A few years ago, I had just started grad school and found myself in need of a workout routine. The pandemic had recently shut down my university, and along with my fellow graduate students, I was tasked with learning to both teach and study entirely online. I was staring at a computer screen for twelve hours out of the day – the rest of the time was spent consuming any and all coverage of the pandemic, searching for good news. Meanwhile, my body was shouldering a lot of my stress and anxiety. I ate mindlessly, and often; I bit my nails down until they bled; I went days without showering, choosing to stay in bed. It was time for a change. I needed to get out of my own head and make a home in my body again.
I tried a few different things – barre, running, dance cardio – but I gravitated toward yoga because it promoted mindfulness and stress relief while still providing a full-body workout. In addition, the benefits of practicing yoga are numerous, including the improvement of a person’s strength, balance, and flexibility; relief from back pain, arthritis symptoms, and stress; the promotion of heart health, relaxation, and energy; and the provision of a sense of community and self-care. Yoga is, first and foremost, an Indian practice rooted in the goal of bringing mind and body together in harmony to achieve self-realization. This goal is most commonly achieved through movement of the body into different poses while paying close attention to your breathing. The balance of breathwork and exercise will, ideally, help the yogi foster a strong mind-body connection. It turned out that that was exactly what I needed – when I was doing yoga, my thoughts were occupied with trying to nail a pose and steady my breathing rather than spiraling into worst-case pandemic scenarios. I noticed that I simply felt better after practicing yoga – calmer, more comfortable in my body and knowledgeable about what it could do.
The only downside was that I was broke. Comparing yoga’s spiritual and meditative roots to its rapid rise in popularity (and subsequent commodification) in the United States is nothing short of disorienting. According to a 2020 report published by Allied Market Research, the global yoga market is predicted to reach $66.2 billion dollars by 2027 (up from $37.5 billion in 2019). How could a practice meant for all people become so entrenched in capitalism? Thus, keeping up a yoga habit can be expensive. A typical drop-in fee for a forty-five-minute yoga class in my area costs between $10 and $25, while monthly fees often range in the hundreds, depending on the gym or yoga studio. There’s also the cost of clothing and accessories to consider – finding athleticwear, yoga blocks and mats, towels and straps can really add up if you don’t think critically about where to find these things. I didn’t have the money for an expensive membership, the high-end clothing or the hundred-dollar yoga mats I always saw other girls with while doing yoga. I had to think creatively about how I could still participate in yoga while keeping my costs low. And I learned that there are so many ways to keep a yoga routine at a lower price-point, from cheaper clothing and makeshift equipment to free or discounted yoga classes. Here’s how I did it:
Finding the Perfect Yoga Clothing and Equipment
Participating in yoga classes can be a bit easier if you wear clothing that fits both your body and your goals. There’s no requirement as to what types of clothes you should wear for yoga, but because there is so much bending over, raising your arms, and general stretching during the practice, yoga advocate and writer Lucy Edge recommends that you wear tops that will stay put when you’re upside down or raising your arms, and shorts or leggings that will allow for a full range of movement. Breathable fabrics such as cotton are also a great idea. You may also need blocks or looped straps for extra support in certain poses, especially if you’re new to yoga and still testing the boundaries of your flexibility – I know when I was first starting out, I relied on my blocks often so I could perform the poses without overexerting myself and burning out too early. And, of course, you’ll need a mat of some kind to keep yourself from getting bruised on hard ground. The takeaway here is that “perfect” is relative – it depends on what you want your practice to look and feel like.
When searching for my ideal yoga ensemble, I had two requirements: each piece had to be under $20, and I had to like the way I looked in it – meaning it had to fit right. A few places where I found luck include:
1. Local Thrift Shops
Like most local thrift shops, mine had a dedicated activewear section with leggings, athletic shorts, and sports bras in a variety of colors and sizes for a fraction of the brand price. You can also find pieces here that are more unique – and who doesn’t love making a fashion statement? Though I didn’t find anything that particularly caught my eye, these shops are still valuable resources for people looking to work out without going broke.
2. Affordably Priced Retailers
When looking for clothes and accessories, I had the most luck in the activewear section at Target. “Made for every move, priced for every day” is the tagline for All in Motion, one of Target’s in-house activewear lines, which caters to all people of all sizes and budgets. Sports bras, leggings, and active tops range in price from $10-$40. The line even offers yoga accessories such as mats, blocks, towels, and straps. They've also committed to using sustainably sourced products in their manufacturing, including recycled polyester and sustainably sourced cotton.
Also relevant, is the activewear line at Old Navy, which recently announced a commitment to expanding their overall size selection in-store (and equalizing prices across sizes!) to maintain what the retail giant calls “Bodequality.” This also involves the abolishment of the “plus-size section” as well as the showcasing of models that better reflect the size variety of Old Navy’s customer base. As a woman who wears a size fourteen and has struggled with internalized fatphobia, I am grateful to Old Navy for their efforts in making shopping for clothing more inclusive (and all-around easier) for women who don’t feel seen by other retailers.
