Why Open a Donation-Based Yoga Studio? I Did It for Love.


By Jacqueline Dahlheimer

The idea of opening a donation-based yoga studio swam around in my head for seven years before I decided I was ready to take the leap and open House of Yoga. It seemed that figuring out how to open a donation-based yoga studio could only happen when I was able to be clear on the why. “Why did I want to do this in the first place? Why had I decided to do this thing?” It was something that so many people seemed to think could be the hard way to run a business? 

Now, after three years in business, I find myself thankful for all the points of view. I’m thankful for all of the faces that showed up in full expression, on this exploration into “my why.’’ I see now that it was the ones who disagreed with me and who taught me the most about who I’d be as a leader and businesswoman, and how to make this community thrive.

 Sharing, Listening, Learning

Any dream starts with a thought or concept, right? The more that thought or concept pops up, the more we feel the need to explore it. For me, my means of exploration started in the faces of the people in my life. It started by talking and listening to others to discover what I believed—and so I shared. As I did, I learned and listened. I began to watch, and as I watched, I found that series of expressions seemed to come across the faces of the people in front of me. These faces became my teachers and sounding board, as well as the focus group that lead me to the answer of “how’’ and “why’’ House of Yoga is all that it is today.  

As a person who reads bodies and emotion, it became quite interesting to test out my idea on unsuspecting people. Some would crinkle their faces as if to say, ‘That will never work.’ Then, they would share how they felt, and I knew that their faces were telling the same story as their mouths. Others would smile and listen as if hearing a fairy tail being told by a child.

As this type of response continued, it often left me feeling as though I got a pat on the head. Some of my favorite expressions seemed to be the ones that didn’t try to hide anything. Their heads would begin to shake “no,” before I was able to finish sharing my idea. They were my favorites because anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I hate to be told no. Then, there were the ones who just got it. These types of people appeared to light up. Their eyes would shine, as if their faces told me that they got it. Their face told me, “It will work.” From there, they would often simply say, “Do it!”

Over the course of seven years, I studied others and myself. On the way, I began to discover “my why” and then the “how’’ to make it all work. As my point of view changed many times, it seemed as if karma was teaching me how to come to clean space on what I planned to create. Some might suggest that my way of learning could have been a bit faster—that I could have studied other studios that achieved the success of being donation-based models and then copied it. But, for me, that wouldn’t have been enough. If I’m honest, I am not sure whether knowing that what I know now if I could have really succeeded as just a copy of something else. What I found on my journey is that I had a lot of baggage to release before I could launch into a business. For that matter, going into business with a business plan was going to require that I have full faith that it would succeed—sometimes beyond reason. I had to learn first to fully let go of ego. I had to learn to trust myself, and God, if I really wanted to make a difference.

Coming Back to the ‘Why’

Some of what I came to learn happened before we opened our doors. More importantly, my ‘’why’’ and how opening with any baggage around my ‘’why,’’ could have been a big mistake.  

I remember at first thinking, “If I do this, I’d finally be a “‘good person.’” Everyone would know that my days of being an asshole were over! I see now that this thinking for me was more about me being good enough. In some weird way, it was about making others wrong. Maybe this approach explains my impression of the person who gave me the pat on the head. What I know now is that this thinking wasn’t it. I’m still an asshole at times. The truth is that I have always been good enough. While I believe that most of us are innately good people, none of us are perfect.  

Next came the idea that “my why’’ was because I had to “save the world.’’ As it turns out, I learned that this viewpoint was more about being trapped in the idea that something was wrong. This idea came from my old story of gloom and doom that I created as a kid growing up around drug addicts and abusers. This idea was reflected in the people who showed up to shake their heads and crinkle their faces at the idea of House of Yoga. I learned that nothing is wrong. From where I sit, I choose to see that the world is growing, not broken. Nothing is wrong with that mentality.

I have faith that we will learn. I may have had a rough childhood, but I no longer see that I need to be saved from it. Bad shit happened. No one can save me from my past. The secret to letting go of it was when I decided to grow from it on my own. As I learned about this growth, I began to understand that saving the world is not my job. It’s not my job to save anyone. My job is only to be a stand for others to save themselves. Things can get gloomy, but far more brightness exists in the world if we look for it. Sometimes, it’s in the breakdown that we break through to something much more amazing.

From there, I moved onto doing it to “be nice.” This one makes me laugh at myself a bit. Nice people are great! I realized, though, that I’m not nice—kind maybe. But it was not my ‘’why’’ and you should know…I don’t like being patted on the head. I’m actually quite fierce and protective. While I can be nice, it is not the whole of who I am. It was not the why to what I wanted to create in our community at HOY. I didn’t want to do it to seem nice either. Nice is not real for me. Nice is not what life has ever been about for me. Being liked may not always happen. If everything that ever happened in my life was nice, well, I’m not sure I’d know what I know now. They say there is no light without the dark. To work in the light, I had to understand the side of all of us that isn’t so nice. We can’t always be nice. I can be a stand for kindness though. I can be kind and choose to see people if they struggle and offer help.  

Finally, was the idea that I’d open House of Yoga an idea to “be charitable’’? This frame of reference taught me a lot about giving. It came from the face of a businessman who said, “You can’t trust people to pay if you give them the option not to.” I remember thinking, “Why not?”

In my life, I’ve been poor—homeless even. People gave me things like food, a place to sleep, clothing, and health care. I believe it is kind to be charitable. I am grateful for the people who helped me get on my feet. But what I learned about charity, from being homeless, is that there must be a point when a person in need takes action toward one’s own success. I believe that it is imperative that our students invest in themselves. I learned over time that if I wanted to give, I must hold a standard for my students to take a stand for their own growth. If I’m honest, I am not down with freeloaders. I feel like all of us should do our share. I am always happy to help. But I always make it clear that they must help themselves, too. I know now, three years later, that if I didn’t stand firm that not only could my business fail, but more importantly, my students might fail, too.

Now I am fully aware that a donation-based yoga studio is not new. It is actually how our ancestors from many faiths have in the past set out to help each other. From Brahmins and priests to the great yogis, many did their work by accepting donations to care for others. But my “why’’ was not about that or them either. Although I see they showed me the way, too. When I finally got to “my why,’’ I knew it was because my life and the people in it had shown me enough to create a yoga community that would foster trust. I learned to believe in karma at its roots. I knew that community would trust in the human spirit.

Give What You Can. Take What You Need. There Will Always Be Enough.

We seem to be living in a world that has at times lost its point of reference on being human. It’s like we forgot that we came here to love one another. My plan was simple: if you have something to give, give it. If there is something you need, take it. But only take what you need—no more, no less. If we all do this well, then there will always be enough.

I believe that we are here to take care of each other. When it came down to it, I found that I wanted to do it for love. In my lifetime, I had seen so much ugly love that I wanted to be a part of the kind of love that could inspire people to love differently—not be nice or charitable or good people. In my eyes, love trumps all of that. My “why’’ was and is for love! I honestly did it for love.

If we as a community can manage to love one another, well, then we truly made a difference. In the end, it’s not about me. It’s about being a part of something bigger then me. What I learned over those seven years I know now that love pays the bill every month. As I watch our teachers love our students with no catch and nothing owed, I see an air of freedom on their faces. As I watch our students pay for their classes, there is a since of pride on their faces. As I watch students be supported to practice for free, there is always hope in their eyes. On my face, you will often see a face that looks back at you as if to say, “I told you so.” 

Jacqueline Dahlheimer