Last week I had the opportunity to share my practice under the sun to the sound of the ocean waves with 38 other yogis. This year's yoga in the park has started with a bang, with triple the usual number of yogis sharing a practice together.
I believe this is in part due to the slow but steady word of mouth needed for the group, being in our fifth year and in part the increase in connection with passionate yoga teachers who share the group with other yogis. That and practicing near the ocean is amazing.
However, I also have a sneaking suspicion that Haligonians are hungry for yoga... and are struggling to find a practice that is affordable.
Halifax is an interesting city for it's yoga scene. The size of the city is quite small comparatively, with a population of almost 300,000, with a huge student population (5 universities). We also have anywhere between 15-20 yoga studios (some are in flux, and I can't ever keep up the count) in the HRM. Many of these studios have yoga teacher training programs.
At first glance this would appear as if Haligonians have a lot of choice when it comes to where they can practice their yoga. Upon further reflection, unfortunately, it would seem that "choice" is a relative term for a specific demographic: those individuals who can afford the practice have choice. The rest, well options for a studio practice continue to dwindle.
This became all the more obvious when I went to update my "Affordable Yoga" page on my blog recently. A few years ago the majority of studios (80%ish) were offering at least one "Karma" or community class weekly or monthly. The first time I organized the information from a blog post to an actual page I was disappointed with the studios I had to delete from my list. With each revision and update, instead of finding more to add, instead I was deleting more studios from my list.
I'm now left with a sad, measly little list of places where a yogi can access yoga on a budget in HRM.
I get it. It's expensive to run a yoga studio, pay rent, your teachers and yourself. Neither am I implying that the yoga is worth less than the prices charged. I'm just stating that at 16-18$ a class, a regular studio practice is unreachable for the majority of yogis.
Oh sure you can volunteer for unlimited yoga at Moksha... because a full time working mom has time to volunteer another 4 hours AND still attend a yoga class. Let's be honest, a full time working non-mother, me, doesn't have an extra 4 hours for her yoga practice let alone volunteering to GET a practice. And that isn't choice.
I have always had trouble with karma and community (and Moksha volunteer) systems for yoga: it's always made me feel like it was a hierarchy of quality: you can't afford our studio prices? Well you can have cheaper classes, but taught at inconvenient not-popular times (Friday nights at 8pm anyone?), by less experienced teachers and yoga teacher students, surrounded by yoga merchandise at Lulu or *only* if hot yoga is a good fit for you. It sets up a system that those who can afford classes get the best quality yoga and choice while those who can't get a lower quality of yoga. It's demeaning.
But at least this system was fairly universal across studios. At this point in time we barely have that. Studios have cut their community and karma classes with a ruthlessness that is honestly shocking. It's been a weirdly quiet event- without a dying peep. Maybe attendance was poor (should we blame the market, or should we blame inconvenient times and less quality class choices?), or maybe the cost to run a studio is just astronomical and something had to give. But then, maybe there just aren't enough people in our city that meet the socio-economic status requirements to stock-up full priced yoga classes.
Which came first? The Chicken: lower yoga class attendance or the Egg: jacking up the prices and subsequently less people can afford to attend a studio class? Perhaps that's why people are turning away from attending yoga studios- in Halifax we've had a few closures... and the rumour was the revenue wasn't such to support the cost of running a studio.
Yoga in the Park is free. It's not donation based, it's not "community" or "karma". It's free. Because it's not about getting a studio experience. It's about a group of yogis coming together to share yoga under the open sky with the ocean waves crashing into our practice.
It also shouldn't be a lower quality of yoga. It's not only for new teachers looking for experience or practice teaching (although we welcome those who are new and would like to share). It's not about "doing your community time" to check off some weird yogic sense of what it means to be a yoga teacher (doing prerequisite karma class, check).
I would hope that those teachers who choose to share their practice and lead YITP do so because they love to practice outside. Please don't brush off our beautiful, gorgeous practice under the sun as something only a "new" yoga teacher would ever consider leading.
Our YITP teachers are there to share yoga. New and well seasoned, from all disciplines, we practice together, wobble in the wind together, feel the grass under our feet, the ants creeping on our mats and the sun on our faces together.
From the bottom of my little yogi heart, I thank every single one of you.