Closing Letter from Lily Cushman


Dear Students and Friends,

After nine amazing years at our Sixth Avenue location in Park Slope, Brooklyn Yoga School is closing doors. The existence of BYS has always been reliant upon the very unique financial model of generosity. Being a donation-based Yoga center has been both a profound blessing and incredible journey over the past decade.

When I created BYS in 2010, it was for the sole purpose of offering teachings of Classical Yoga that I believed could offer real transformation and healing that would otherwise not be available. After a decade of witnessing the commodification of ancient yoga teaching in the West, I felt it was important to try to offer something that was grounded in the essential spirit of yoga instead of the money-based industry that it had mutated into. The practices of yoga were suddenly being sliced and diced into some new formation in order to make a few bucks, and in doing so, hijacking a lineage of five thousand years of teaching in just a few decades. On top of that, the yoga being offered here in the West was only available to to the most privileged members of our society (the white upper class) who could afford $25 for an hour of teaching, so that those who most needed these practices had virtually no access to it.

Out of this grew a deep conviction in me to create a lineage-based yoga studio that was entirely by donation so that anyone could utilize it, irrespective of financial means. This type of model was so far outside of the U.S. capitalist system that I had no idea if it would work at all, but felt it was worth trying. I have received many baffled questions from students, friends and colleagues over the years, asking me why I have operated BYS as I have. People are endlessly confused as to why I haven’t used the studio to make greater financial gains– or commodify the community that has grown here over the years. I commonly field questions like:

 “Why would you give so much of your time to something that doesn’t make you money?”

“Why don’t you take more advantage of the opportunity to build a bigger name for yourself?”

“Why don’t you advertise the studio? It would be more popular.”

“You must not think you’re a very good teacher, or you would charge more for classes!”

“Why not charge more money to make it more sustainable?”

“Why don’t you get yoga related companies to sponsor and support the studio?”

These questions are all rooted in the mainstream cultural assumptions that amassing financial achievements and fame are what will bring happiness and fulfillment. However, I was never interested in offering yoga inside a capitalist framework. Instead, I have spent the past nine years tirelessly working to create something outside of this model. I wanted to create place where we as people could be free of these constructs of what mainstream culture deems valuable, and in that freedom, discover for ourselves what is valuable, find out what truly generates happiness, and how to live an awakened life rooted in that sensibility.

In a practical sense, my ideals have placed tremendous restrictions on the business of the running a studio– strong parameters that I was never willing to break­, even if that meant closing the studio. My tenets in running the studio were:

Lineage based teachings

Donation based classes and offerings

No altering of core teachings to follow current yoga trends

No marketing or advertising

This meant that only certain teachers trained in Classical Yoga would fit in our teaching body because that is the lineage of yoga that I personally believe in. On top of that, the teachers had to be okay being paid less than typical studios due to the limited class income. The donation model also meant there were fewer resources available for the operational staff that running the inner workings of the business. It also meant that the content of the actual classes was rooted in a lineage of classical yoga teachings, and not modified or altered by current pop yoga trends. Also that the focus of the studio was grounded in the teachings themselves, and less so on the teachers who delivered them. Lastly, I made the choice to not engage in the customary marketing methods employed by studios in an attempt to fill classes.

This was the spirit in which BYS came to life, and perhaps more than anyone, I have been amazed and delighted that the studio has been able to exist for nine long years under these unique parameters. This, to me, is a remarkable success. The work that students have been able to do inside 82 Sixth Avenue is something that cannot be measured by the standards of our culture. It is the real work of asking the most important questions of life, and step-by-step cultivating the skills to live in alignment with our own unique answers to those questions.

