I took my first yoga class in the early 1980s.
The instructor was a woman in her 60s who taught in exchange for donations. At the start of class, people would throw $3 to $5 in a bowl near the entrance.
No one tracked how much each person donated, and no one was turned away for lack of cash.
Today yoga studios operate under a vastly different model, with drop-in rates between about $10 and $20 per class and monthly fees between $100 and $150.
Compared to the average gym membership of $58 per month, and especially to a basic $10 membership at Planet Fitness, yoga is pretty pricy.
I’ve been practicing yoga off and on over the years, both through classes and at home. As I’ve moved from New England to Florida and then to the mid-Atlantic, I’ve noticed more and more studios have affordable, and sometimes free, classes.
Here are a few ways to enjoy low-cost or free yoga.
Many studios offer free classes in exchange for a couple of hours of help.
The studio doesn’t have to shell out as much money to cover payroll, taxes and other costs, and the yogi gets to attend a couple of classes in exchange for a few hours at the front desk and light cleaning in the studio.
I did this for a few months at a Washington, D.C. studio, and I’ve seen similar announcements at a dozen studios. I earned two free classes for every three-hour shift.
The only downside was the challenge of squeezing in time for two classes a week in addition to my shift. Some studios allow you to do your studio tasks before and after the class so you don’t have to make a separate trip to the studio to get your zen on.
Almost every studio offers at least one reduced-fee or by-donation class per week.
Yoga studios know class fees are too expensive for some people, but they want to make yoga accessible to everyone, so they offer these classes at a lower price. In the Bethesda, Maryland, studio I frequent most often, the community classes are usually full.
Most studios offer a deep discount on the first week or two, and sometimes even the first month of classes.
If the regular monthly rate for unlimited classes is $100, the studio might have an introductory special of $50 for the first month. If you go to three classes per week, that’s only $4.17 per class.
Since many metropolitan areas now have as many yoga studios as hair salons, you should have no trouble getting six months of classes at deeply discounted rates.
Many farmers markets include a community activity element.
In Silver Spring, Maryland, the Saturday morning Farmers Market includes an artsy outdoor market of craft vendors, along with — you guessed it — a free yoga class by a local studio.
Some Lululemon stores offer free classes on weekday evenings or weekend mornings.
Naturally, they hope your eyes will eventually wander away from comparing your poses with your neighbors’ and onto the attractively displayed yoga gear. But there’s no overt pressure to buy, and in my experience, not everyone who comes to the class is a size 4.
Despite the high prices for yoga classes, most yoga instructors aren’t getting rich from teaching. In fact, their love of yoga likely motivates many teachers more than the earning potential.
If you have a desirable service you could provide, you might be able to arrange a trade. Here’s a good explanation of how to barter.
Community events such as Times Square yoga sessions and outdoor festivals offer introductory and all-levels classes.
In DC, I’ve seen yoga classes at a Saturday morning crafter’s market, the Green Festival and Yoga on the Mall. They might look like uncomfortably close sweatfests, but you can get a wonderful workout and fall surprisingly in love with humanity (or not).
Besides, you might even show up on a poster advertising the next year’s mega yogathon.
Many studios offer a free class within a week or two of your birthday. Just ask!
I always get an email notification the week of my birthday from the studio where I did a work trade several years ago.
Talk to your employer about a weekly on-site lunch-time or after-work class. See whether the company will pay for a program, since yoga’s stress-relieving benefits would benefit the staff.
In one study, participants reported feeling less stress and sleeping better when they meditated and did yoga at work for six weeks — which could lead to greater productivity.
Once you have attended a few classes and have an idea of how to do poses correctly, you can practice on your own at home. If you still want a guided practice, look for online tutorials, DVDs from the library or yoga magazines.
Online services such as Yogaglo offer a wealth of resources, too — without requiring much wealth on your end.
Remember how I said the average class costs $10 to $20? With Yogaglo, you pay $18 for a month of unlimited yoga and meditation classes.
The best part? You don’t have to go anywhere — no driving, parking or public appearances. Not sure about combining technology with yoga and zen: Try a free 15-day trial.
These days, I do the bulk of my practice at home but I try to check into a class from time to time so a trained instructor can help me stay in alignment and prevent bad habits.
Terri Carr is a freelance writer and blogger.