Yoga as a Service – A Case Study

This is a case study in how a yoga program works, or doesn’t work, in a non traditional yoga setting.

A couple things first:

+ I realize that teaching is a service, any kind of teaching. I called this Yoga as a Service because in the tech world, there’s SaaS, or Software as a Service, where the benefits are touted as superior. (I won’t go into details here, or we’d be here all day.)

+ As I write this, it reminds me of a New York Times article, Rolling out the Yoga Mat, describing the current trend where yoga is becoming part of a service package, especially in hotels and resorts. “Yoga is becoming a must-have amenity,” on the order of Internet access, said Chekitan S. Dev, a professor of marketing at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

Background: The Story

I’ve been climbing for about 8 years, and the more that I do it, the more that I realize there’s a whole art and science to it, just like yoga. There’s the physical aspect, and then there’s the mental aspect, and there’s the dedication, the perseverance, and the patience with time. (Sounds like sutra 1.14, doesn’t it?)

Ever since I got my teaching certification, I have wanted to combine the similar aspects of yoga and climbing, and teach yoga specifically for climbers. I approached the manager at Gym A, a climbing gym in Seattle, last April, and was first told thanks but no thanks. Some time passed, and I was approached about six months later about teaching there. I don’t really know what happened, but my guess is that another gym in town, Gym B, started to offer free yoga, and that had something to do with it. In any case, I was ecstatic!

We decided to start in January of 2010, and at first it was offered for free for the gym members. Gym A has a work out room separate from the climbing area, and I decided it would be best to use that space since it would provide a firm surface. The space would hold 8 people, max, and we started a registration list. Soon the list grew so big that they had to be wait-listed, and we decided to have two classes. In exchange for my teaching, I would get a membership at the gym for free.

With the popularity of the yoga program, Gym A management decided to charge a fee for the class the following month. That’s where the number retracted considerably, understandably so, because, well, free is a great price. Gym A made it a requirement to be a member to take the class, and charged for a series of monthly 4 classes. Later, a drop-in fee of $12 would be added. As the classes are not free, I would be paid to teach them.

After two months of offering paid yoga, the popularity, or lack thereof, indicated that it wasn’t a profitable endeavor, and Gym A asked if I would go back to teaching for free in exchange for a membership. I thought things over, and proposed that I would, on the condition that I would teach twice a month instead of four times a month. Gym A then decided to scrap the program altogether, citing that the classes would only make sense if there were dedicated space.

I am bummed upon hearing this, because I greatly enjoy the marriage of yoga and climbing, and enjoyed teaching the classes and getting to know more fellow climbers. In retrospect, I think there are some things that I’ve learned from this, and I’m writing this post as a case study, so that perhaps you too, can learn something from my experience, and can perhaps offer your insight into this too.

Post-Mortem: What Didn’t Work

+ Space. The space availability was a factor in deciding how to structure the various ways we would run the yoga program. The constraint made it hard to account for drop-ins, which could vary widely, so a preregistration was enforced. Because of this, we first asked for a 4-week commitment, which probably turned some people away.

+ Time. The only time that I could teach was in the morning, from 7-8:30 a.m. Because the workout room sees more traffic in the evenings, Gym A management didn’t want to cut in that time to dedicate to yoga. This makes it hard for people who work early or have to commute a long distance to go to work to do yoga before work.

+ Location. This, I believe, is one of the shortcomings of my yoga class. The location of Gym A is in a part of town that’s not on the way to anything. It is a destination, and it takes dedicated time to go there. If you have to go to work, it would add a minimum of an hour just in transit.

+ Membership Constraint. I had a student who is currently not in class this month at Gym A, but instead going to my other yoga classes at another studio. This is because you had to be a member of the gym to take yoga, and she didn’t renew her monthly pass. I think if this was available to anyone who was willing to pay a drop-in fee, there would have been a larger group of people to appeal to.

+ Marketing & Communication. One morning as I walked through the gym with my skeleton, Bob, someone who was there climbing asked what that’s for. “For Yoga,” I said. “There’s yoga here?” she asked, astonished. I was equally astonished. You would have thought that with the poster up for two months in various places in the gym, that *everyone* would know about it. I think that’s where we made the mistake, of assuming that the flyers on the wall would do an adequate job of creating awareness.

Come and think about it, the gym does not send out newsletter, does not tweet, does not do any sort of mass communication. Unless I physically show up and read the announcements taped to the wall, I as a member would have no idea that there was a new workout room put in, or that there’s a competition coming up and certain parts of the gym will be closed, or that there’s yoga offered in the morning.

+ The Teacher (Me). There is also the possibility that people just did not enjoy my classes and style of teaching as well, and so they did not come back. If so, why did they come back during the month when the classes were free? Maybe free yoga is free yoga, even if you don’t like the teacher?

You might ask, “Well, how come the classes were busting at the seams before?” I don’t really know. Maybe it was January and there was more resolve for an early morning yoga practice. My guess is that the inconvenience of time and location may have been made up by the fact that the classes were free. If you’d be willing to drive out of your way to a gas station in another part of town to save a few pennies per gallon, you’d be more willing to rearrange your schedule for free yoga.

Where To Next?

As for me, I’m still convinced yoga and climbing go great together, and I’ll continue to explore ways to teach yoga for climbers. I also think that yoga is a great service that a climbing gym can offer, and it could even sway someone to become a member of one gym vs. another. Then again, I don’t run a climbing gym, so that’s just a speculation.

I wonder how the hotels and resorts are packaging, pricing, and advertising their yoga offerings? Do you know? What are your thoughts or insights about yoga as an added service?

Cat climbing on a door