Chelsea Roff: The World’s Largest Yoga Class Only Costs $675,000. What Else Could You Do With That Money?

Well they’re at it again. Two NYC based companies known for “creating projects that have a positive effect on the world” want to turn Central Park’s Great Lawn in to the largest yoga studio ever. Picture this: 15,000 people doing upward facing together, led by well-known yoga instructors Elena Brower, Seane Corn, Colleen Saidman and Rodney Yee. A high-vibe soundtrack laid down by Questlove and DJ Drez. And Reggie Watts on site as host and MC. Sounds like a party!

According to the website, the mission of GLBL YOGA is to build unity and create community by “tapping the collective energy and spirit of the urban environment to create large-scale, crowd-funded yoga events.”

Notice the “tap into the collective energy” and “crowd-funded” bit there at the end. Basically, that’s a hip, yoga-ey way of saying “we need your help to pay for it.” But hey, there’s nothing wrong with asking the people to put their money behind a free event aimed to benefit the general public, right? Somebody has to foot the bill. And if the people want it, why not ask them to put in their two cents?

Well, maybe a bit more than two cents. More like $675,000.

Got me thinking, just what can you do with $675,000? Turns out, you can:

  • Build 6,750 water wells in Somalia, where a widespread drought and diseases like cholera are killing hundreds of thousands of people every year
  • Supply 337,500 books to children in low-income neighborhoods in NYC through First Book
  • Provide eye glasses to 27,000 vision-impaired children in Indonesia, Vietnam, and the United States through Helen Keller International
  • Protect 135,000 families from malaria, one of the planet’s most deadly diseases. Every penny donated to Against Malaria goes toward purchasing mosquito nets
  • Buy 22,500 flocks of chickens to help families in Pakistan feed themselves (eggs are used over the long term for meals).
  • Empower 9,782 female entrepreneurs to start their own sewing businesses through Mercy Corps
  • Build 2,700 shower stations in Haiti,  so women and their families can get clean safely and with dignity.

If you’re going to ask people to raise $675,000, is a giant yoga class in Central Park really how you want to spend it?

I suppose one could point to the fact that GLBL YOGA will be donating 50% of proceeds to several charity partners, including Off the Mat Into the WorldLineage ProjectHarlem GrownUrban Zen, and Enterprise Community. But where are those proceeds going to come from? I thought the event was free?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about  having a good time at large-scale community yoga events. But there’s a difference between producing a yoga festival (that charges for tickets) and asking a people to “donate” over half a million dollars for a free event. The difference? Sustainability. A yoga festival is an entrepreneurial venture. There is a clear exchange of resources between the company and the attendee. People want to have a fun yoga vacation with their community, so they pay for it.

Where is the sustainability in this event? It’s $675,000 for a one-time yoga class in Central Park. Let’s be realistic, how much community and unity are you going to create in a 4-hr event that’s probably going to be largely attended by people who already practice yoga? What lasting impact is that $675,000 going to have, besides boosting the brands of the people and companies involved?

This is my personal opinion of course, but I have a hard time buying into the notion that we’re “building community” by getting tens of thousands of people to do downward facing dog. Building community is mentoring a kid at a local school in your neighborhood. Building community is building a house for a family that doesn’t have one. Building community is making dinner for the woman down the street who just lost her husband. Going to a big yoga class in Central Park isn’t building community, it’s throwing a party for a community that already exists.

With all due respect to everyone involved, I also have a hard time believing that a giant yoga class on the great lawn is going to create more “unity” in the world. That sounds nice, but yoga isn’t magic. The peace you feel on the mat doesn’t somehow float overseas to end wars in the Middle East or stop gang violence in inner-city New York. Yoga is a wonderful tool for cultivating personal wellbeing and sustainability, but downward facing dog isn’t going to unify humankind.

That said, I do think these types of events are a ragin’ good time. And for that reason alone I say go for it, have a big ol’ yoga party (I’d come!). But any costs incurred, in my opinion, should be covered by corporate sponsors and ticket sales. Ask people to pay $30 or $40 for a ticket, and let the brands getting publicity out of the event foot some of the bill. That will certainly make for a more sustainable event. And if you really want to build community, send $5, $10, or $15 to help the nonprofits mentioned above build lasting community throughout the world.

