There’s a metaphorical storm cloud hanging over the giant yoga gathering that was staged on Central Park’s Great Lawn in 2010 and is now coming back as GLBL Yoga—with Elena Brower, Seane Corn, Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman Yee (and even Questlove)—on August 16.
Two years ago, it was rained out. And then the promised rain-date never happened. This year, the founders, Flavorpill’s Sascha Lewis and Rob Holzer, have come under fire for their crowd-sourced model that asks yogis to open their wallets to help raise the $675,000 needed to fund the “free” event.
With slightly more than $11,000 raised so far—and just 25 days to go—this bad press could be killing the planned yoga bliss. Though Lewis insists that they have “every intention of hitting our goal and making it happen.”
We caught up with Lewis to find out more about the event model and to get his take on the event backlash.
Did you anticipate all of the backlash and negative commentary, or did it come as a surprise? Anytime you do something new and challenging, there’s going to be questioning. It’s healthy and important and is part of the way to evolve as a society. But some of the rhetoric and tone and hostility around it was a little bit unexpected. It’s been a little hard to hear people criticize and get to a level of anger and fear around something that we know, in the deepest part of our souls, is authentic and positive. In the end, it was a good wake up call for us to say, “Wait a minute, what are we saying to people? Why is the message getting diluted or confused?” We’re figuring that out now and are going to try to give people a better understanding of how it works, what our intentions are, and our goals.
Speaking of your goals, why is a giant yoga class so important? Many people have criticized the concept itself. We’re in no way trying to replace the intimate yoga experience, whether that’s your personal practice, in a small studio, or even at a festival. I wept many times this weekend [at Wanderlust] in classes that were powerful with less than 100 people. This is not in direct conflict with that idea. Our goal is to get 100,000 people practicing yoga at the same time, and we believe that has an incredibly powerful potential to impact the world in a positive way, through the force and energy that comes from doing yoga.
Your crowd-sourced funding model is the centerpiece of all of the criticism. Why didn’t you just sell tickets for $40 and avoid all of these complications? The biggest reason is that you can’t have a for-profit ticketed event on the Great Lawn. You can sell 10 percent of the tickets, and 90 percent have to be available to the public free via a lottery. We did the sponsorship model last year, and it’s not simple. We wanted to democratize it and make it inspiring, show people that you can do something even if you don’t have someone to write you a big check—you can get your community to support you. We wanted to make it for the people, by the people. That’s really the greater message, and it’s far more authentic than the sponsorship/ticketing route.
I get that the model has worked well for businesses that have a make-the-world-better bent. But it seems like it may be wrong for yoga because the intersection of yoga and money is so loaded an issue. It’s a great point. Yoga is exploding in many ways, and I think it’s going through growing pains. The people who are deeply entrenched in the practice and embody it protest the corporatization and monetization of yoga, and I actually agree with them that it’s a very thin line, and we have to constantly check ourselves and be honest with ourselves in terms of where this is coming from.
At the same time, we have to recognize the world and and the country we live in. It’s just important to understand that there’s nothing wrong with people spending money to create something that is good for society and people, and there’s nothing wrong with people getting paid for that. If people can be paid for doing good in this world, that’s an amazing concept and I want to promote that as much as I can. —Lisa Elaine Held
What do you think about the controversy over GLBL ticketing? Was it warranted, unwarranted, a result of the always fraught yoga-and-money issue? Tell us in the Comments, below!