INSIDE THE MISSION OF YOGA TO THE PEOPLE
Carl Danielsen, Yoga to the People’s 52 year old Yoga Instructor and mission statement advocate sat down with NYU’s Journalistic Inquiry in Tompkins Square Park eager to share a passion that keeps him young. Danielsen, a small town boy from Oakland California headed to the rival coast entering the life of a traveling actor, a New York Film Academy teacher, a private acting coaching company owner, and a studying ballet dancer. Now the full blown New Yorker, juggling all of those things has added master Yoga teacher to his resume and is very proud of it.
Yoga to The People is a donation based Yoga Studio originating on St. Mark’s Place in NYC and now has locations throughout the Country. In a day where stress is growing just as fast prices, a ten-dollar suggested donation for an hour of detox has a strong appeal. Most Yoga studios require twice that amount, creating barriers for customers, especially college students. Carl Danielsen recognizes this struggle and therefore has great respect for Yoga to the People and the work that they do.
NYU’S JOURNALISTIC INQUIRY: What is Yoga to the people’s message and how important is it to you?
DANIELSEN: I had tried Yoga many times when I was younger but it wasn’t accessible. Yoga to the People is about making it accessible to everyone. There will be no proper clothes, no proper payment.
NYU: You say Yoga has gotten more and more popular. Why do you think that is?
DANIELSEN: People leave feeling good. They tell their friends and then they bring their friends. We want people who are first timers. We want to make them feel comfortable and not alienated.
NYU: How did you discover Yoga to the People?
DANIELSEN: I saw it in the paper and I would tell all my clients ‘oh you gotta go to YTTP. It’s donation based, you can afford it.’ It sounded like hell to me. The thought of all those people schlepping up the stairs, no room between the mats. That’s terrible. But when I was in California I thought I might as well give this is a shot since I’m recommending it. So I went to the one in Berkley and I thought wow this is really a smart way to teach Yoga. The crowd sounds intimidating, but it is actually part of the beauty of it. The energy in those rooms with all those people working their stuff out together. It’s kind of magical.
NYU: When have you seen that energy?
Danielsen: Part of our training is that we get to observe a class then we get to teach a class. I remember the first time I observed a class and I sat in the back. It was Lindsey’s class. She said child’s pose please. What I saw was the broken bodies. I saw the bodies that needed attention. The bodies that were tight or sore and looked uncomfortable. And then I watched that transformation. Especially in NY. We’re type A and we’re trying to get to the next thing and trying to get to the next thing fast. The fact that someone stops you and encourages you to breathe and have an hour for yourself is extraordinary and people take that in at whatever place they are in their life and laugh and maybe cry and they leave their stuff behind.
NYU: Where did you get your training?
DANIELSEN: I started with Bikram. I studied Yoga at incredible places all over the country. But then I found Yoga to the People. I’ve watched people come to the studio kind of lost, in a couple cases addiction problems and I watched them become yogies [people who practice yoga] and then I watched them do the teacher-training and then I’d watch them become master teachers. I’ve seen people kind of blossom under this whole thing. I’ve seen the teacher-training programs at other places that are excellent but it was less about the personal growth. And I really wanted to be a yoga teacher; I wanted whatever that transformative quality was. And the people that worked Yoga to the People are so cool, I just kinda wanted to hang out with them get to know them a little better.
NYU: How do you get the funding to open up new studios?
DANIELSEN: Greg has a following, I think mostly from the West coast. And he had this vision and he started with one studio and he did all the teaching. They start with a couple classes and they build for a few days. They train teachers and it’s a unique teacher-training program. It’s not about creating gurus or the master yoga teacher; it’s about teaching people to teach themselves, which is another big Yoga to the People philosophy. It’s not how can we get you into the perfect deepest pose; it’s how can we teach them healthily in a way that’s beneficial for your body.
NYU: Do you do this full time? What do you do outside of this?
DANIELSEN: Very few of our teachers make a living off of this. And if they do you see them all the time. They teach four classes a day, 100 a month and I never went into it for that. Everyone is paid the same and it’s a very modest sum for each class. At the end of the month it’s a little extra change and it’s nice. I teach Shakespeare down at NYFA and I also have my private coaching company so between those three things I manage to carve out an income. I know it’s the hippie artist thing.
NYU: How are the donations? Does anyone give big and do some people take advantage of the pay as you please.
DANIELSEN: I don’t look in the box. You just put it in the envelope. People come and don’t pay which is cool, that’s what we want. We want it to be available to everybody. A girl came and gave money but I didn’t see her give money and she asked if she could take a mat. I said well the mat is a dollar fifty and she said well I just gave you twenty. I think people are giving the $10 suggested donation, which is half of what it is any place else.
NYU: Do you worry that it may be difficult for YTTP to stay as affordable as it is?
DANIELSEN: There is a serious commitment. I mean you never know what the future is gonna bring but there is a promise that it will always be donation based.
NYU: Do you guys ever feel like you’re in competition with other studios?
DANIELSEN: Oh there’s the rivalry. So ridiculous. It’s more to us than us feeling like we need to compete with someone else. Competition is good for us. In a sense that people have different things to choose from and it keeps everybody on their game.