Yoga saved my life, but not in a chorale flash mob experience like you see on YouTube. Instead, it happened quietly and with practice over time, providing me with the physical ability to continue playing competitive golf and the emotional balance not to scream or weep should my computer crash. Twenty years ago when presenting the virtues of yoga and the mind-body connection, my fitness industry friends would chuckle or say with skepticism, “Right. We’ll see how all that works out.”
Today, yoga is the fastest growing exercise activity in America. Yoga practice is at the forefront of the health and wellness movement with participants increasing, according to Mediamark Research Inc., from 4.3 million in 2001 to 14.5 million in 2010. And the median household income of yoga participants is $87,161. More than 70 percent of fitness facilities offer yoga and other mind-body programs. So, how do we capitalize on this trend to serve the exponential growth of the yoga community?
Here are six steps to consider in advancing your yoga program and building community with the foundation (forgive me for stating the obvious) dependent on the abilities and intentions of your teachers.
1. Differentiate your yoga program from group fitness classes. Regardless of the class size, yoga is a personal experience. Yoga teachers must possess the self-confidence to move beyond simply leading students through a series of poses. Yoga requires teachers to have the skills, presence of mind and intelligence to teach each pose, the sequence and address individual needs simultaneously. Students that practice with teachers who have these abilities appreciate the difference.
2. Offer community classes at least once each week. Whether your classes are fee based or part of a membership, schedule community classes weekly and encourage members to bring their friends and co-workers. Offering discounts and passes enable people to experience the strengths of your program and teachers.
3. Diversify your class offerings. Structure classes to meet the needs of your community and name them clearly: Level 1 Easy Does It, Level 1 Relax and Restore, Level 2 Power Flow, etc. Students tend to lock in on a teacher and times that work for them, so broaden your appeal by presenting classes with cross-promotional value, such as Stress Less: Letting Go of the Daily Grind. Everyone enjoys an anxiety vacation.
4. Take your yoga wellness program to the people. Yoga presents unique opportunities to get off the mat and mobilize your program. All you need are gifted teachers to demonstrate value to a willing audience with public speaking engagements, corporate programs, health fairs, school or public events. Share the benefits of yoga and how you may be of service.
5. Raise your profile with special yoga workshops. Yoga tradition encourages studios to host visiting teachers for the presentation of specialized workshops and education programs. Diverse workshops and training, especially those that feature continuing education credits, sharpen the skills of your teachers, the practice of your students and raises your program’s profile. They do require advance promotion, so plan at least six months in advance.
6. Special events and open houses. Look ahead to holidays and opportunities in the next quarter. In addition to workshops, plan special events or open houses regularly. Encourage members to invite their friends so they can meet your teachers, learn about the new schedule and have some fun. These events can feature yoga or cooking demonstrations, organic food, live music, whatever will attract the audience you intend to serve.
Yoga is about being in the moment, a place unburdened by the past or the future where we realize the experience of self and become better human beings. I once experienced a meditation class led by an aging surfer who said, “Find your center, man, or you are off your board.” He was right. It’s all about finding your center and staying on the board. I trust these ideas are helpful in developing your program and being of service through yoga.
Ralph Cissne, creative strategist at Morgan Road, is a fitness industry marketing and communications consultant with more than 25 years of experience. He is the author of “Will of Golf: Mastering the Mind-Body Connection” and serves as marketing mentor for Leeann Carey Yoga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.