Want to Pay Less for Yoga? There’s An App for That

In late October, Insight Timer, a popular app that boasts the world’s largest library of free guided meditations from renowned speakers, teachers, and authors such as the Dalai Lama, Tara Brach, and Elizabeth Gilbert, launched Insight Yoga, a pay-by-donation livestream yoga platform for a modest audience of 18 million.

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In its six-year history, the app has grown to offer more than 60,000 guided meditations from more than 8,000 teachers for everything from anxiety relief to better sleep, improved focus, recovery, and self-care. The app also recently expanded its music catalog to include ambient tracks from artists like Moby and Mind Travel, and blissfully basic genres like sound healing, drumming, and binaural beats to activate delta and theta waves and help you relax.

Like other Insight offerings, classes on the yoga platform range in length, style, and diversity. More than 9,000 yoga teachers had signed on at the time of its launch, including celebrated yogis from different backgrounds and methodologies like Dianne Bondy (Yoga for Everyone), Heather Lilleston (Yoga for Bad People), Colleen Saidman, DeAndre Sinette, Janet Stone, Rodney Yee, and Koya Webb.

Webb, who first joined Insight as a meditation teacher in February and hosts a course for paid subscribers, says she feels supported by the interactive community the app has cultivated. “They have done a great job of creating an ethos where everyone feels valued and loved,” she says. (An interesting feature of the app is a world map that shows you how many users were active that day and how many are currently tapped into the collective consciousness.)

When Insight began offering livestream meditations, workshops, and events during the COVID-19 pandemic, it saw a rise to 550,000 daily active users. In October, Gisele Bündchen led a guided meditation, Hope In Times Of Uncertainty, for World Mental Health Day, which had more than 9,000 in attendance. The live yoga classes—despite that they’re not led by supermodels—are also extremely well-attended, with anywhere from 500 to more than 1,000 yogis in a single class. The interactive livestreams have a similar interface to Instagram Live, are free of ads, and, in the time of Zoom fatigue, offer a user-friendly alternative.

“The problem with Zoom is that people only go onto the platform with a purpose—an appointment or meeting to which they have been invited,” says Insight Timer co-founder and CEO Christopher Plowman. “For the student, there is no opportunity to explore or discover classes. For the instructor, there is no way to reach a new audience.” Plowman says the opposite occurs on IG Live, with seemingly infinite options to choose from. Insight Yoga is more strategic, he says, because the app places instructors in front of a targeted audience, “providing an invaluable opportunity to grow their business.”

Teacher-managed livestream platforms like Zoom may struggle to bring in over 100 students to a single yoga class, since the teacher typically pulls double duty as both admin and instructor. As the business of yoga continues to evolve, a strength-in-numbers approach—without sacrificing quality for quantity, of course—could be key to a COVID-era yoga teacher’s survival.

“The exposure we can offer instructors to a global community invested in mindfulness and personal development is invaluable, giving instructors back hours that they would spend marketing on other social networks to focus on teaching,” Plowman said in a statement. In addition to global exposure and a visual presence on the app, Insight Yoga teachers are indeed paid, and receive 80 percent of donations (students donate anywhere from $2–$20) per class, as well as app store commissions.

By making its content free—in-app purchases including premium courses are available to paid subscribers—the “conscious business model” of this grassroots-grown app prioritizes accessibility, and aims to provide meaningful practices and experiences to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. Insight Yoga plans to offer a paid product in 2021, similar to Insight Courses, but for the time being, all classes are free with an option to make a donation upon the session’s completion. As the yoga industry reckons with making the practice more inclusive and less exclusive than it has been in the past, the app offers a potential pathway.

Plowman says that all onboarded Insight Yoga teachers were adequately vetted, and those with substantial teaching experience and education were favored over those with a large Instagram followings. “An overwhelming amount of the teachers who have signed up for Insight Timer fall in the category of having smaller digital footprints, but [many] years of teaching,” he says. “We look forward to helping support these instructors to connect with a larger student community.”