Of course, running a business under these parameters has been incredibly challenging. It became clear in our first year that no matter how successful the studio was, it wasn’t financially self-sustaining in the usual sense, nor would it make much of a dent in our larger capitalist economic system. However, at the same time, there was such an outpouring of interest from the growing student body that I was inspired try to keep the studio going as long as possible. The reality of this decision meant that I was personally electing to own and operate BYS with virtually no compensation over the past six or seven years, and more recently, personally subsidizing the operation financially.  Of course, my hope over the past few years has been that something would shift so that BYS could once become financially self-sustaining, however this has not come to fruition.

And while it is a deep loss to close the studio, I truly don’t see the closing as a failure by any means. At one point or another in life, all things will find their end, and the nine years we have had together have been truly extraordinary. I am proud to close our time together at 82 Sixth Ave knowing that this has been a wonderful experiment of the immense power of generosity and kindness in the world. I hope my work (both directly teaching and, in the way that I have chosen to operate BYS) will inspire others to move through the world with greater courage to carve out your own path in alignment with your own deepest values and hopes for what we as people are capable of. This to me is the best we can possibly do with the precious time that we have here on earth. We can find what truly matters most to us, and build a life deeply rooted in that place. Whether you’re all about truth, connection, justice, kindness, creation, healing, love, discovery, or whatever it might be, let’s all keep working to bring that goodness fully into our lives, and into the world.

Everywhere I travel, whether in the neighborhood or around the world, I meet BYS students who tell me about their time in our humble little studio. Each one tells me their story. Some are stories of healing, or letting go, or forgiveness. Some are stories of finding support in times of great difficulty, finding clarity, balance and self-care. Others are stories about finding the power to stand up for oneself, greater direction and skillfulness in life, while others are stories of unlocking great creative power. Many are stories about learning how to genuinely connect and what it means to love oneself and others. Most of all, they are stories about coming home, both to the physical place that BYS occupied on the corner of 6th Ave and St Marks, but also coming home inside one’s own being. As I listen to these stories, they are always accompanied by a certain look on the students faces’. It is a look that I have seen on virtually everyone I watch walk in the door at BYS– that for some reason crossing over the threshold of our beautiful space mysteriously puts people in touch with something more essential inside themselves, and to me, that is a profound measure of success of which I am very proud.

I have not been alone in this endeavor, and it would not have been possible without an incredible group of teachers and friends who have believed in my vision and given their time and energy to make that vision a reality. BYS would not have been possible without Jeremy Frindel, Katurah Hutcheson, Barbu Panaitescu, and Tom Cucinotta. My core teachers who have been with me for years: Clayton Okaly, Jacquie Brown, Adina Saperstein, Myk Freedman, and Marvin Rosenberg. The Kirtan Wallahs who have graced Friday nights since we opened: Ambika Pressman, Anjula Prasad, Devadas, Nina Rao, Shyama Chapin, and Sharada Devi. And to the army of teachers who have brought immense dedication, clarity and devotion, who are too many to name: without your unending dedication and faith in me, none of this would have been possible, and for that I am deeply grateful.

There are two closing events this month. I will be leading one final Kirtan on my own on Friday, February 8th from 8-10pm EST, and there is an official Closing Party + Kirtan on Saturday, February 16th from 8-11pm EST with chanting led by myself, Ambika, Shyama Chapin, Nina Rao, and friends. Come drop by and enjoy the space together one last time.

It has been my immense privilege to be with you in practice over these past nine years. I have yet to decide if I will continue to offer BYS teachings in the future in a different location or in the digital internet realm, but you are welcome to sign up for the email list if you want to stay in the loop.

With great love and appreciation,

Lily Cushman

Owner & Director, Brooklyn Yoga School

PS. As one door closes, another one opens with impeccable timing, as I am celebrating the release of my first book “A Little Bit of Mantras” from Sterling Publishers this month. On Wednesday, February 27th at Deepak Homebase (ABC Carpet) in NYC I’ll be joined by special guests Sharon Salzberg and Krishna Das for an evening including conversation about ancient practice of Sanskrit mantras with myself and Sharon, call and response chanting led by Krishna Das and myself, and a book signing.


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