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Is Yoga For the Rich?

By on January 30th, 2011 — Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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Twenty dollar classes. Swanky studios with extensive boutiques selling $90 yoga pants. Conferences and conventions and retreats that cost half a month’s salary. Yoga can be really expensive. But while many are peeved by the commercialization of yoga, hasn’t it always primarily been a thing for the rich?

For instance, maybe you don’t subscribe to the yoga of capitalism, which is nearly impossible in a capitalist country, but … let’s pretend. Let’s just say, for a moment, that you only go to donation-based studios, wear second-hand sweats to class, and skip the fancy retreats and conferences. Let’s assume you’ve never walked into a Lululemon store or dropped $400 to spend a weekend with an out-of-town celebrity teacher who looks like a model, back bends like a Cirque du Soleil performer, and has really great hair. Even if you have barely dropped a dime on learning yoga (and if this is you, please let me know how you do it!), you still have the luxury of time to do yoga. You’ve had the education necessary to learn about yoga and to develop an interest in it. You’ve had the resources to be able to study the practice several times a week instead of working long shifts at minimum wage trying to put food on the table for a family of 10.

It seems to me that a yoga practice requires of us a certain level of education, class, and free time. We need to have our basic survival needs met before we can spend hours each week stretching our bodies into new shapes while pondering the meaning of life and exploring our own evolution. This free time is often a result of us being born into, or having acquired, a position of moderate wealth. And by this, I don’t mean we have to own a condo in Central Park West or a private jet that flies to Brussels for weekend getaways. But we have a basic degree of comfort in life, a bank account, and/or a skill that offers us an ability to make money. It’s no coincidence that the Buddha was a prince. If he were a servant or a slave or a working class father, would he have had the time or even the inclination to investigate the causes of human suffering? And look at many of the great yogis who have gone on spiritual pilgrimage and brought forth to society amazing insights—they often came from well-to-do families to start. Krishnamacharya was not a poor man. Ram Dass was a well-to-do scholar before he set out on his path.

So, maybe there’s a reason why studios and clothing lines and resorts charge so much for yoga—they know that, as a general rule, the people who are looking for spiritual development can afford it. Sure, some of us have to struggle to get our yoga in or pay for classes. But somehow, we can still do it. It’s something to think about, in any case.

What do you think? Is yoga, by nature, a practice for the wealthy? Or do you think the poor have equal opportunity to access and learn about it? Write in and tell us what you think!

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10 Reader Comments

  1. Posted By: Daniel 2/4/2011 @ 11:52 am

    I think you are using a lot of rationalisations here. I don’t know if you have seen the latest documentary on B.K.S Iyengar, but when he started he was too poor to even buy food. That’s just one example. Personally, I am a flat-ass broke college student with student loans and a full time workload schedule, but I make time for yoga waking up 4:00 in the morning to do some vinyasas and asanas, then take a shower and then do mantra japa and puja before I take the train and leave for university.

  2. Posted By: sb 2/4/2011 @ 5:16 pm

    Hello Karen – –

    You do have a point — there seems to be a contradiction in the idea of swank studios with $90 Yoga pants and being free from desire or Kaivalya which is the highest state of Yoga. Maybe in some places Yoga is only affordable to the wealthy privileged class because of the inflated prices that are charged. That is not true throughout the country. Our studio offers classes in the classical style and we offer free classes to marginalized groups – women in transition from prison, veterans in transition from combat, the poor elderly, and cancer survivors and their care-takers.

    Maybe as teachers we had to be in a certain advantageous financial position to follow our dream, but maybe also, we are here to expand the ranks of yoga practitioners to include among the well-to-do, the forgotten.

    • Posted By: Karen (author) 3/1/2011 @ 11:44 pm

      I agree. Thanks for your thoughtful reply!

