Well they’re at it again. Two NYC based companies known for “creating projects that have a positive effect on the world” want to turn Central Park’s Great Lawn in to the largest yoga studio ever. Picture this: 15,000 people doing upward facing together, led by well-known yoga instructors Elena Brower, Seane Corn, Colleen Saidman and Rodney Yee. A high-vibe soundtrack laid down by Questlove and DJ Drez. And Reggie Watts on site as host and MC. Sounds like a party!

According to the website, the mission of GLBL YOGA is to build unity and create community by “tapping the collective energy and spirit of the urban environment to create large-scale, crowd-funded yoga events.”

Notice the “tap into the collective energy” and “crowd-funded” bit there at the end. Basically, that’s a hip, yoga-ey way of saying “we need your help to pay for it.” But hey, there’s nothing wrong with asking the people to put their money behind a free event aimed to benefit the general public, right? Somebody has to foot the bill. And if the people want it, why not ask them to put in their two cents?

Well, maybe a bit more than two cents. More like $675,000.

Got me thinking, just what can you do with $675,000? Turns out, you can:

  • Build 6,750 water wells in Somalia, where a widespread drought and diseases like cholera are killing hundreds of thousands of people every year
  • Supply 337,500 books to children in low-income neighborhoods in NYC through First Book
  • Provide eye glasses to 27,000 vision-impaired children in Indonesia, Vietnam, and the United States through Helen Keller International
  • Protect 135,000 families from malaria, one of the planet’s most deadly diseases. Every penny donated to Against Malaria goes toward purchasing mosquito nets
  • Buy 22,500 flocks of chickens to help families in Pakistan feed themselves (eggs are used over the long term for meals).
  • Empower 9,782 female entrepreneurs to start their own sewing businesses through Mercy Corps
  • Build 2,700 shower stations in Haiti, so women and their families can get clean safely and with dignity.

If you’re going to ask people to raise $675,000, is a giant yoga class in Central Park really how you want to spend it?

I suppose one could point to the fact that GLBL YOGA will be donating 50% of proceeds to several charity partners, includingOff the Mat Into the World, Lineage Project, Harlem Grown, Urban Zen, and Enterprise Community. But where are those proceeds going to come from? I thought the event was free?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about having a good time at large-scale community yoga events. But there’s a difference between producing a yoga festival (that charges for tickets) and asking a people to “donate” over half a million dollars for a free event. The difference? Sustainability. A yoga festival is an entrepreneurial venture. There is a clear exchange of resources between the company and the attendee. People want to have a fun yoga vacation with their community, so they pay for it.

Where is the sustainability in this event? It’s $675,000 for a one-time yoga class in Central Park. Let’s be realistic, how much community and unity are you going to create in a 4-hr event that’s probably going to be largely attended by people who already practice yoga? What lasting impact is that $675,000 going to have, besides boosting the brands of the people and companies involved?

This is my personal opinion of course, but I have a hard time buying into the notion that we’re “building community” by getting tens of thousands of people to do downward facing dog. Building community is mentoring a kid at a local school in your neighborhood. Building community is building a house for a family that doesn’t have one. Building community is making dinner for the woman down the street who just lost her husband. Going to a big yoga class in Central Park isn’t building community, it’s throwing a party for a community that already exists.

With all due respect to everyone involved, I also have a hard time believing that a giant yoga class on the great lawn is going to create more “unity” in the world. That sounds nice, but yoga isn’t magic. The peace you feel on the mat doesn’t somehow float overseas to end wars in the Middle East or stop gang violence in inner-city New York. Yoga is a wonderful tool for cultivating personal wellbeing and sustainability, but downward facing dog isn’t going to unify humankind.

That said, I do think these types of events are a ragin’ good time. And for that reason alone I say go for it, have a big ol’ yoga party (I’d come!). But any costs incurred, in my opinion, should be covered by corporate sponsors and ticket sales. Ask people to pay $30 or $40 for a ticket, and let the brands getting publicity out of the event foot some of the bill. That will certainly make for a more sustainable event. And if you really want to build community, send $5, $10, or $15 to help the nonprofits mentioned above build lasting community throughout the world.

What do you think? Do big yoga events create more unity in the world? Are they worth the financial investment?