Yoga for Nobody
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | August 4, 2023
I was recently talking to a teacher who’s taking over a studio in her town. She told me that it’s known as the “old lady studio.” Regardless of how you feel about that moniker (I like it – Go old ladies!) the good news is that it’s established and surviving with a steady clientele – a great indicator of its viability and potential.
This teacher wants to change things up a bit, branch out, and become a place where more people can come and experience the value of slow, mindful yoga. Terrific!
“Basically,” she told me, “I want to increase diversity, I want more people to come here, I want to offer yoga for everybody.”
While I certainly honor her vision and her intention, I told her that the reality is that “yoga for everybody” often ends up being “yoga for nobody.”
Gimme a minute to explain.
First, I think it’s great to want to expand and reach more people. In fact, according to the yoga tradition, that desire for expansion (vistāra) is fundamental to the dharma or purpose of human existence.
Expand away! But, first, strategize about it.
So I asked her to think about “yoga for everybody” a little differently. Most people want to go places and hang out with people with whom they feel comfortable. Sure, there are outlier extroverts – the folks who will boldly step into new situations and try new things without hesitation. But most people want to feel safe, included, and comfortable, and like they belong – certainly when trying something new.
Think about food or music or sports. People who love to eat steak when they go out will probably not search for a vegan restaurant. A hip hop lover may feel out of place at a country music festival. A Chicago Bears fan, decked out in blue and orange, may have a panic attack at the thought of sitting in a sea of green and yellow on the Packers’ side.
I think it’s helpful to apply this same idea to teaching yoga – it can help you become more conscious of who is coming and why. People enjoy going places where they feel comfortable and enjoy being with others who they feel connected to, with whom they share common traits and interests. That’s why “Yoga for Everybody” can easily become “Yoga for Nobody” because no one thinks of themselves as “everybody.”
Now, there’s a lot that we could unpack here about stereotypes, discrimination, and all the other problems of human social interactions, but, for our purposes, I’m not going to make any value judgments. I’m just going to start with the premise that people seeking out yoga behave similarly to people seeking out food, music, or sports.
So here she is, inheriting a studio that is already successful, already has a solid clientele, and she just gets to step in and take over? – that’s a dream.
So I said, “When it comes to taking over a studio that’s already doing just fine, the first thing you need to understand is who your people are and what they want and need. Get clear about why they take time out of their busy lives to come to you specifically, why they care about what you are doing. Be curious. Ask questions. That way you will be able to better serve them.”
When you start to understand who your people are, why they are coming to you specifically, and what they want and need, not only are you better able to serve your clients, but you can also depend on their support as you start to branch out into your vision.
It is hard to start a studio from the ground up. Really, really hard.
So if you already have a clientele and a successful business model, my advice is to nurture the folks who are already supporting you. That does not mean you can’t branch out, but you have to take care of the people who are supporting you first.
Inheriting an “old lady yoga studio” IMHO, is probably the best thing ever for an aspiring studio owner. It’s amazing to have wise older women populating your space! From there, you have an opportunity to experiment, try new things, slowly build up other followings, get people to be more open to and more comfortable with different kinds of people in their classes, etc.
A good way to start is to ask your clients what else they want. For example, send out a simple survey with 3-5 choices, and make them very specific. Here are some ideas:
- Chair Yoga for Better Joint Health
- Chair Yoga for Improved Digestion
- Yoga for a Healthy Brain
- Restorative Yoga for Busy Moms
- Chakra Balancing Yoga for Mental Health
(Of note, none of these are pathologically oriented – I didn’t say, Yoga for Arthritis, or Yoga for Depression for example – this is important. Because you want to position yourself as a yoga health promoter – not a health care provider. It’s also great to stay on the positive side with your offerings).
Who knows, maybe some of the “old ladies” will come, or maybe they’ll encourage their children or friends to attend your Restorative Yoga for Busy Moms class?
The main point is to get their feedback. Then choose a night and start offering that new class. Talk it up! Market the bejesus out of it and be patient because it may take a while to catch on. And it may never catch on – that’s okay, try something else – all the while supporting your old ladies – because they are already supporting you!