainings to people just because they really needed it. I don't think it is wise to just give stuff away, but I also think that everyone who walks into a studio has a unique story and their situation can be approached in same. I am aware that hot yoga is not your thing, but please know that there are many, many studios that are using creative means to allow for accessible and welcoming yoga experiences.
    Good stuff is out there, and many studio owners are really trying hard.
    Best of luck in your search.

    1. Hi anonymous- thank you for your input. Karma classes are great- and I can recognize that there is always something to learn- but admittedly I have found that they aren't always during convenient hours and times (at least here in Halifax). It's wonderful that you are doing so much- my commentary isn't on the individual teachers who are doing the very best they can to make yoga affordable (I know quite a few teachers and studio owners who are trying their very best!) but of the very paradigm with which we are currently offering yoga.

      sadly hot yoga isn't only not my thing- it gives me panic attacks.

      this is what i find challenging- the discussion never turns into something productive- thinking outside the box. It's always complaining that it's expensive or a defensive response with no recognition that despite everyone's best efforts the way we are headed is not conducive to affordable yoga.

      i'm really now starting to move towards perhaps our thoughts that we should be talking about how we can think of offering yoga either on a sliding scale successfully, or perhaps take it OUT completely of the posh studio atmosphere.

  7. I'd be interested in knowing what the average prices look like in different places. I remember hearing one person in Melbourne saying $15-20 was the average per class, while here in Portland it's pretty easy to find them around $10, sometimes cheaper.

    Finding a good yoga teacher is like finding a good doctor - you have to try them out til you find someone who fits your style :) For me, I was amazed to just a couple months ago take a class at a local gym (who offered class packs for yoga and didn't require a gym membership) and turns out they're the best teachers I've encountered so far! Ironically, the other best teacher I encounter was the teacher of the "karma" class (she wasn't a junior level either, it was just great marketing to get folks to try out her classes at another studio!).

    I'd love to hear what everyone's suggestions are on DVDs - I've always had pretty rotten luck on the yoga side, as the teachers have been all too creepy, and honestly Rodney Yee gives me the creeps :)

    1. yes i completely agree- one of my favourite teachers while living in montreal was 'Jim' at the YMCA. :)

      you know me- i am a fan of yogaglo.... which is like a dvd only much better :)

  8. It has nothing to do with the yoga teacher. 90% of the time, the money goes to the overhead. I am a yoga teacher. Trust me, the cost has gone up many times at all the studios I teach at but my paycheck hasn't. Many times, studios open there doors barely making enough money to may bills, so they can keep the cost of classes low and draw students. Once the clientele builds & they have a steady following, they raise the price.

    1. interesting.
      that strategy seems counterintuitive- since they'll lose students as soon as they start raising the price (whereas they could continue to draw more students if they kept the prices lower).

  9. Compared to other classes/lessons, I don't think yoga classes are over-priced. My boys take group piano lessons at $20 per 30 minute lesson. Private lessons are $25-$35 for 30 minutes. For the past three years, I've swapped babysitting for piano lessons since I couldn't afford the private lessons - similar to your energy exchange scenario. If you think of yoga as a lesson where you go to be instructed and to improve rather than as an exercise class where you're simply led, I think the price of classes are spot on.

    1. I think that is a very interesting analogy Erin... something to think on for sure.
      I think the difference between yoga and piano (other) lessons is that yoga is marketed as a more 'spiritual' practice which is always being promoted for all. So if I didn't think of it as an exercise class (which I don't), this would only support the non-business aspect of yoga.

      I think what you are pointing out is that yoga needs to decide- business or spiritual. Because attempting to be both doesn't mesh well.

      (also- wow I took classical piano lessons for 10 years and they were 10$ for 30min in a private session.... but that said it was a while ago... lol)

    2. I've been thinking on this some more - very interesting topic.

      I actually wasnt thinking about it as spiritual versus business because I get my spiritual practice elsewhere. I was thinking more what type if business is yoga - exercise/sport versus lessons taught by a special instructor.

      If I compare yoga to my own spiritual practice (my religion), I actually pay a lot more (10 percent of my income), but someone's ability to pay tithing is not a prerequisite for being able to go to church - those if us who can pay kind of cover the costs of those who can't. In that case, a pay what you can system seems like the solution for yoga.

      The problem, as you say, is that yoga is trying to be both a spiritual practice and a business. Also there are many many people (like myself) who only practice yoga for the physical benefits, not the spiritual. In fact, I hate clssses when yoga instructors go on too long about spiritual stuff. Maybe each yoga studio needs to brand itself as one or the other and set up its rates accordingly.

  10. There's another option - some gyms with the price of a membership includes yoga classes. I know my gym (Purdy's Wharf) has twice weekly 45 minute yoga classes included with the membership, which at $40 works out to around $5/class each month.

    1. ah! that is a great suggestion. Is it above and beyond the gym membership? and do you HAVE to have a gym membership before you can get the yoga part?

  11. You get the membership and the classes are included - a lot of different gyms do that. You could in theory never do the gym part and just do classes.

  12. First of all, props to Kino for sharing her passion and knowledge of ashtanga yoga. She deserves a lot of credit and respect for what she's doing. I understand there are lots of people who object to her image, but I don't have a problem with that at all. My issue is more of her hypocritical manner when talking about "ahimsa" or the principle of "not harming." She talks about this at length in her book and in interviews. But check out this Youtube video ( where she totally contradicts herself. HelloYoga in Japan did an interview with Kino on September 29, 2011. Around the video's 13:00 to 14:00 minute mark, she says she doesn't consume meat bc she loves animals and abides by ahimsa, therefore she's vegetarian. Then around the 16:42 mark, she talks about how she loves shopping and how many beautiful shoes she's bought on her trip to Japan. I guess she has no problem with how the leftover skin of animals killed for food is used to make beautiful long as she doesn't actually consume the meat herself. Rather hypocritical, if you ask me. Or maybe all those shoes she bought are made of pleather. Somehow I doubt it.


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