Always-At-Aum Yoga Studio in West Babylon offers "free" classes to...

Always-At-Aum Yoga Studio in West Babylon offers "free" classes to students, while encouraging donations to pay for expenses. (Oct. 21, 2010) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Tough economic times have many Long Islanders choosing carefully between "needs" and "wants," often forgoing the little luxuries that pad monthly expenses. At least partially in response to this quandary, several local yoga studios are now regularly offering classes where students are asked to pay only what they can afford, whether that's $5, $15 - or nothing. And, no one will say anything other than "namaste."

"We have students who don't pay anything, students who pay more sometimes and less when they don't have as much," says Robin Appel of Always-At-Aum Yoga School in West Babylon, which hosts a dozen or so donation-based classes a week.

It's the same story at Inner Spirit Yoga Studio in East Northport, where owner Roni Yaari says she offers multiple pay-what-you-can yoga and dance classes.

"A lot of our people lost their jobs and couldn't afford to come," says Yaari, who has been offering nearly half the schedule by donation since June. "We do this because people supported us all this time, this is our time to support them."

Such generosity is admirable - but can pose problems to a studio's bottom line.

"We're not a nonprofit - we do pay rent," Appel says. "We just believe that this is the right thing to do and that, with the transfer of energy, everything will work out. So far, it has."

How it works

Most yoga studios charge $10-$20 for a la carte classes, but when it comes to donation classes, anything goes. Studios have a box or basket set up in the room for students to contribute, usually at the beginning of class.

"Some don't pay anything, and others pay more than what a class costs," Yaari says.

The flexible setup works for Bobby Miller, a banker from West Islip who is a regular at Always-At-Aum.

"Part of my salary is commission, so when I'm going through lean times, I pay less," says Miller, 34, after a recent class. "In a good month, I remember to take care of them."

In Kings Park, Simplicity Yoga Studio owner Roseanne Sihler waives her usual $15 fee at 5 p.m. Sundays for a pay-what-you-can yoga class that started when the studio opened in December. Donations, she says, average about $300 a month, which is donated to a different Long Island charity.

"It is nice to be able to do this and it not cost a lot," says Tina Schneider, 42, who gives $5 or $10 per class. "There's no pressure . . . you just drop money into the box - or not." 


Absolute Yoga 

Where: 1 Guilles Lane, Woodbury, 516-682-9642,

When: 5:15-6:30 p.m. Sundays

Always-At-Aum Yoga School

Where: 170 Little East Neck Rd., Suite No. 3, West Babylon, 631-235-5307,

When: Multiple donation yoga classes daily

Embrace Yoga

Where: 84 W. Main St., East Islip, 631-859-9642,

When: 8:30 a.m. Sundays; 9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays 

Inner Spirit Yoga Studio

Where: 24 Vernon Valley Rd., East Northport, 631-262-9642,

When: Multiple donation yoga and dance classes.

Simplicity Yoga Studio

Where: 84 Main St., Kings Park, 631-546-8894,

When: 5 p.m. Sundays and 10:45-11:45 a.m. first Sunday of the month for family donation yoga classes

Breathe N Flow Yoga

Where: 361B Atlantic Ave., Freeport, 516-632-9626,

When: 4-5 p.m. Friday

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