What do you think? Do big yoga events create more unity in the world? Are they worth the financial investment?

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About Chelsea Roff

Chelsea Roff is Managing Editor for Intent Blog. She is an author, speaker, and researcher writing about science, spirituality, women's health, and humanitarian issues. Visit her website to read past writings, watch video interviews, and see her teaching schedule. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Comments

  1. brilliant! articulate. insightful, as always. but this is filled with a street-wise bravado that makes me very happy. you've been around the yoga industry block a few times. you know the gig. thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Monica. To be honest, I've only been practicing yoga maybe 3 years, but I got "really into it" really fast. And I'm a fast learner. There's so much power and good intention embedded in this community… now we just need to learn how to leverage it!

  2. You raise excellent points and back them up beautifully. Thanks for this solid, passionate, thoughtful, and critical piece.

  3. chelsea, i feel like you tapped into my brain and wrote the exact response to this event which i have been composing in my mind since i heard about it a couple of days ago! except i've been too busy organizing and facilitating an actual community yoga event here in montreal – the city's first-ever yoga festival! it's crowd-funded, but with no VIP options. a whole weekend, totally sustainable, entirely local (including teachers, food and exhibitors), no celebrity endorsements or corporate sponsorships. this is real yoga for the people, by the people. and i hope to see cities around north america realize that if they need to nurture community and support their homegrown talent, without the "help" of NYC-based marketing/publicity types.

  4. You are a beacon in the vast darkness for reporting this … perhaps there is no real way to have free events and get totally away from corporate sponsorship
    Also, there has to be a way to make yoga more welcoming to the newbies, novices and those who don't/can't frequent a studio …
    Perhaps lower barriers to entry.
    Marathon (walking, running) fundraisers have known how to do this for years …

    1. Wow, thanks for the kind words, Vision_Quest2. There are definitely ways to make yoga more accessible to in-need populations… go to them! Show up at a homeless shelter and teach a class there. Better yet, don't teach a yoga class… simply show up and be with people where they are, serve a meal… that's the real yoga. If we're going to limit outreach to yoga studios and giant yoga classes, we're not going to be very effective in creating community at all.

  5. I sure hope "newbies" aren't going to be participating. Your first time out and you're doing yoga with Seane Corn? People are going to hurt themselves. The event planners are actually spouting out about bringing in the novices as being a good, responsible idea? Are you kidding me? What's the reality here? Are there going to be hundreds of assistants roaming the crowd, making sure everyone is safe in their poses? Right. Studios ask for signed waivers from new students, for a reason. This is the most gluttonous, greedy, publicity-seeking, disingenuous bunch of crap I've ever heard of. And I've heard a lot from the yoga community, but this takes the cake.

    What if you threw a $675,000 party and nobody came? If only.

  6. I sure hope "newbies" aren't going to be participating. Your first time out and you're doing yoga with Seane Corn? People are going to hurt themselves. The event planners are actually spouting out about bringing in the novices as being a good, responsible idea? Are you kidding me? What's the reality here? Are there going to be hundreds of assistants roaming the crowd, making sure everyone is safe in their poses? Right. Studios ask for signed waivers from new students, for a reason. This is the most gluttonous, greedy, publicity-seeking, disingenuous bunch of crap I've ever heard of. And I've heard a lot from the yoga community, but this takes the cake.

    1. I think Seane and the rest of these teachers are actually pretty adept at teaching a yoga class that's accessible to "all levels" (whatever that means). I agree with you that mass events like this should be undertaken with caution and that bringing a whole bunch of new people to yoga in a 15k+ yoga class isn't exactly ideal (or realistic), but I would guess that the organizers have enough experience to be considering some of the concerns you point out.

  7. 'The peace you feel on the mat doesn’t somehow float overseas to end wars in the Middle East or stop gang violence in inner-city New York.' –> love that! I sincerely hope the yoga community gets better organised and starts creating sustainable fundraising events to put all the passion and magnanimity raised on the mat and the meditation cushion into some serious work where it's needed most. This is just a lot of PR bullshit.

    1. Ironically enough, many of the charity partners involved (Off the Mat into the World, Urban Zen, etc) are doing just that. That's why it felt so confusing to see them involved and asking their followers to donate 675K to GLBL Yoga. What they could do with that money! I personally think it would be much better spent supporting their existing initiatives.

