We just got back from a trip to Hong Kong. Emre went on business, I joined him for pleasure. I had made a list of yoga studios to go to, but there are too many miles to walk, temples to visit and egg tarts to eat. My Manduka mat traveled about 17000 miles with me to and fro but i barely got to use it. Pure Yoga has many locations similar to Yoga Tree in California. I should have known something was wrong when I looked at the website and didn't see any prices for the classes. But its a group yoga class, how expensive can it get? We took 3 trains to get to Emre's conference hotel, I then took 2 trains to get to Pure Yoga. After getting royally lost, I finally found it, its in the middle of the financial district, on the 16th floor of a fancy office building, The Centrium. I walk in, the staff is helpful, the reception area sells lululemon, zobha and another fancy brand i cant remember. There are some clients sitting on the couches overlooking the skyline. They make me fill out a form, and ask me for HKD 300. I'm thinking this cant be right, that's about $42.50. I asked 3 times to make sure I had got it right, yes it's HKD 300. I did not have enough cash, so out came my credit card. My total was $45 after fees + exchange rate + bank fees. I paid it.
I have to admit, my reaction to the price must have seemed peasant like, but I could not help being shocked. If I had known that was the price, I would have never gone to the studio in the first place. My class went well, I liked the instructor, but there was a cloud hanging over me. I don't get to go to a lot of classes, and when I do go, especially in a foreign country, I am looking to be wowed, I am looking for epiphanies and I am looking to break out of my normal practice, do a pose I have never done before. My instructor seemed extremely knowledgeable, but I was not wowed. There was this one part where she asked us to "get into chair, feel our sit bones, while feeling them, squeeze the thighs, shoot your knees out, tuck the tail bone, open your inner thighs, the lower back stays flat, pull your belly in, keep your thighs rotating inward, squeeze your buttocks, do you feel your pelvis shift? Do you feel that opening?" And everyone goes "mmm-yesss". I am a yoga teacher and I had no idea what she was getting us to feel. There seemed to be way too much information, I forgot what I was trying to do by the time I got to step 3. It frustrated me. But I could have forgiven all that; that $45 though...I could not let it go. It was not the money, but it was everything the money seemed to stand for. Here is why it bothered me so:
- Yoga was originally taught free, teachers of the arts, dance, music, yoga, were given what is called 'dakshina'. I almost want to call it a donation of sorts, you gave what you could, this was often not a lot for poor families. While times have changed, the essence of yoga is that knowledge is a privilege. You do not own it, and it is your duty to share what you know. When you charge an exorbitant amount like $43 you have taken away the essence of yoga. It is now 'Pure' business. $1 approx equals HKD 6, so an average person in HK would not be able to pay for this class. It seems counter productive to spreading the knowledge of yoga.
- Building on my first point, when you charge a high price, you have already chosen a specific 'student' or 'clientele'. In HK it is very common for both parents to work. It is even more common to have children stay with their grandparents, because the parents are too busy working to care for them. A lot of people see their own children over weekends. Who needs yoga more in this situation? a banker with a $30 million dollar house, who can have private instruction in his yoga room overlooking Deep Water Bay or the stressed parent pulling 12 hour shifts who has probably forgotten to breathe?
- Aside from the societal implications, I would have expected a smaller class, or more personal instruction, maybe the teacher would adjust me more, or have assistants who kept an eye on me. Nope, nothing like it. It was a very normal class, she walked around instructing, she had an eye on us but I did not pay a normal fee.
- Somehow yoga is supposed to change you, but here the business people seem to have changed yoga and that does not sit well with me.
- I then wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they offer free classes for a certain population, maybe they are affiliated with at risk groups, maybe they offer open sessions for people to come in, ask questions and explore yoga. Nope, nothing, zilch, nada.
- On a side note, I had emailed and called this studio well in advance of my visit. I wanted to hold a charity yoga class with all funds going to the Africa Yoga Project. They kept me on hold, did not respond my emails, fb posts or calls. They had the chance to redeem themselves, I was going to teach a free class but not even a response.
But I am no one to preach about class prices given that I make a living teaching yoga. I pay as much for a gallon of milk as a CEO or any other regular consumer does. I have to pay bills, rent, instructor's insurance etc. I work hard, my heart is in it, why should I not make some money? But I also think I am fair. If I were to charge a high price, I would make sure the class was small so that I could give more attention. At the same time, I would have classes that suited everyone's budget. I have taught many classes for free just so that first timers get a taste of what they could have. I know other instructors who would do the same. I encourage people to develop a home practice so that they don't have to depend on me for their yoga fix. I don't hold back any of the knowledge I feel lucky to have.
I did not name the instructor on purpose because I am upset with the studio, not her. My class was fine but I did not like being party to a system that seems to favor the elite. After I left, I was seething the whole day. I still cannot get over it. How can people blatantly do this?? I don't think I am wrong and I am annoyed that I won't let it go. I cannot be the only one who feels this way.
So this why I will never go to Pure Yoga in Hong Kong again. I feel bad that it has come to this, because I think there are good teachers working there from whom I could have learned a few things. My feelings on this issue will not make a difference to Pure Yoga (HK) and that is fine. But maybe someone will see this post, maybe they will want to offer more service, more charity classes and a chance for Hong Kong to experience what yoga should really be about, seva, breath and equality.
"The fact that I can plant a seed and it becomes a flower, share a bit of knowledge and it becomes another's, smile at someone and receive a smile in return, are to me continual spiritual exercises."
- Leo.F. Buscaglia
- Leo.F. Buscaglia