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Why Charlotte fitness needs more energy exchange programs

Energy exchange programs are a widespread phenomenon at yoga studios in the U.S. You can find examples in New York City, in Atlanta, in San Francisco and more.

What they are: a way for people to work a certain number of hours (not as employees) at a studio in exchange for free yoga classes.

At least two yoga studios I practice at in Charlotte offer application-based Energy Exchange (EE) programs: Yoga One and Y2 Yoga. You can generally see EE members cleaning the studios, doing laundry and preparing eye towels for classes.

At Yoga One, EE members get one free class for each 1.5-hour shift they work. The Yoga One website describes this as a way for “yogis to share their energy” with teachers and other studio employees.

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At Y2, EE members get free unlimited yoga in exchange for work hours. The Y2 Yoga website asserts that “this is not a volunteer position, it is an equal exchange of energies.”

Considering that yoga is an expensive undertaking (one class can cost up to $20 and memberships can cost upwards of $150 per month), I think it’s amazing that someone who is willing to put in work (and energy) can earn free classes. It makes the formal yoga-studio world more accessible, beyond free or low-priced brewery yoga, or yoga in the park. It also encourages active people to become more connected with their fitness establishment of choice.

I have yet to come across a similar program at other fitness establishments in Charlotte.

For example, Orangetheory Fitness doesn’t have it — and their packages start at $199 for 10 classes or $28 for a drop-in class. Fitness Connection doesn’t have it — their personal training sessions are a minimum of $30 per session, according to a representative.

The Greater Charlotte YMCA (with membership prices starting at $31 per month and growing by income increment) doesn’t implement EE either, though Molly Thompson in media relations clarified that they are a nonprofit, so volunteer work “is true volunteerism and isn’t exchange for money or services.”

Regardless, at a time when any kind of extra cost can be the reason someone chooses a jog outside over a fitness membership or special class, is the rest of the fitness industry missing out on the EE program?

My fellow yoga-teacher-in-training Cristina Davis told me she opted for the Y2 EE program because she wanted to enroll in teacher training. “I couldn’t afford it being a full-time stay-at-home mother to two young children,” she said.

But the EE program allows her to exchange energy for discounted mat time. “You not only get to help out maintaining the beautiful studio space you practice in but you get to become integrated into the Y2 community with open arms,” she said.

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Then there is Hannah Levinson, a former EE member at Yoga One, who jumped into the program as a way to quickly immerse herself in a new studio and meet new people when she moved here. She had been an EE member at a studio in Atlanta and saw it as an effective method for becoming a stronger member of the yoga community.

“It encourages you to practice more,” she said.

She added that she felt accountable to the people at Yoga One that the EE program connected her to. “You want to show up for them.”

Photo: Remy Thurston

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