Living in New York City is like going to a candy shop as a child: you want everything you see, but your parents won’t let you have it. When you’re a twenty-something and you finally make it to the Big Apple, subway rats and all, the nagging of your parents at the candy store is replaced by an empty bank account. And while New York guides everywhere will navigate you to the “best” places across Manhattan, this normally also translates to the most expensive.
If you know how to work around the system, you can just make it in this city with a few dollars to spare. One of the biggest money suckers for fitness fiends like me is group classes — while these can be beneficial for motivation, according to studies, they can also be extremely costly, especially the celeb-studded boutique studios like SoulCycle.
In the East Village, home to Union Square and NYU, several studios offer classes for free and ask that you donate what you can- usually about $10 at the door. Other workout wear stores offer free classes on the weekends featuring some of the best studios’ instructors, giving you a glimpse into the lives of Manhattan’s elite (sorry, I couldn’t resist the Gossip Girl reference). Any of these classes are just as good as a $30 Power Yoga class at Equinox, but after a session, your wallet won’t feel as light and airy as you do at the end of a relaxing class.
Yoga to the People (YTTP) has swept the nation as a donation-based studio that is “accessible to everyone.” The YTTP outlet in the East Village, located at 12 Saint Marks Pl. next to a sweet-smelling falafel restaurant, is staffed with friendly instructors and asks for a $10 donation per class, but does not require any certain amount. Like at the Met, you give what you can, in line with their “make yoga available to everyone” attitude.
Be warned now: this place can carry a stench, especially if you go to some of the later classes after countless yogis have downward doggied all over the place. However, a little stink is a small price to pay for no price at all. Although there are many teachers here, each class moves at the same speed and you can expect the same poses every time. The YTTP classes focus on destressing and strengthing the core with many chair poses and sun salutations. Beginners and advanced yogis alike are welcome in the same class and are encouraged to modify moves depending on their own skill-sets. Again, this is just how free classes work; for a class targeted specifically at beginners or progis (my made-up word for pro yogis), head to a boutique studio with a variety of classes.
Ironically enough, the boutique store known for overpriced, albeit adorable, fitness gear is also another go-to for gratis yoga in the East Village. Every Sunday morning, Lululemon moves the racks to the sides and makes room for 8–12 mats, enough for an intimate class led by a different instructor each week, plucked from local, well-known studios.
Unlike YTTP, where you can generally anticipate the same routine at every class, Lulu’s are more of a toss-up since it is not technically a studio with a mission statement. However, every class I have been to here has been beneficial in some way — some classes focus on stretching the limbs; others hone in on strengthening the core; every class requires you to ‘set an intention’ at the onset. No matter the style of the class, Lululemon’s hour-long sessions are intimate, which provides more one-on-one time with the instructor who may shift your body into the proper pose or guide your hips further back for a more proper stretch.
Many other fitness boutiques offer classes free of charge, like Reebok. Check out some of your favorite stores and ask a sales rep if they host any workshops before you waste $30+ on something you can get for free!