How I managed to commit to exercise and save money at the same time

In December of last year, I was one month off running my second half marathon, thinking to myself, "I'd soon rather die than go for yet another run today. But soon I’ll become a vegetable if I don't do something else, STAT."

Don't get me wrong—I like running, but I don't love running. It's a special kind of hurt for me. A hurt that is reserved for times when I am particularly motivated to punish myself. (I'm kidding, sort of?) A bit harsh, but my internal monologue isn't always so kind. I was feeling particularly strong after all that running last fall, so I looked for something new to do going into the holiday season that would keep me from entering said vegetative state.

I'm not sure if it was the cold weather that drove me to it, my uber-tight hamstrings, or the endless barrage of Instagram fitspiration, but I decided to try yoga again. I had enjoyed yoga in the past but like most of my exercise patterns, I had been unable to maintain long term consistency with any exercise class or gym membership.

Strangely enough, since December I've been able to maintain a yoga practise that's allowed me to exercise three to four times a week happily, without spending a dime.

How? I joined an amazing program at my local yoga studio, Union Yoga + Wellness, called an ‘energy exchange,’ also referred to as a ‘karma exchange.’ By volunteering some time and positive energy once a week at the studio, I received unlimited yoga and a true lifestyle change while I was at it.

Here's why it worked:

1. NO COST TO ENTER

Frankly, I’m frugal. Much like many Canadians, I live on a budget. I’m lucky to live in a city with plenty of choice when it comes to venues for exercise, but a lot of them come at a high price. A single yoga class can cost anywhere between $15 and $30. Knowing that I wasn’t spending any money to try the program allowed me to explore how much yoga I might enjoy doing in a week without worrying about the dollar signs stacking up. (I’m always striving to hit my 150 minutes of MVPA each week!)

2. ACCOUNTABILITY

When it comes to exercise, I respond well to being accountable to someone. By committing to being at the studio once a week, I was reminded how much easier it is to follow through when you just simply show up. If I could drag myself to the studio once a week as a volunteer, there’s no doubt I could bring myself to the studio a few more times a week in service to myself. Plus, by putting in four hours of volunteer time each week, I was motivated to get at least four hours of yoga time back for myself. Win-win.  

3. FUN

Instead of finishing a run exhausted and depleted, I leave yoga class feeling exhausted but happy, relaxed and refreshed. During class I’m more focused on the pose at hand than the hard work left to do in the session. If I could make one singular suggestion to our readers, it’s to find an activity that makes you forget you’re actually exercising. If it feels like fun, or an amazing stress-buster, you’ll go after that feeling again and again. Also, one of the major selling points of my local studio is that their class offerings are very diverse. I like variety, and my studio offers yoga, hot yoga, Pilates, fusion classes and even light strength training called ‘hot body tone.’ I’ve been able to explore many different variations on yoga that have kept my routine fun.

4. I MADE IT SOCIAL

One of the unforeseen and best reasons to try a program like this is the community you’ll meet at your local studio or gym. I have made several new friends, both staff and other volunteers, learned the strengths and specialties of my favourite teachers, and became more inspired to deepen my practise. People come to exercise from all walks of life, and it can be very inspiring to learn about how committed your peers are when they face chronic disease or injury.

Of course, volunteering your time for four hours each week is a big commitment. I told myself that I didn’t really miss the evening hours between six and ten pm on Wednesdays. But after almost a full year, when life got busy, I did start to miss that time. But the beauty of the program is that it reduced the barriers to exercise so much, that I didn’t notice I had simply made yoga a part of my regular life. I loved it so much that I was ready to trade my volunteer time for an investment in myself.

And, if you’re sitting there saying, “Yoga isn’t really my thing,” know that plenty of gyms and recreation facilities also offer this volunteer exchange under a different name. Inquire within, you might be surprised!