Free Baltimore Yoga was launched 2 years ago. The idea was fairly simple. I would teach studio quality yoga in non-studio spaces. The classes would occur weekly and the schedule would run similar to a yoga studio in that I would only cancel class if the locations needed the space for some unforeseen reason or if there was inclement weather.
I took everything that I had learned about marketing myself as a yoga teacher and channeled it into this program. It was designed to be an alternative and a complement to yoga studios. The classes are open to anyone and they are free with an aim to create as few barriers as possible from a regular practice. Some students start with us and move onto studios. Some students practice with us when they need to save money in a week. Some students practice with us because they like the teaching and the vibe of the classes. I cannot stress this enough. I didn’t create the program to replace yoga studios. I created it as a way to offer yoga in the most free way possible for both the students and especially the teachers.
As we grew and more teachers joined our program, I aimed to keep the program as relaxed as possible. I didn’t micro-manage the teachers’ classes. They are free to teach vinyasa yoga as they like. I required the teachers to be a certified yoga instructor and to carry up-to-date liability insurance. I asked that they also share in a genuine belief and love in the practice and the program by practicing with the classes when they could. (This both worked and failed to a large degree, mostly because I rarely practiced the classes myself because I found myself obsessed with the program and wasn’t really free to enjoy my own practice when I attended.)
I think the program is both a success and also it’s far from perfect. I certainly used the popularity and shininess to curate a “cool-looking” yoga program from the outside. It is cool in many ways. I loved being able to share yoga in such a free setting and it was still not as accessible as it could be. We don’t offer yoga classes specifically for seniors. We don’t have yoga specifically for trauma recovery. Our teaching team lacks diversity. We may have taken some money away from studios and in turn out of working teacher’s pockets. I’m not happy about any of that and I take full responsibility for that. (I will always be a stand for teachers negotiating with studio owners for their full worth. Know your value and start a discussion from that space. Don’t cave into the belief that it’s somehow “not yogic” to ask for fair compensation. Some of the most “practiced” yogis I know own studios, volunteer their teaching time, AND fairly compensate their teachers. I’m looking at you, Stacey Vespaziani.)
This Tuesday I’ll teach my last yoga class. Emily Fleming (Baltimore native) will continue to run this program with a team of generous and talented teachers behind her.
I’m grateful to everyone who took the time to roll out a mat with us over the last two years. I may not always remember your name but I know all of your faces.
Thank you to all of my past and present teachers and friends, my family, and my husband for tempering my fire with reason.
Thank you to all of the location sponsors, the door openers and lockers, maintenance workers, and security guards for baring with us through the years.
Thank you to my friend who shared a manic cup of iced coffee with me in the rain a few years ago on the top of Fed Hill for naming the program. It was simple and direct and without his help, I probably would’ve called it Glitter Yoga Express or something and it really would’ve missed the mark.
The light in me sees and acknowledges the light in all of you and I look forward to seeing you around town!
Every few years during the election cycle, my yoga-teaching friends and I found ourselves in a unique and rare place. We spoke freely on almost every topic most months of the year and around election time; we started clamming up. It was sort of an unofficial and unspoken agreement we had that in order to hold space for all of our students, it was necessary to keep quiet when it came to issues surrounding politics. To be frank, we are a mix of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents and it just always worked the best when we didn’t mix politics and yoga. For the last seven years, that has just been the way that it went.
I’m breaking that unspoken rule today. Last week I watched most evenings of the Republican National Convention. As an Independent voter turned Democrat raised in a Democrat/ Republican household and married to a Democrat raised by two very liberal parents, I was open to hearing the arguments. If I’m being honest, in the past, I enjoyed gleaning observations from the Republicans that I could use in a discussion with my husband when I thought he was too left-leaning.
On Thursday night, I drove home from Baltimore to Pittsburgh for a quick work trip which put my drive situated squarely in the middle of Donald Trump’s acceptance of the GOP’s nomination. I drove alone in the dark and listened to his speech. It felt Orwellian and terrifying and at times, like science fiction. I listened to him describe the continued need for separation. Alongside angry group chants of “build a wall, build a wall”, he continued to speak of his plan for closing off countries until we could vet the religions and intentions of those seeking to live in the United States. He called himself the “law and order” candidate and made promises no politician can keep regarding the “reform” of inner cities and education. And again this notion of “Make America great again”.
I just don’t know of which time period anyone is referring. Do you mean when slavery existed? Do you mean when women couldn’t vote? Do you mean when Carnegie and Frick waged class warfare against the labor unions? And you can blame Kennedy or Reagan or both, but was America great when mental health care “shifted” and as a country we dumped the mentally ill onto the streets with zero resources?
I believe we can find hate and we can find love in almost every moment of American history. I’m not interested in continuing to divide the country alongside the lines of hate. I’m not going to be stockpiling resources and food in the hopes that I’ll keep my loved ones safer than yours. I want us all to be safe. I want us all to make it. I don’t want to divide my neighbors into armed and unarmed.
My family was gifted several guns years ago and I asked the giver, very politely, to keep them. As someone who suffered through a decade of suicidal thoughts, I know better than to keep any guns in my home. I also know that in the event of some catastrophic war on the streets of the U.S., I’m not going to use any violence to keep myself alive and fed while you and your family suffer. We all make it or none of us makes it.
