These Philly Yoga Teachers Want You to Quit Confusing “Pay What You Can” for “Free”

The folks over at Philly Yoga Factory want you to know: "donation-based" and "pay what you can" aren't just different ways of saying "free."

Raise your hand if you’ve ever gone to a pay-what-you-can yoga class and made a zero-dollar donation even though you totally had a few bucks to spare in your bank account. Not because you’re a jerk — just because you kind of thought “pay what you can” was just another way of saying “free.” Don’t worry: None of us is perfect — even Beyoncé makes mistakes (I mean, I assume) — and we love you just the same. But the folks over at Philly Yoga Factory, Philly’s first donation-based yoga collective that operates a full roster of pay-what-you-can studio classes out of Center City’s Hot Yoga Philadelphia studio space (you may know it as the former Bikram Yoga Philadephia), are here to give you a gentle reminder that “donation-based” and “pay what you can” aren’t just longer ways of saying “free.”

Why? Because, long story short: While for some, “pay what you can” does mean paying nothing sometimes, if we ALL treat pay-what-you-can or donation-based classes as free classes, there will be no more of them to take. And no one wants that, right? Right.

PYF posted an interesting explanation of why their classes are pay-what-you-can to their blog under the title “Why Donation-Based Is Different Than Free, and Why It Matters,” explaining how leaving a few bucks if you can (their suggested donation per class is a very reasonable $5 to $10) when you hit the mat isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s what allows them to continue doing what they do on the daily, offering pay-what-you-can classes and making yoga accessible to everyone, regardless of how deep their pockets are.

An excerpt from PYF’s blog post:

As our founder Justine Bacon has said,“Offering donation-based yoga allows yoga to be accessible to everyone, regardless of financial restraints …The other point is this: How we go about our ‘on the mat’ practice is both a reflection and a translation of our life practice. When any of us are asked to make a donation for something, it summons us to consider what its value is to us. Our model allows yogis to practice Satya (truthfulness) and Asteya (non-stealing) as a part of their ‘off the mat’ practice.”

This point is key to our survival. We rely on our students’ and our community’s honest appraisal of what the value of this service is to them, and their honest contribution of that amount in kind.

So how is “donation-based” or “pay what you can” yoga different than “free yoga”? At PYF we are trying to make sure no one gets priced-out of a chance to improve their lives. But put quite simply, if all or a majority of our students, regardless of their circumstances, treated our “pay what you can” classes as “free” classes, we would be robbed of the chance to offer this service.

It takes the support and honest contributions of our community to make sure this service remains available to everyone. Paying what you can, even if that amount is small, is a gesture of support for our mission and it is also a gesture of appreciation and gratitude to your teacher, whose education is not free and whose time is not value-less.

You can check out the full blog post here. But if you are a human known to type “tl;dr,” note that the takeaway is this: Next time you see “pay what you can” or “donation-based” next to the cost of a yoga class — or any fitness class, for that matter — just remember that, if you do in fact have the extra cash to spare, that doesn’t simply translate to “free.”

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