  8. Where is the rest of the raised money going, if only 50% of the donated funds are going to various charities? I would think that everyone involved in teaching/music would be donating their time? I imagine permits in NYC are fairly expensive, but not THAT expensive!

  9. Very well said. I wonder how “transparent” the financial reporting will be. How much did the preview video cost? Will any of the businesses getting the contracts be associated w/ the organizers? will the work go out to lowest bidder or at least be done for BIG discount?

    Thank you for providing excellent examples of much more beautiful, generous, and productive (literally) ways to spend $675,000. The manure produced by chickens doesn’t smell quite as sweet as that created on Madison Ave. or in LA, but when you eat what grows in it, you are nourished, not poisoned.

    Namaste

  10. Chelsea,
    You make some good points on running and funding yoga events that most would agree with… what I do find myself questioning, was your paragraph which starts with "With all due respect". In this paragraph, you say, "The peace you feel on the mat doesn’t somehow float overseas to end wars in the Middle East or stop gang violence in inner-city New York… hmmm… so you don't think that the peace and compassion cultivated on the mat has a ripple effect on those around us? Hello, is Chelsea home? For in your introduction to Intent a couple of months ago, you stated, "If I bring my actions into alignment with my intent, the benefits will ripple out to effect not only me, but every person I come into contact with. That’s powerful." So do you not think yoga is bringing our actions into alignment with our intent? Or do you not really think that they ripple out, "float" overseas and/or effect anyone? LOL to be continued…

  11. And your last sentence of that paragraph, "Yoga is a wonderful tool for cultivating personal wellbeing and sustainability, but downward facing dog isn’t going to unify humankind." What a statement! I can even hear my indian guru who passed away 20 yrs ago respond, "if your downward facing dog isn't unifying yourself, and therefore humankind, then you aren't practicing yoga… you are stretching and calling it yoga." :) Yoga means union kind woman, and all of us are part of humankind. At the same time, maybe I am just ignorant of the branch of yoga you are trained in… so please feel free to enlighten me.
    Anyway, thank you for that paragraph… I needed to hear my guru's voice and all the tears and laughter that came with it. Namaste

  12. we're really going off the rails on the crazy train with events like this! Ego, Ego, Ego… that's all it is. Gotta have the best, the biggest, the most expensive, the shiniest, the loudest, yadda yadda yadda. Please, just go volunteer somewhere, help someone, and give directly to the charity of your choice, then reward yourself with a nice yoga class. the world will be a better place for it.

  13. It’s obvious that this is being seen as a marketing opportunity by the (self-serving) celebrities in the video:

    – Richard Branson slyly plugging his airline with the stewardess “yoga class”.

    – Russell Simmons is launching a new “Lifestyle Yoga Brand” (http://www.complex.com/style/2012/03/russell-simmons-plans-to-provide-all-your-yoga-needs-with-new-yoga-lifestyle-brand)

    – Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Foundation is one of the “charity partners” listed. (though they seem to do some good stuff)

    The marketing firm Matter Unltd is one of the co-founders. According to their website (http://www.makethingsmatter.com/), “We designed the branding, directed the launch film, and developed GLBLYOGA.com as the hub of an integrated brand and project launch.” And they label the event a “brand and international event property”. Huh?

    It’s clear to see that they are salesmen, shilling their wares to everyone they can, and they see the well-heeled “yoga demographic” exploding in popularity and want to capitalize on it. Traditionally, corporate sponsors foot the bill for an event in order to advertise to the participants, but in this case they want us to pay for the opportunity to be advertised to. Does the marketing firm think that we are so celebrity star-struck that we'll just trow money at them if they ask. Frankly, it's insulting.

    TL;DR: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY FOLKS.

  14. Why are the four yoga leaders NOT contributing their own money as they are quite wealthy and would be a nice thanks to the yoga community for making them famous. Kind of shameful actually.

  15. Sounds like the yoga community is turning into CHURCH! 100 for me….none for you! Wonderful Article

  16. The breakdown includes a sizable chunk of moolah for the "presenters", I believe it averaged out to $7K a head to tag-team teach.