I believe that Yoga is largely about service. Service to Self, Community and, ultimately, The Universe. Over the past few months I have been actively avoiding the studios in my city. I have not found a studio that I feel and see embodying the qualities that I believe Yoga embodies. I like to practice my asana with people. I thrive off the energy of community. I am a natural collaborator. Unfortunately, as of late, I do not see spaces that are fostering Yoga communities that serve. The aims of the common Modern Western Yoga Space seem obvious, down-right transparent actually. When it comes to most studios I have encounter in this city (and others for that matter) it is about capital; make money, create a niche, create an image, make money... Each space homogenized enough that one feels, looks and sounds like the next only with a more expensive and trendy lounge area, or more attractive and younger teachers, depending on what their image is. Thankfully, after a six month break from any studio yoga what-so-ever I recently stumbled upon a new space that, in the early days of our relationship seems humbly centered in a practice that serves. I was careful to seek out the most non-pretentious space possible while I was shopping for my new space. I looked for something humble. No flashing neon signs, or pushy self-promotion for me. I realize that I may be over-looking the difficulties involved in starting up a studio... but, frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!
This blog post is from the perspective of a middle-aged practicioner (That's me); not a Yoga teacher or a studio owner. Just a 37 year old woman, who looks and acts much like many other 37 year old women who wants a Yoga space to call her own. I have had enough hard-sells and phony dogma served with my Yoga for this life-time (and the next!) and, call me crazy, but I still believe that somewhere, somehow, there is a space for average people like me. The people who do not wear 140 dollar branded yoga pants because they don't serve. Sure they are a flattering fit, I get that, but they are just not worth it and they are the fuel of an engine of commercialism that I do not prescribe to. Self, Other or Universe. These pants and other adjuncts to the commercial Yoga movement serve The Almighty Corporation and not much else. I am looking for a studio space where people who think that if a Yoga class is practiced at a public park or beach or community-funded conservation area it should be free, or at the very least, a by-donation Karma class with the profits going back to serve the community itself and not cost $20 per person... money that goes to the teacher or studio that uses the public space for a means to a financial end. I want a studio space where people who practice a slower asana, a tempered asana feel welcomed and comfortable, not as though they need to compete with their obviously younger, hotter counter-parts (and teachers). These are just some of the wishes on my personal wish list and this blog post is, clearly, about indulging in the hopes that there are readers out there who get it too. The new studio I have been visiting makes me think there is and here's why in ten simple steps...
1) The classes are priced according to the market
Though I personally do not agree that a practice that requires a mat, no shoes and loose baggy comfort clothing should cost an average of $15 per drop-in class, what I do agree with is asking the market rate for your classes when you open a new studio in a community of established studios. This is respectful and also, your students will know that your studio will a) stand the test of time (i.e. not go under in 6-9 months, or in the summer when people choose to move their practice into the sunshine) and b) your students can plan to pay equal amounts over the year and thus, develop a daily, weekly Yoga practice with no financial surprises.
2) The teachers are consistent and stable, and happy and the owner is present and visible as members of the community
Turn-over of teachers (or staff) in any employment setting is never a good thing. Be wary of the studio that has rapid turn-over of their teachers or instructors. It is not easy getting teaching gigs in the Yoga business. Teachers do not leave frequently unless they are unhappy, under-paid or inconsistently paid or disrespected. If the studio has a OZ complex; i.e. the owners are never there or pop in from time-to-time to check on things this probably means they are not interested in serving the community, as they are not consistently a part of it.
3) There are Karma classes and the studio gives back to the community
The studio is serving the community through active fundraising and offering Karma classes so those who cannot afford classes can still practice, at least once a week. This studio is currently honored through signage on a main street near by, placed there by the recipient of the most recent Karma fundraiser; the SPCA.
4) Some studios offer the opportunity for people to trade skills
Some studios will ask for help with cleaning and even desk responsibilities in exchange for free Yoga. I have always respected a studio that allows for this opportunity.
5) They offer a wide array of asana classes for a wide array of people
I realize this one can be controversial. Everyone these days seems to have a take on how Yoga should be practiced. There are rules. Firstly, I would like to point out that Yoga (traditionally speaking) was never actually meant for studio spaces and group classes. It was a practice and relationship between Self and sometimes teacher and student, guru and disciple. The studio class is an adaption, so why not adapt it so it fits all kinds of personalities, body types, needs, energies. This is possible. I think these days it is called fusion but regardless, a studio that creates a space where diverse teachers can teach to diverse needs aims to reach out to the whole community, not just the niche community of people who appear young, hot and fit.
6) They offer classes throughout the day at a variety of times
This is simple but a necessity. It came as a huge surprise to me (and a huger disappointment) that group fitness was literally almost unavailable to me after having children. Many classes are during peak parenting hours and do not have on-site babysitting or classes that single mothers (or mothers who carry the brunt of parental responsibility) can attend. All studios should have evening classes (*8 p.m.) and morning classes (*6 a.m.) for their community members who do not fit the mold of worker ant 9-5er. If anyone cares suggest a spinning class in Mississauga at 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. I am still searching for one, 3.5 years postpartum!
7) The students are a visible array of people of all ages, shapes, sizes and experience
This is very important. The studio attracts a real community. There are older people, younger people, bigger people, smaller people, mothers and daughters, men and women, pregnant people and teens. It is obvious that all people feel welcome and comfortable in this space. A true must of any studio space I will step into to!
8) They are not heavily laden with yoga accessories, frills and whistles
Yes, this space has a few small things it sells at the front desk; some incense, some eye pillows but I do not feel like I just walked into a Lululemon when I walk through the door. I do not feel an urge to spend more money or pressure to buy more stuff. I am not distracted. There is no homogenized zen music, no tea lounge or inspirational diet, yoga, lifestyle book nook. There are just cubbies for your shoes and a small quiet studio for practice. In fact, this studio does not even have a shower, as I was told by the studio owner herself, it is not necessary as you will not sweat enough to require a shower the instant you come out of class. I like this element of this studio, as my personal belief is that yoga empowers through breath not tempo or pace.
9) There is no acro yoga, glow-in-the-dark yoga or disco yoga
I am sorry if I am offending anyone here, because I do know there is a market for such things... but to me, these are distraction from the journey I am on with my Yoga. I do not want to hang from the ceiling, practice in a dark room with strobe lights or to pumping music (in fact, unless the music is extremely subdued, I prefer to practice to the sound of my breath and the breath of the others in the room). I see the purpose of music as guiding for some, but think it must be moderate and measured.
10) There is no stream of rhetoric or dogma served with the classes
The teachers at this studio just teach. I do not have to worry about having someone read me quotes from the latest self-help or inspiration coffee table book and I do not have to consider how I may live a happier or richer life throughout my asana class. I am just guided through the poses, with verbal prompts that are sensitive to those who may need assistance (props etc) and there are moments of silence as well. Long moments, in fact. I personally have come to treasure this quality in the classes at the studio (and as a teacher myself, have learned things from this). A poignant instruction is worth a thousand vapid ones. One of my esteemed past teachers frequently offers this instruction while we practiced asana together, FEEL HAPPY.
If you are living in the Mississauga area and, like me, this kind of studio practice sounds appealing, please check out YogaCity, they are also on Facebook!