When Haiyan Khan, Keith Porteous and Michele Baker of Swan River Yoga opened New Orleans' first and only fully donation-based yoga studio in January 2011, they didn't expect to break even for a full year. With a strong commitment to the concept of seva, or selfless service as an altruistic act, the founders and teachers don't spend much time checking the donation box. But because of overwhelming community support, or maybe good karma, Swan River Community Center broke even just one month after opening — and has broken even every month since.
"We were all amazed," says Khan, director at the Swan River Community Center. "We're simply providing a service, and we hope that people can get the benefit of yoga." Located in Arabi, the studio is a way of giving back to the community. "The cost of yoga is prohibitive for a lot of people, especially if you want to have a sustained practice," Khan says. He says regulars who have been coming to his classes for years, initially at the St. Bernard Community Center, have advanced in ways that would not have been possible without this affordable program.
Though the Swan River Community Center is the only studio to offer exclusively donation-based classes, many local spaces and instructors provide by-donation yoga on a regular basis. Sean Johnson, founder of Wild Lotus Yoga, says yoga has played a special role in New Orleans because of its power to heal and renew. "Mainly we offer donation-based classes because it just feels good to give back to the city we love, and we know it's helping a lot of other people to feel good," he says.
With by-donation classes happening everywhere from Uptown to Arabi, that good feeling is now within the reach of most New Orleanians.
Balance Yoga & Wellness
Balance Yoga (120 S. Cortez St., 309-9618; www.balanceyogawellness.com), specializing in yoga, pranayama breathing practice and ayurvedic consultations, offers donation-based community yoga a few times a week. Classes are taught by rotating instructors and emphasize alignment, full breath and attentive posing and are appropriate for beginners.
Fair Grinds CoffeeHouse
Fair Grinds Coffeehouse (3133 Ponce de Leon St., 913-9072; www.fairgrinds.com) hosts free weekend meditation sessions, and fitness offerings at this cozy, brightly-decorated tea and coffee house include low-cost classes like Tai Chi and Mom and Baby Yoga, as well as by-donation yoga with Lauren Dito every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. Dito, a professional full-time yoga instructor, has taught the class for nearly two years. "I had been feeling dissident teaching classes purely for living wages," she says. "I wanted to start getting back to the heart of how yoga was originally taught."
Yoga and running outfitters lululemon(802 Nashville Ave., 895-2895; www.lululemon.com) offers occasional (often monthly) free classes.
Swan River Yoga
At Swan River Yoga (2130 Magazine St., 2600 Chartres St., 2940 Canal St., 7011 St. Claude Ave., Arabi, 566-4922; www.swanriveryoga.com) the first class is free for local students, and every class at the Community Center is by donation. Swan River also provides a free class at the Lower Garden District, Marigny and/or Mid-City studios once a month, and has several package deals available.
Tapas Yoga and Movement Studio
Tapas Yoga (4413 Chastant St., Metairie, 302-9264; www.tapasyoga.net) has partnered with the Leonard C. Thomas HOS Foundation to create a special yoga program for cancer patients and their caregivers. "It relieves stress in an already stressful situation," says Judy Ogle, executive director of the HOS Foundation. The classes are focused on healing through gentle movement and relaxation, and take place Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m. Tapas also offers a 7-7-7 Special: all new students can try seven Hatha yoga or Pilates classes for $7 within one week.
Certified yoga and judo instructor Dmitri Khorov teaches a by-donation power and restorative yoga class every weekday morning from 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. at Temple Gym (4521 Magazine St., 261-8988; www.thetemplegym.com) for both athletes and yoga students.
Wild Lotus Yoga
Wild Lotus Yoga (2372 St. Claude Ave., 4842 Perrier St., 899-0047; www.wildlotusyoga.com) recently opened a downtown location in the New Orleans Healing Center that offers a by-donation class once a week. There are free prenatal yoga and meditation classes, and community discount classes for $7 throughout the week.