Bent Out of Shape Over the Cost of Practicing Yoga? Here’s How to Save

Yoga teacher Jessamyn Stanley is an advocate of positive body image and affordable yoga options.
Yoga teacher Jessamyn Stanley says you don't have to spend a fortune to practice yoga. Photo courtesy of Christine Hewitt

Lululemon yoga pants: $98

Alo yoga top: $58

Manduka yoga mat: $82

Hugger Mugger yoga block: $24.95

Prana yoga strap: $15

Multi-studio monthly pass at YogaWorks: $135

Total: $412.95

If you’re starting out your yoga practice this way, you’re doing it wrong, says internationally recognized yoga teacher and positive-body-image advocate Jessamyn Stanley.

“There’s no reason to feel as though you need to go out and spend over $100 in order to get started,” she says. “That’s ridiculous.”

I spoke with Stanley, social-media influencer and author of “Every Body Yoga,” about the consumerism associated with the wellness industry — yoga in particular — and how people can practice yoga without spending a lot.

In 2016, Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal released the results of their Yoga in America Study, which found about 36.7 million people practiced yoga and spent a collective $16.8 billion annually on classes, clothing, equipment and accessories.

That’s roughly $457.77 per person.

While the costs can easily add up, it doesn’t have to be that way. Stanley knows firsthand what it’s like to start a yoga practice with limited financial means.

“I come from a very working-class family, have always had to have a job, have always needed to have multiple jobs, honestly,” she says.

And she was a grad school student then. Dropping hundreds on yoga classes and gear just wasn’t an option.

Cutting the Costs of Classes

When it comes to reducing the expense of yoga instruction, Stanley recommends students look for deals on classes and seek work-study options.

When she first started attending classes at her local Bikram studio, Stanley used a Groupon pass that gave her a month of unlimited sessions at a discount. She learned the studio offered a work-study program and signed up after her Groupon deal ended.

“I think I had to help clean the studio for like four to five times a week, but I could practice as much as I wanted,” Stanley recalls. “That was what helped me start practicing yoga in studios. I literally could never have afforded to do it otherwise.”

Practicing at home and trying online classes is another avenue she suggests for yoga students looking to save.

Stanley turned to online yoga classes after dropping out of grad school and moving to a new city. She started with a free trial subscription to YogaGlo and then started paying $18 a month for the service.

“It’s so much cheaper than going to any kind of studio,” Stanley says.

She recognizes some people are apprehensive about practicing alone at home but says it’s important.

“Even if you do practice in studios, you should establish a home practice,” she says. “When I really started to dig into my home practice, that’s when my practice became so much more nuanced and all-encompassing than it had ever been before.”

Plus, once you know how to practice on your own, you’ll always have that knowledge regardless of your financial standing.

Getting Creative With Yoga Gear

Whether you’re practicing at studios or at home, you may find yourself wanting to purchase a bunch of gear to start out — a yoga mat, clothing, props.

But when it comes down to it, none of it is absolutely essential, Stanley says.

“People have found so many ways to monetize yoga,” she says. “But all of the stuff that they talk about — all of these products, types of leggings, types of mats, all of the extra stuff — you do not need any of that.”

People have been practicing yoga for thousands of years, Stanley explains, and none of those products we buy at stores or order online were around back then. It’s only clever marketing that makes you think you need it.

Stanley didn’t buy a yoga mat when she first started practicing. She used her dad’s old Pilates mat.

Rather than spending money on yoga props, Stanley fashioned some out of things she had at home.

“I used a dog leash as a strap forever,” she said.

Stanley’s mom ended up knitting her a yoga strap after seeing a photo of her daughter using the dog leash. Eventually, someone sent Stanley an actual yoga strap.

Instead of buying a yoga block, she taped a set of Star Wars VHS tapes together. Stanley also made a DIY block out of two taped-together cell phone boxes or just used big books such as “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” and “The Joy of Cooking.”

In “Every Body Yoga,” Stanley shares more examples of what people can use in lieu of purchasing various pieces of yoga equipment. However, just because she understands yoga can be practiced without spending a dime doesn’t mean she’s against buying equipment.

“Is some of it dope and very helpful to have in your practice? Absolutely,” she says. “I’m not saying that actual yoga props are not better than DIY props. I prefer my props that were made for that specific focus. But if you can’t afford it, there’s no need to feel as though you need them.”

Stanley says if someone were to splurge on one item, she’d recommend a quality yoga mat.

“I do think if you really love practicing and it becomes a very important part of your life, it’s a good idea to invest in a yoga mat that can really take your sweat and help you feel stronger and make you feel supported and comfortable,” she says.

Two of her favorites are JadeYoga mats, which are made sustainably from natural rubber and cost between $39.95 and $149.95, and Liforme mats, which Stanley describes as “the Cadillac of yoga mats”.

But if that’s not in your budget (a Liforme mat can cost $140) — skip it! Stanley advises people to borrow somebody’s old mat or get an inexpensive mat at Marshalls and throw a towel on top of it.

“It’s not that serious,” she says.

Championing Affordable Yoga for All

Stanley’s message is that yoga can be for everybody — regardless of size, sex, race, culture, physical ability, religious background or financial standing.

She says people get wrapped up in the materialism of yoga and think they have to obtain certain things to have a good practice, which isn’t so.

“It’s very easy to engage in wellness without any money, but it’s definitely something we have to train ourselves to do,” she explains.

Stanley, who lives in Durham, North Carolina, previously taught classes at local community centers on a pay-what-you-can model. Now, the classes she teaches in Durham are completely free. Any donations go to a local charity.

Stanley says yoga should be of service to others. She eliminated the cost in order to give yoga to people in a way that’s not transactional.

“The reason that yoga seems so inaccessible is that there’s just not enough free options,” Stanley says.

She believes money should not be the reason someone doesn’t practice yoga.

“It is only a product of the modern world that we believe there’s any kind of link between money and yoga,” Stanley says. “They’re not to be linked at all.”

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.