How to grow yoga in low-income communities – it can be done

A lot of yoga industry marketing campaigns have aimed at young slim women, a no-brainer old tactic for fitness sales. However, this notion alienates a huge portion of the market, including low-income people. Yoga is democratic. You can practice anywhere, you don’t need trendy clothes and you do not need to be super skinny. Well, most times, you don’t even need a mat at all.

So meet Yoga Na Maré, the story of how a woman brought yoga into an extreme low-income community in the outskirts of the city of Rio de Janeiro. From our interview with Ana Olivia, she explained how she got a whole community involved and hundreds of yoga students started.

Maré is the largest low-income community in the city of Rio and includes several slums. Often plagued by police and drug traffickers conflicts, Maré is always in the news for its violence outbreaks. So in 2012, Ana (who is from Portugal) flew to Rio from Spain to start working with a non-profit organization. Through her social services, she met several members of the community and brought the idea of teaching yoga once a week to the neighborhood. In 2015, she taught he first yoga class there with Yoga Na Maré.


Like in any business, the first year is always the hardest. Getting people to accept that yoga was indeed for them, that it was not a rich-people activity was the first challenge. Ana negotiated a space for free with the non-profit, then started to stimulate word of mouth from the community. To create and instigate curiosity from locals, some Saturday classes were in the middle of the street, literally on the pavement.

Photo: Diogo Felix for Yoga Na Maré

She would also create classes in public, beautiful places in the city. She called these fund-raising events “the big yoga class”, where she would bring friends, yoga lovers and the new students together. These big yoga classes had small donations from people, vendors and talks about different subjects such as nutrition and organic food.


On the second year, she started offering massages in another business where a room was rented. These Ayurvedic Yoga massages are mostly geared for health purposes and value health and therapeutic sides of the yoga benefits. A sense of priority was created, where students that wanted to invest in their health, could afford these massages and therapeutic yoga sessions at a symbolic price. Students started to understand the value of personal development through yoga as a true mental benefit and the impact on their physical health.

By then, the movement started to get broader community support and was being contacted by local organizations, like a family clinic to add yoga classes to their schedule.

On the organization side, Ana got help from students for some admin tasks. She also started to plan a stream of revenue to support the project by selling products:

  • A branded eye pillow
  • T-shirts avaible at various events
  • Yoga straps
  • Foldable eco cups (recently launched)

Photos: Diogo Felix for Yoga Na Maré



It seems almost impossible to think that in under 2 years it would be possible to fund not one, but 3 weekend-retreats. The initial idea was to have small retreats, but the interest from the community was so strong in the second year, that the group had to be broken down in 2. Students that could afford to pay, did so, those that had a hard time were partially funded and others participated for free or traded services. A crowdfunding was organized and it was a huge success.

On top of the crowdfunding, local businesses made donations to contribute to the amazing weekend these students had!


The project is now entering its 3rd year, a new website was just launched, giving friends of the project the ability to follow the progress and make regular or one time donations.

Photo Yoga Na Maré

This years’ plans include:

  • Revenue stream through the new website
  • Fund yoga teacher trainings so the students become teachers themselves
  • Start a library with education for yoga students to deepen their knowledge

DISCLAIMER: I am very fortunate to have met Ana Olivia in a retreat, where we shared a room for the weekend. This project was very admirable from the very beginning. If you feel like donating any amount to Yoga Na Maré, click on the amount (1 US dollar is about 3,5 Brazilian reais), then click on the credit card icon.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Love your work. I really appreciate your support. I want to join your organization. I don’t need money. My aim is to spread the yoga to all. May who have no money to learn. Thanks

    1. Thanks for your comment, Satwinder! Very appreciated!

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