Centered on Families: Lighthouse Yoga Supports Paid Family Leave Policy

Julie Eisenberg, owner and director of Lighthouse Yoga Center in Washington, DC, vocally supported the district’s recently passed Universal Paid Leave Act (UPLA), which will create an insurance program to provide paid family and medical leave to private-sector workers in the district. CLASP recently spoke with Eisenberg about her reasons for supporting the act.

CLASP: Does Lighthouse Yoga currently provide paid leave to its employees?

Eisenberg: No, we don’t have a set paid family leave policy. However, last year my lead teacher got pregnant and went on maternity leave. I couldn’t in good faith not pay her for the six weeks she took off. She didn’t really have any other income. I ended up paying her a portion of her pay out of pocket.

CLASP: You supported the passage of DC’s UPLA. Why did you support it, and how will it help your employees?

Eisenberg: The situation with my lead teacher took place at about the same time the bill was introduced, and I realized then that if I had just been paying this 0.62% [of payroll into the insurance pool that will be created], it would’ve saved me money. As it was, I could only afford to pay half of her normal pay for the time she was off. And now I’ve got another yoga teacher, an independent contractor, who’s pregnant. And this is going to keep happening because our workers have lives. So having to pay out of pocket is just insane. I mean, I didn’t have to pay her anything, but I felt responsible; I felt like I needed to do something. That’s how I got involved in the fight for the law.

If you look at businesses like yoga studios or other small businesses, a lot of the people we hire are young women, who do get pregnant. And of course fathers need paternity leave, and many people need time to care for elderly parents. When you look at the really little ones, the micro-businesses, paying out of pocket for family leave is impossible. We don’t have that kind of cash.

CLASP: Are your yoga clients aware of your support for the act, and if so, have you gotten any feedback from them regarding your stance?

Eisenberg: Oh, yes. I don’t have anybody who doesn’t support it. The students at my studio are very progressive overall, and they really support what we’ve been doing. That’s not just in terms of family leave, but in other aspects, like our themed workshops. We’ve run workshops on combatting micro-aggressions and another on yoga and self-care during political turmoil. We really try to get this stuff out into the community.

Lighthouse is also DC’s only kundalini yoga studio. Kundalini is a yoga that’s very much predicated on the belief that we need to change the world. And we change the world by changing ourselves first. So by offering kundalini yoga, we tend to draw people who are really looking for social change. I did my teacher training after a kundalini teacher, Krishna Kaur, came to DC and talked about how we can use yoga as a tool of empowerment. We get a lot of people who come to kundalini yoga precisely because they are looking for this sense of empowerment. And they begin to take action.