SBNR in Action: A Bikram Yoga Fundraiser

Yoga is becoming a hot charity. Yoga fundraisers are becoming a very popular form of social outreach.

Take the trendy Bikram hot yoga studio in Waterloo’s Belmont Village. Yoga teacher David Tiviluk started this business in April 2008, and according to Echo’s annual popularity poll, it is now the most popular studio in the area. This popularity is not just good for business, it has also made it a great platform for successful fundraising.

In 2010,Tiviluk’s studio has sponsored two fundraisers. The first was a modest “smoothie drive”, in which $1700 in proceeds from the sale of after class fruit smoothie drinks went to the Red Cross for disaster relief in Haiti. The second more elaborate fundraiser was spearheaded by Rebecca Sauder, a chemical engineer yogi seeking to travel to Africa to rebuild medical equipment. Through the generosity of her sponsors at Thai Sun restaurant, and the considerable support she received from the Bikram’s yoga community, she raised nearly $6000 in a weekend event that included a Thai food buffet and a raffle for a free one-year membership.

Tiviluk’s studio is not unique in this regard. Indications are that yoga culture extends beyond a finite interest in bodily postures and navel gazing. In many cases, practitioners and teachers are a socially conscious group. For example, when I was in Calgary recently, I noticed that the yoga studio where I dropped in was holding a weekly “Karma Class” with proceeds going to a local health charity. Likewise, in Vancouver this summer, Camp Moomba held a huge outdoor “yogathon” and raised about $90,000 for Canadian children living with HIV. Off the Mat into the World is another yoga-inspired charity that operates under the auspices of the non-profit Engage Network. In 2007, local yoga instructor Mandy Daniels raised nearly $6500 for her Off the Mat campaign thanks in large part to the generosity of the patrons at the Bikram studio.  Around the globe, yogis like her have helped Off the Mat raise over $1 million dollars for aid to children in Cambodia and Uganda.

Since a 2005 study found that 1. 4 million Canadians practice yoga—about 6% of the population—and a further 2.1 million Canadians said they intended to try yoga in the next year, the social ethic of yoga groups might become more visible in the years ahead.

Still, yoga studios are not usually seen as giving back to society in terms of social goods. For one thing yoga is often considered an inwardly focused activity. By contrast, church groups are well known for the amount they contribute to society. According to the 2008 study by Statistics Canada, regular church attenders donated an average of $1038 to charity compared with $437 for the average Canadian. Leaving aside the issue of who benefited most from these contributions, the fact remains, organized religion is a prime source of charitable donations in this country. With church membership declining, though, the source and nature of charitable giving and fundraising is likely to change in the years ahead. It is possible that new types of communities are making contributions at the grassroots level in ways that are not yet fully recognized.

While yoga studios do not yet have the same reputation for bringing people together as churches do—and certainly not the same reputation for social outreach—they might be emerging as a unique type of philanthropic forum. This will surprise some, and delight others, who want to strengthen society and their spine at the same time.