3. I Used Textbooks Instead of Yoga Blocks...
Though most yoga routines can be done without extra equipment, any poses you find challenging can usually be helped with yoga blocks or bolsters; these will help you keep your balance or keep you in position without overexerting yourself (or even injuring yourself). A yoga block is used to give your body some extra height when holding a pose; for example, when I tried a standing split pose for the first time (a pose that involves lifting one leg up in the air until it runs in line with the rest of your body), it helped me to put a block (or in my case, a textbook) underneath my hand so I didn’t have to stretch down too far. Bolsters can be used to prop up your hips, or to put between your legs, for extra support when performing poses that require you to lie on the ground. If certain poses still feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to modify them! Your practice is your practice, after all, and you should always do what feels best for you.
Practicing at home? Try using bigger books or sturdy boxes as a substitute for yoga blocks, and any pillow for a bolster. You can also use towels or longer belts for a strap, which is a length of rope or fabric used to aid in stretching or holding poses.
If you’re in need of a makeshift yoga mat, try putting a towel or blanket on the ground to provide some extra cushioning for your hands. The only con to this option is that it can be difficult to keep these “mats” in position as you move from pose to pose. If you have a (clean) bathmat, you could put one underneath your hands to keep them from slipping.
If you’re practicing at a gym or yoga studio, the facility will usually have mats, blocks, and towels people can use for free.
Finding a Practice
Now that you’ve got your gear, you can get to the fun part – finding your flow! Whether you prefer to stretch in the comfort of your own home or out and about at a gym or studio, it is possible to find the perfect course of action for both you and your wallet.
1. Think Beyond the Studio
If you don’t want to leave your house, you can easily find free yoga classes online. This is where I chose to start my yoga journey – the pandemic had shuttered our local studios, and besides, the thought of doing yoga for the first time in front of a group of people intimidated the hell out of me. I preferred the safety and comfort of my living room, so I first searched for routines I could easily maintain at home.
One of the first yoga communities I found online was Yoga with Adriene, a YouTube channel run by yogi and entrepreneur Adriene Mishler, whose mission is “to connect as many people as possible through high-quality free yoga videos.” Her videos come in a range of lengths, skill levels, and overall moods – whether you want to fit in a quick ten-minute flow on your lunch break or a sixty-minute full-body workout, Adriene has it all.
You can also check Spotify or Apple Music for yoga podcasts you can follow along with for your flow – I am personally a big fan of the Flow With Me Yoga podcast on Spotify, which offers three different types of classes: Classic Flow, Gentle Flow, and Power Flow. Instructor Natalia Hastings offers no long introductions or disclaimers – there aren’t even any ads – she simply jumps right into the practice. These podcasts are around the same length as a typical yoga class – forty-five minutes, give or take – and offer the same material as an in-person or video class. Listening to a podcast for your yoga flow can be better than watching a video because you’re not beholden to looking up at an instructor every ten seconds to check your pose – but it also requires you to be more familiar with the poses and correct form, making it a better option for seasoned yogis.
If you’re determined to get outside of your living room for your yoga fix (and especially if you’re already a member of a gym), you can try to check your gym’s website or posted schedule to see if they offer yoga classes or include them in your membership! You can also check your local community colleges and/or community centers to see if they’re offering yoga classes to the public or see if any non-profit groups are promoting local yoga practices, for either free or a discounted rate (compared to gyms or studios).
2. Find Free Classes Near You
Check yoga studios in your area to see if any free classes are being offered! This is also a good way to find studios that fit your needs – maybe you prefer a studio that offers classes early in the morning or after work, maybe you want to flow somewhere you can also kickbox, run on a treadmill, or lift weights. The perfect yoga studio is not a one-size-fits-all idea – find a place where you feel comfortable and just go for it! Many studios also offer discounts on new memberships and additional markdowns for students or seniors; you can check on the studio’s Instagram, Facebook, or website to find any good deals that might be happening.
3. Find a Great Community!
If you don’t mind paying a small membership fee, one great option that combines affordability with community is The Underbelly Yoga, which is run by author and acclaimed wellness expert Jessamyn Stanley. The Underbelly offers three class tracks that build off of each other – Air (for beginners), Earth (grounding flows) and Fire (light your body up) – and is “passionate about embracing authenticity and self-awareness, and fostering a safe, accepting, and welcoming space for wellness on your own terms,” particularly for those who feel left out or unrepresented by the burgeoning wellness industry. The Underbelly offers a free two-week trial, as well as free beginner flows on YouTube.
Over the past two years, my yoga practice has meant more to me than a simple exercise routine. Through yoga I’ve learned to appreciate my body and all it can do, and to sit with my thoughts – to let them appear, and just as easily let them go. A forty-five-minute yoga routine lets me spend forty-five minutes simply showing up for myself and doing something good and healthy for my body – and with my budget yoga routine, it’s good for my wallet too.
Kerry-Anne holds a BA in English from Saint Mary's College of California and an MFA in Creative Writing: Nonfiction from Eastern Washington University. She lives in Spokane, Washington with her cat, Charlie. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kaloughman.