Accessibility: The Money Issue (originally published 3/22/17)

This post appeared on the blog page of Reverb Charleston, a project Ashley started in 2015 to help make yoga more accessible across common physical, philosophical and socioeconomic barriers to the practice.  Problems with the construction of the space forced the business to close after only 10 months, but all things tend to happen for a reason, don't they?  This post outlines efforts around financial accessibility and is shared in the hopes that others may find it useful in reaching those in need of the relief from emotional and physical pain that yoga may provide.

Our mission at Reverb Charleston is to find as many ways as possible to make mindfulness practices more accessible.  Charleston boasts an impressive collection of excellent yoga studios doing amazing work.  Yet over the years after talking to students and would-be practitioners, I found that many folks still find yoga itself unapproachable.  Considering these collected conversations, I began to devise a program to address the issues around the physical limitations, philosophical concerns and budgetary constraints that prevent people from exploring yoga as a resource.

At Reverb, we have several systems in place that attempt to address making the practice more accessible across typical socio-economic barriers.  Overall, we decided to eliminate special discounts for particular populations and create one set of rates for everyone that is, as a result, on par with market averages. Our online drop-in rate is $15, but anyone may come to the studio and join any regularly scheduled class for a self-selected rate of $5-$15.

When it comes to budgetary constraints, there are often many issues at play. For some people, yoga is simply too expensive.  For others, it may be a juggling act to adjust their budget to accommodate the investment, thus delaying – sometimes indefinitely – their ability to attend class.  As a single mother who worked seven days a week and still spent some time receiving government assistance, I couldn’t have afforded yoga classes if I hadn’t been allowed to attend in studios where I taught free of charge.  I understand firsthand how difficult it is to justify making one’s own health and wellness a priority when times are tough.

If you’ve ever lived through truly dire financial straits, you know that’s when you need yoga the most.  At Reverb anyone may self-select a drop-in rate at any time for any regularly scheduled class.  Simply come to the studio before the class you’d like to attend, offer any amount between $5 and $15, and you’re are all set to practice – no questions asked, no judgements, no expectations or exceptions.

In addition to offering the $5 – $15 rates in-house, we offer free weekly classes out in the community near to the studio.  This outreach is an effort to meet and learn from our neighbors and to let them know that we want to see them, hear their stories, and share these tools with them.  By forging these relationships, we hope they will also feel welcome at Reverb – expanding ideas about what a yoga practitioner might look like or sound like, where they might be from, or why they might be invested in or curious about the practice.

To offset the cost of our free outreach classes and our self-selected drop-in rates, we offer our monthly membership (regularly $85) at a $100 per month rate.  These “Pay-It-Forward” memberships (available under “Contracts” on our retail site) come with free onsite mat storage and discounts on merchandise – representing Reverb’s investment in each student who desires to invest in the community at large.  If the extra “Pay-It-Forward” membership funds exceed the costs of the drop-in rates and the off-site classes, we will create scholarship opportunities for special events and workshops.  We also offer corporate partnerships that allow local businesses to sponsor our outreach classes while linking their employees to special corporate rates.

If we each extend a hand, it creates the opportunity for us to give what we can and receive what we need.  Our payment structures have been established not for any of us to reach down to lift another up, but to recognize that by reaching out to each other across unspoken barriers we can deepen the fabric of our communities, one thread of experience at a time.  Reverb exists to support these types of experiences and derives its name from this mission.

One common meaning of the word “reverberate” is to “be reflected many times” or “to cast back light.”  Whether or not you are able to “pay-it-forward” financially, your willingness to invest in your health and wellbeing ensures that you are able “cast back light,” staying better resourced so that you can take better care of yourself and those around you – which creates a reverberation that positively impacts the community at large.

Feel Better.  Do Better.  Pass It On.