Call me naïve or idealistic. I run a free yoga program so it won’t be the first time that I’ve heard it.
None of us can afford to be quiet about the upcoming election in November. I love Bernie Sanders and I hope that we can take his message and energy and genuine care for the welfare of all Americans and include it in the Democratic Party. While I don’t agree with her on everything, I do think Hillary Clinton is brave and overly-qualified for the highest office in the land. I’m also aware that she’s made major mistakes with casualties. I’d challenge anyone to find someone working at her level who hasn’t made mistakes and bad choices. I believe that with Sanders’ historic run, the Clinton campaign has been forced into listening to issues that would’ve otherwise fallen by the wayside.
I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited about the upcoming historic acceptance speech by Clinton as the first female Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. When I was a kid, my Barbies were Rockstar/Astronaut/Presidents and now for the first time, the President part doesn’t seem like the most far-fetched career choice.
I still believe that political opinions have no place inside a yoga class. You can wear a “Trump 4 Prez” tank top and I’ll continue to welcome you to class. My job is to hold safe space for all of my students and that remains un-changed. But, this time for the first year ever, I get to tell you; I’m with her.
When I last wrote about Free Baltimore Yoga, a project dedicated to providing studio quality yoga in non-studio spaces (you didn’t see it, but fellow entrepreneur types – I typed that elevator pitch with a quickness), we were still doe-eyed and fresh-faced. It was November and 4 months into this program, we were still riding high on adrenaline, attention, and momentum.
Staring down Free Baltimore Yoga’s one-year birthday next month, some days we don’t feel so young anymore.
Questions I frequently answer:
What about the people who come to class who can afford the yoga?
Isn’t that what’s so damn special about this? In a world where everyone wants you to click on the link in bio to reserve your spot – here there are no tix for sale. I love the notion that your money is no good here. AND I’ll add that I don’t know and don’t give a damn who can or cannot afford the class. The entire second row on Tuesday night at Patterson Park could own founder-level 1980’s Apple stock and I’d have no idea. I won’t treat you any differently based on your income. I won’t teach you any differently. That sounds freeing regardless of the money or lack of money being exchanged.
Why don’t you let people donate depending on their level of income?
I don’t want to see the guy who’s chasing the fancy quiche pay $20 in front of the guy who’s scrambling to make ends meet this week. Listen, I love the guy who wants the fancy quiche. I want the fancy quiche too! But this has no place in yoga. At least it has no place in the yoga that I want to share.
What do you do for money? Trust fund? Wealthy husband?
I hope both my parents and my husband have a good laugh at this one. Not that it’s any of your business but no. I don’t have a trust fund or a wealthy husband. Before I taught yoga full-time, I was a makeup artist. Guys, I wasn’t very good (see below)! After college, my husband started off working at Kinko’s (before it was Fed-Ex Kinko’s) and I still remember the day we celebrated when he got a raise to $9 an hour. Full disclosure: he is now a Software Engineer and we have bills and debt just like most Americans. For the most part I have eschewed a paycheck over the last year, although there were exceptions and I am grateful for them!
Do you want someone to buy this whole thing and pay you to run it? (Clarification: No one has ever asked me that. I wish someone would ask me that. Let me volunteer my answer…)
YES, of course! I’m naïve and community-minded but I’m not stupid. Of course, I want some philanthropic, large-hearted, sugar daddy, yoga lover to see the value of community built without money. I’d love to be able to pay the teachers (my friends), photographer (my friend), web designer (my husband), and social media maven (me) every penny of what they’re worth. Here’s the thing though, I’m not going to compromise the program just for the dollars. I don’t want people to have to practice on mats with logos and I don’t want it to become PNC Free Baltimore Yoga because we all know that’s stupid and gross. This is yoga asana as pure and accessible as I can teach it at this point. I haven’t figured it all out. Nobody has.
Since you teach for free, will you teach for my community group, sorority, me and my turtle?
No. I’d love to be able to do that and I have learned to say no. This program has inclusivity at its core so teaching for a small group, no matter how incredible they are, takes away from the community and inclusivity of the program’s aims. It’s in no way personal. (Note: If you do practice with your turtle on your back, I might actually say yes just for the Insta.)
What else do you do?
Thank you for your concern! I’m a yoga teacher and full-time caretaker of Free Baltimore Yoga and Free City Yoga and although my schedule may not always appear full, I assure you that I have plenty to keep me busy. I also write. I don’t get paid for that… yet! If someone wants to change that; let’s talk. Listen, I have no problem with writing AT&T presents Lee Anne Finfinger’s book of musings on life, yoga, and everything in between.
Free Pittsburgh Yoga has been going strong for almost 2 months! Free Twin Cities Yoga and Free DC Yoga are on their way thanks to the incredible women who’ve all come to me and asked if they can start this in their own cities. Like I mentioned, Free Baltimore Yoga will turn one next month! We’re talking about locations to add in the fall and we’re only taking a break the week of July 4th. All classes are cancelled and will resume on July 12th when I return from Copenhagen stuffed with lagekage! July 19th and July 21st – we’ll celebrate at both classes with yoga and free cake and maybe some surprises if I think of them. Thank you for supporting our little yoga community. If you haven’t rolled out a mat in a while, come see us again. We miss your face and while we won’t accept your dollars, we will accept your love.