Yoga on the cheap?

Originally Published: September 27, 2013
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Dear Alice,

A friend of mine bought me a month's worth of yoga classes over the summer. I loved it! I've never found an exercise/fitness regimen that I actually WANTED to stick with. It helped with a lot of my long-standing physical issues (balance, back pain, stress, fatigue) and was a perfect balance of stretching and strengthening for my fitness goals. The only problem is that now that my month is over... I can't really afford to do it anymore. I've looked all around for inexpensive and conveniently located studios, but I can't find anything that's in my price range or fits in my schedule. What resources are there (at Columbia or in NYC) for broke aspiring yogis? Are there any guidelines for practicing yoga at home? Are there any exercise routines that are similar to yoga (ie low impact, stretching+strengthening) that are less expensive or easier to do without an instructor?

Dear Reader,

Congratulations on finding an exercise program that you truly enjoy and want to stick with. Good news — your yoga practice doesn’t have to suffer now that your months’ worth of yoga classes has run out! Taking yoga classes can be expensive and time consuming, but there are numerous ways to work around the cost.People practicing yoga in Times Square. Image via Andrew Dallos on Flickr.

Free yoga classes are often available through community centers, the YMCA, public parks (New Yorkers should see Shape Up NYC), and university clubs and student organizations. Some private yoga studios offer free classes during off-peak hours with teachers-in-training. Other studios, such as New York City’s Yoga to the People, are donation-based and operate under the principle that yoga should be accessible to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. Most studios also offer class punch cards, purchased in bulk (usually between 10 to 20 classes), that are offered at a discounted rate. Finally, don’t hesitate to ask your local yoga studio if you may participate in karma yoga, a practice in which yogis trade assistance around the studio (such as front desk work, cleaning, or publicity) for free yoga classes.

The benefits of practicing at home are numerous — the fact that it’s free is just one of them! Doing yoga at home may help release you from self-consciousness, mitigate the stress of daily life, permit you extra time to focus on the poses you prefer or want to work on, allow you to focus your attention inward, and help you establish awareness of the relationship between the mind, body, and breath.

Indeed, there are guidelines for practicing yoga at home:

  • Block out time for your at-home yoga practice in your schedule just as you would an in-person yoga class. You might try 30 minute sessions three to four days a week, for example.
  • Set a timer at the beginning of your practice — some yogis prefer long sessions, but research shows that consistency, not the duration of the practice, helps build routine.
  • Consider purchasing a yoga mat, block, and strap for home use. This equipment does involve an initial investment, but it will pay off the more you practice at home.
  • If you’re not sure where to start, consider following a CD or video (available online and at most public libraries). As you grow more accustomed to at-home practice, you’ll naturally become your own teacher.

Other types of exercise, such as Pilates, dance, barre, and Tai Chi, function similarly to yoga in that they focus on stretching, strengthening, and mindfulness. Like yoga, you may that they require some guidance, especially when first starting, but that you can eventually move to an at-home practice.

Engaging in a combination of full cost, low-cost, free, and at-home yoga practice methods may be the best way to address your various needs. If you’re a Columbia student, check out the various low-cost exercise classes offered at the Dodge Fitness Center for more ideas and inspiration. While you’re at it, take a look at the CU Move program to discover other ways to stay physically active on campus, and if you’re interested in addressing stress outside of your yoga practice, look into the Stressbusters program or, if you’re on the Medical Center campus, the Center for Student Wellness.

Namaste.

Alice