Now that I have your attention, it’s not really free. It’s almost free. Yoga by Donation has been operational in Portsmouth since 2009. The concept is simple: practice yoga and give what you can, be it time or money. This arrangement is great for people like me who are interested in yoga, but don’t want to commit to stringent memberships. The studio is conveniently located downtown, next to the Portsmouth Health Food Center on Congress Street.
Pro tip: the Yoga by Donation sandwich board is on Congress but the main entrance to the studio is around the back and up the stairs.
The studio is inviting, warm and has a great South-facing window full of greenery. There are plenty of blocks, blankets and mats for more varied yoga practices; you can even store your mat there if you’re a regular.
There are classes for everyone: young mothers, runners/hikers, the elderly, novices and experts alike. The open, give-what-you-can nature of the studio helps to foster such diversity. I really appreciate the vibe of Yoga by Donation compared to the more formal studios I’ve been to because it takes some of the commodification out of what should be (in my humble opinion) a personal practice for self-improvement. I wouldn’t characterize myself as a spiritual person but I definitely appreciate a workout routine that also involves mental concentration, relaxation and connecting with others.
There are over a dozen instructors listed on Yoga by Donation’s website but I’m partial to Evalyn. On top of the physical practice of yoga, Evalyn stresses the power of meditation and overall well-being. Her Friday evening class is my favorite way to end the workweek. She always manages to make me smile and adopt a more positive attitude about the world. One time she told us a story about a junkyard dog that, despite being surrounded by filth, focused on the hope and beauty he found in a distant star. She’s also sweet enough to bring in homemade juice smoothies to share before nearly every class.
If yoga for the people isn’t your thing, there are numerous other studios downtown worth visiting, such as: Barre and Soul, Zev Yoga Studios, Empower Yoga Center and 3 Bridges Yoga. Many have sign-up specials and promotions. If you do decide to check out Yoga by Donation, please give what you can; a lot of work goes into running and maintaining such a great, community-minded yoga studio.