No such thing as a free lunch?

A slight storm has risen in the small circles of Yoga Finland: some Helsinki-based teachers have started a trend giving free-of-charge yoga lessons based in the city centre and parks. The idea behind it could very well have been at least partly altruistic: to give everyone regardless of wealth an opportunity to try yoga. On the plus-side for the teachers in question there would be visibility and prospective new customers, who’d hopefully follow them also to their full-cost classes. In another words: a simple marketing gimmick as good as the next one. So, whatever could be wrong with this? Surely it seems like a win-win situation. Even had a passing thought about getting on the same train myself, because it seemed like a nice idea. More visibility for yoga, more new practitioners finding their way towards inner peace and as a result we’ll all be happier and the world will be as one… Or was that just a Beatles song?

images-16Well, be as it may, another view came up: freelance journalist and Helsinki-based yogini Hanna Jensen wrote about the situation on her blog, presenting the idea that this (in her view misguided) altruism is ruining the already meager business for all of Helsinki’s yoga schools. The same teachers now eagerly giving away freebies in the sun, will all be lining up for hard-to-get winter jobs and knocking on the doors of the very same schools whose businesses they are undermining. Wisely, Jensen stated that as long as this is just a passing trend with only a few practitioners, there’s no worry, but when it becomes a trend of the industry and something people expect, who wants to pay for anything anymore? It’s a well-known fact that many of the city’s yoga schools struggle to make ends meet, particularly during summer, with half-empty classes and the same high-end rents to pay throughout the year.

Many of the forces behind Helsinki’s yoga schools lined up with Jensen, agreeing that this wannabe altruism was indeed hurting business and that if doing charity was all you were after, surely there were better ways. Why not direct your efforts towards specific groups like hospitals, institutions, people on welfare or simply paying part of your earnings to charity, instead of letting every potentially well-off (and capable-of-paying) customer take part in these sessions. And of course they too have a point.

For aspiring young teachers at the beginning of their career I think it’s perfectly understandable to give free trial lessons for potential customers. If nothing else, it can give you valuable and otherwise hard-to-get teaching experience. But as a full-time teacher well into your profession and with a solid client base: why do it? Unless it’s a pure marketing gimmick and you need more clients of course. Having thought this over I’m bound to agree with the parties stating that doing charity through other channels works better – if that’s your aim. Because with free lessons: how can you guarantee they’re not only filled by perfectly well-off people just looking for a “free lunch”?


Also, this freebie-trend could add to the general misconception of yoga teachers just teaching for the fun of it, so we might as well do it for free. Even though I love my job, I still have a family to support, which means that most of my wake hours are spent doing that – which is why I never get around to arranging free public classes. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t done my bit of charity; my particular fields of interest have been people with disabilities, single-parents and projects empowering young girls. Actually, I think the idea of doing good is integral in yoga – but if doing good is your only aim, surely it can be done privately, without the public buzz and marketing effect?

Since the Helsinki yoga scene is so small, there might very well be personal conflicts behind the whole scenario. But Id’ still like to think that this is a problem that can be solved – preferably with open minds. At least I’m grateful for the discussion: it’s made me realize that incorporating good deeds into your work and yoga practice is better done without hurting or upsetting friends, employers and business partners. Surely there must be a way to accomplish that? All in all, let’s give each other some slack, and appreciate the work of professionals – on both sides.

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