  3. Posted By: Paleena (I luv Yoga!) 2/4/2011 @ 5:31 pm

    I agree that it can be a bit spendy but it doesn’t have to be, I practice mostly at home in my little private space just for me. When I can I will drive and pay for classes usually costing $15.00 and a 25min. drive! As a Yoga teacher I am trying to make yoga more afordable to all, so I charge anywhere from 0-$8.50 a class…but I don’t have a ton of overhead so it makes this easier for me! I also offer Yoga Retreats that are not only affordable (less than $400 for 3 days all inclusive) but also easy for those who may not have much of a Yoga background to feel comfortable and the more experienced are in bliss also! Most my students and those I know are not rich and they practice yoga, so no I don’t think it’s for the rich I just think it’s a bit trendy right now! Western medical doctors are starting to tell there patients to do yoga, athletes are starting to realize all the benefits yoga has to offer and….the list goes on! I don’t mind something like Yoga being popular, it has changed my life both mentally and physically so I hope it touches others the way it has me! Thanks for sharing I am so enjoying these blogs… Namaste Paleena Mason

    • Posted By: Suely Goings 8/2/2011 @ 6:07 pm

      Hi Paleena I need to learn more abouth yoga my goal is to help more and more people, and I will love to teach kids. Where are you located? Could you send same info abouth your classes please.

  4. Posted By: ray 2/5/2011 @ 7:43 am

    All I know is I would go to more yoga classes if the classes were less expensive. I don’t have $150 to plop down for a ticket to bring each class down to $14, and I don’t want to spend $20 for just one class, so there’s a Catch-22 here in Phoenix.

  5. Posted By: Daniel 2/5/2011 @ 9:25 am

    Let’s also not forget that one of the yama’s in the yoga sutras of Patanjali is aparigraha which means not collecting wealth beyond necessity.

  6. Posted By: Mary Gabriel 3/8/2011 @ 9:59 am

    O.K. Lets look closely at this. From a practical point of view what do we really need to practice Yoga. We need time. We need reliable information. We need a willing and able spirit to practice on a regular basis in order for it to have an impact on our lives and our body-mind. “Time is all we really have on this Earth” my dear beloved father would always say to me. That gave me the freedom to realize that we have to make choices on the Earth about how we SPEND our time.
    If we truly have a passion for Yoga we will spend our time researching and understanding the devotion it takes to do this thing called Yoga so that we will be in a better position to carry on in all other matters of being. COST is a commitment or free, if we use the local library for information.
    FREE If we use one hour of our day to “make the body the temple of God” a supposed must do for some Christians. Free if we meditate wherever we are except driving a motor vehicle or crossing a street. As far as the clothing goes most Indian Yogi’s have a diaper wrapped around their privates and call it good. The women must be more modest and use good judgement in dressing themselves but I have always felt that 100.00 Yoga outfit would be better spent in a world that is economically challenged for basic needs in most places including America. However I too suffer from this malady called current fashion which all the upscale boutiques capitalize on. Yet another choice made in the course of a day. If we were more like Buddha I guess we would choose to give that hundred to the myriad of causes that plague our planet at this time in History,. From what I can tell from Yoga communities that I have engaged in, a good deal of the Authentic ones share a percentage of their earnings to those myriad of causes and the not so good ones don’t, yet another choice. The wonderful thing about following positive role models like Buddha and Jesus and Gandhi and Thomas of Aquinas and the myriad of other Saints and Yogi’s is that it does’t really have to cost us anything. The difficult thing is teaching future generation that we all benefit one and all from understanding Why it is better for us to be connected to one another in that way. I guess it starts from making others aware that we have those choices everyday.

  7. Posted By: Maddie 3/28/2011 @ 12:07 pm

    Part of bridging the economic gap in yoga may be balancing a commitment to service as a yoga teacher with making a living. For example, taking teaching opportunities that are more accessible to lower income students, such as at community centers, or teaching occasional cheaper or free classes at yoga studios.

    Part of my practice has been to teach yoga with non-profits that bring yoga to under-served populations, such as homeless youth or women in prison. Yoga can bring enormous benefits to people who have a high amount of stress in their lives and very little ability to access resources. To me, this is part of the practice of karma yoga. I have been privileged enough to have the time and money to extensively study and practice yoga, and I feel a sense of obligation to share that with those less privileged than myself as well as those who can pay. The benefit of teaching is not just money, even in a capitalist society, which I do have to consistently remind myself.

  8. Posted By: tina 4/30/2011 @ 9:31 pm

    Hi,
    I don’t come from money, but studied yoga since the age of 15 from a book! (the old fashion way, prior to studios and luxury spas) If you really want to learn there is nothing to get in the way if it is your calling. I teach in libraries and community centers and teach at a much lower rate then the other teacher because my philosophy is no one should ever be turned away due to inability to pay. Shame on places like Kriaplu and Omega making it so expansive to attend and the yoga teachers demanding big money. Sad, simple sad that yoga organizations and many teachers have sold out.