This article is the second in a series on San Francisco’s cultural fixtures.
Behind an unassuming door in the Mission District and up five flights of stairs, a yoga class is just getting out. The wide studio windows are steamed up from a heated session, and students of all ages laugh and chat as they put on their shoes to leave.
Yoga to the People aims to bring yoga to students of all backgrounds, skill levels and incomes. In addition to their San Francisco locations, the studio has locations in New York City, Berkeley and Tempe, Arizona. Classes are by donation only; you pay what you can. This model stands out in a city where yoga students can expect to pay $15 to $25 per drop-in class at other studios —a barrier to entry for many would-be practitioners.
“You roll in, throw a couple bucks in the tissue box,” said Yoga to the People teacher Travis Jackson. “You don’t have to sign up or put your credit card down.”
When he isn’t at his full time job teaching agroecology — the study of agricultural production systems — at Mission High School, Jackson is at Yoga to the People. He signed up for teacher training at Yoga to the People after becoming a regular at the studio and noticing the value in his own experience as a student.
Jackson emphasized the importance of regular movement and breath awareness for everyone.
“Even an iced tea tastes better if you shake it up,” he said by way of analogy. He attends yoga classes almost every day.
Chris Leader, also a teacher at Yoga to the People, first walked through the studio doors about three years ago. At the time, he was single-mindedly focused on his job as a product manager at the tech company SendGrid. He’d tried a couple yoga classes before but didn’t feel drawn to the practice until he found Yoga to the People.
“I immediately felt at home here, and the practice really resonated with me,” he said. “It was this one outlet where I actually felt relaxed. I felt more in tune with myself.”
Leader started attending weekly classes and then several classes per week, before finally completing a 200-hour yoga teacher training program through Yoga to the People last year. He still has a full-time day job but teaches yoga in the evenings.
Although Leader said some teachers support themselves entirely through yoga work, many have other jobs and teach largely because they enjoy it.
“My favorite part is to watch students get lost in the practice,” Leader said. “Especially for me, as someone who works in tech, this space is really special because it affords the opportunity to unplug.”
Some of his students also work in tech, but others come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Leader said that not all students are able to pay on any given day, but the studio is very popular and also accepts online donations.
“It’s not about the teacher, it’s about the student,” Leader said of both the payment model and the teaching style at Yoga to the People.
Contact Jasmine Kerber at jkerber ‘at’ stanford.edu.