The gift of exchange (or how I get to eat cookies each week)


Walking home from yoga with a lovingly made, chocolate, gluten free cake in my hands got me thinking. Aside from thinking about how good it was going to taste when I got home, I thought back to the many ways in which I have exchanged yoga for different goods and services. My philosophy is that it is better to do yoga than not, so if I hear that someone isn't able to attend a yoga class because of money then I am more than happy to offer an exchange. Over the years, many creative and talented people have shared their gifts for yoga. I've received a variety of things from sublime pottery, handmade organic skin care products, art, massages, design work, photography, clothes, cookies and now, cake.

Yoga is a multi-billion dollar industry and is fast becoming corporatized and commodified. While yoga grows as an industry, the gap widens between those who can afford $18- $20 for a drop-in yoga class and those who simply can't.  And often in large studio settings we can lose the intimacy of community, we become just another mat on the floor and body in the room. Yet, some of my favorite parts of yoga are the people that we practice with, the connection and community of familiar faces and shared experiences. So then how can we stay connected amidst a growing industry? How can we make it more accessible and intimate?

During my early days of yoga, I did an energy exchange at a large studio in Toronto. I cleaned mats, swept floors and kept the 3 studios looking pretty. In exchange I got to go to as many yoga classes as I liked. It was such an inspiration and allowed a broke girl in a large city get to taste a variety of yoga as often as I liked without money (or a lack of) stopping me. Looking back, the really interesting part to me is that I see how something as simple as that energy exchange  helped to set the course of the following 13 years and counting of practicing and teaching yoga for me. Yoga has shaped my life in so many countless ways that ever since then I have tried to pay it forward when I can. As a studio owner I often exchanged yoga classes for all sorts of things. The last thing I wanted was to have someone not come to class because of money. Of course some would say that is a poor way of doing business but it worked for me. Sure, I had rent, teachers and bills to pay but I didn't want yoga to be an elitist commodity nor keep myself in scarcity mode. The difference here was that I wasn't giving away classes, there was always an exchange.

It is in the exchange, the trade, the barter, where relationships develop and community is nurtured. Trades are a mutually beneficial interaction. When I am given a product or service that that is borne out of someone's creativity in exchange for my offerings which are borne out of my creativity; we are sharing a part of who we are, thus fulfilling a need that satisfies more deeply. It can be argued that money is a form of exchange-which it is- but in our money-centric society the exchange is so common and unconscious and often fraught with stress or worry that the thoughtfulness or energy behind it is lost. For example, I can say for certain that I would have been hesitant to buy the pottery that I received in a trade. As much as I loved it, I would have likely felt there were other things more 'practical' to spend my money on. Yet those bowls and cups are among some of my favorites and when  I use them (everyday!),  I also often think with warm thoughts, about the friend who made them.

So in our world where money is king, can we explore different avenues of exchange? While we can acknowledge that the need for money is an essential part of our lives, an inspiring model that is growing in popularity is yoga by donation. Many of the studios choosing this method do so as a response to the over-priced yoga market and choose to take the 'risk' of people choosing how much they will pay. But the risk is balanced out when we realize how interconnected we are and how we can participate in systems that support the benefit of all. Which means in the donation model, those who can afford to pay more help out those who can't, creating a sense of generosity and giving. And the beautiful part is that this type of exchange isn't new. It has been around for centuries in Buddhism and Hinduism- Dana (the practice of cultivating generosity).

If the avenue of exchange is monetary, we make informed choices about where we spend our money. We all know how important it is to shop local and support socially conscious businesses, but an interesting reflection for me came a few years ago from a good friend. I was feeling broke and stressing about spending money on a yoga workshop and she reframed it like this: Yoga (ideally) is a practice that makes us better people. So when the money I receive from teaching yoga goes back into yoga through workshops and retreats, that money then supports the teacher holding the workshop, thus supporting the teachings and my learning which then fuels my teaching and practice which then helps more people and so on, creating this big circle of goodness!

We can keep yoga grassroots and our communities strong through exploring creative ways of sharing. Where have you encountered generosity in your life that inspired you to do the same for others? What gifts and talents can you share with others in a mutually beneficial exchange? It can even be as simple as instead of selling your old clothes or household items, find someone who would love to barter for something they don't need or a talent they have to share. And meanwhile I will keep on enjoying my weekly supply of cookies. (Thanks Cecilia!)