Yoga for Everybody, Everywhere

Yoga for Everybody, Everywhere

by Phil Swain CEO Yoga Works

yogaNo longer a practice for the esoteric few, yoga has become a mainstream element of society. February 2005 statistics published in Yoga Journal show that the overall yoga market is a $3 billion business comprising 16.5 million active participants, or 7.5 percent of U.S. adults. As yoga infiltrates American culture, I’m always interested in anticipating the needs of the growing population of practitioners and in finding new ways to make the ancient system of yoga more accessible.

As the yoga industry grows, three main areas of growth have appeared in the marketplace. Twenty years ago when the fitness boom was just beginning in the U.S., yoga was still considered some far-out, alternative activity. Although early Yogis understood the power and benefits of yoga for overall health, personal transformation and fitness, the practice was often laughed at or disparaged by mainstream culture. Now that yoga is popularly accepted (and even endorsed by western health professionals), the next challenge is to anticipate the new innovations the yoga market awaits. Areas of future growth to look for in the yoga world: (1) addressing lifestyle preferences of modern practitioners, (2) supporting green, earth-friendly practices and (3) comprehensive class programming.

The New Yoga Lifestyle

When you look at the 18–24 market segment and the 35–54 segment of yoga practitioners, you may not immediately see what they have in common in their service needs. But the 18–24 cohort group (which increased at an astounding rate of 46 percent from 2004–2005) has always held high expectations of the fitness industry. They’ve grown up with high-end mega-gyms, and they socialize around fitness activities. The 35–54 demographic, with their higher income levels, is also a target market for high-end service. Yoga is no longer a practice just for hippies. Many modern students are affluent, and the consumer data shows they are willing to pay for quality service and added value. More and more, new yoga centers will include the amenities usually found in high-end fitness clubs—beautiful locker rooms, showers, lifestyle retail boutiques, organic cafés and kids’ clubs—to meet the needs of both of these growing markets, and everyone in-between. The Asian yoga market is already leading this trend with full-service yoga centers such as mYoga and Pure Yoga in Hong Kong.

Sustainability and Greening

Now that yoga practitioners realize that stewardship of the planet is an important part of the yoga path, a newfound interest in green consumer products has arisen. One of the most successful yoga lifestyle brands, Gaiam, seeks to outfit Yogis with eco-friendly products, including organic cotton yoga clothes, cork yoga blocks and jute yoga mats. Gaiam takes its commitment to the environment even further with solar panel kits and energy-saving appliances for the home. In New York, Jivamukti’s newest yoga studio appeals to eco-conscious students, with floors made from recycled car tire rubber, and a vegan café serving up organic, sustainable and fair trade food. Across the country in Los Angeles, Home - Simply yoga was carefully and beautifully designed using reused and sustainable materials. In truth, an awareness of green practices in yoga studios is almost a requirement rather than a novelty. Yoga consumers increasingly seek products and spaces for yoga that reflect their own values and commitment to the environment.

Innovative Programming

As yoga becomes more culturally accepted, programming needs to match the growing diversity of the “typical” yoga student. The future wave of classes will be geared toward including a wider diversity of the population from children to seniors, more specialization and an emphasis on community. A relatively new phenomenon is that students want yoga to be their primary mode of fitness. Classes are beginning to specifically address fitness needs such as cardio, strength and agility. The fitness industry is already one step ahead of the game with yoga–fitness hybrids such as Crunch Fitness’s “Yoga Revolution with Smart Bells” (6 lb. weights) and Equinox’s cardio-yoga blend “Full Circle” class.

Because many students look to yoga to improve their chronic health issues, you will find more yoga teachers working with doctors to develop programs for physical rehabilitation, weight loss and other targeted needs. Yoga Works, for instance, recently partnered with the doctors at UCLA Men’s Health Center to create a specialized yoga program to address men’s health issues. And in January 2007 in Los Angeles, IAYT (the International Association of Yoga Therapists) held their first “Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research,” an event joining the expertise of traditionally trained M.D.’s with visionaries from the yoga field. As the demand for yoga spreads with populations such as seniors, competitive athletes, and sufferers of chronic illness, research on the therapeutic applications of yoga will significantly expand.

As a student of yoga myself, I am impressed with the way it’s helped improve the overall balance in my life. I find it incredibly exciting, therefore, to use innovative business strategy and creativity to bring the benefits of yoga to more people. I sleep well each night with the mission of transforming the world into a better place by bringing the benefits of yoga—including happiness, health and personal growth—to more people.