Blocking the Chasm: How the yoga community slows the adoption of the practice it loves

One of the greatest insights I've learned about business comes thanks to Roger's Bell Curve and the Technology Adoption Lifecycle. This concept explains how new technology products are adopted, the path they go through - from early adopters into the mainstream - and importantly it also explains why some products fail.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

For all products that eventually become mainstream, there is a chasm, and crossing this chasm is the key to becoming mainstream. There are loads of other lessons baked into understanding this adoption curve, and I highly recommend reading more about it if you haven't already.

One interesting thing I've noticed about the yoga community, is that unlike the technology industry where we obsess about this chasm, and we do everything we can to build bridges to help our potential customers cross this chasm, the yoga industry unknowingly puts up barriers to crossing this chasm.

I don't think it's done with intention, and I certainly don't think it's done with ill will, but I do believe that by paying attention to these blocking actions the yoga community can collectively introduce, and retain, a lot more people than it is at present.

While it's true that there are more people practicing yoga in America today than ever before, (in 2012 yoga journal commissioned a study that found there were 20.4 million active participants in America) the rate of adoption seems to have slowed the past few years with estimates seeming to hover around 22 million, although it's difficult to find a study more recent than the 2012 study.

In no particular order, here are the things I see the yoga community doing that slow the growth, and reduce the retention rates, of people practicing yoga.

Students (the customer) are Second Class Citizens

In almost every industry, it is the customer that the industry obsesses about. Tech companies obsess about users and their needs. Sports teams obsess about putting a team together that fans want to see. And the yoga industry obsesses about...teachers, and becoming a teacher.

If you are someone who is very into yoga, who wants to dive deeper into yoga and it's origins and truly strengthen your practice, almost every single option is a road that leads to being an instructor. If you are someone who wants to be a deep student of yoga, but you don't have an interest in teaching yoga, the options available to you fall through the floor.

Moreover, if you are someone who has found you enjoy a great asana class twice per week and no more, there are countless people who will happily talk to you about how you aren't a "real" yogi. The level of disrespect I see directed at people who work in the industry but have chosen not to become teachers is something I am regularly stunned by.

Men are not explicitly catered to and they are often outright banned.

Let me share a little insight with you about men: we too have insecurities and we need help dealing with these insecurities. Do you know that a 45 year old man with a beer belly probably feels as uncomfortable next to a skinny 24 year old woman as a new mom does? I never once thought of yoga as a practice that could be meant for me until my wife opened a yoga studio. Something is wildly broken when that's the bar that the industry has set for introducing someone such as myself to yoga.

81% of practitioners are women, and yet I almost never see an event explicitly designed to bring more men into the fold of yoga. Rarely do I see an intro to yoga for men event. Rarely do I see couples events designed to help women introduce their male partners to yoga. I have come across no fewer than 3 events in the past 6 months that I was intrigued by only to learn they were women only events.

Seeing as how men make up 49% of the population and only 19% of existing yoga practitioners, there is no greater opportunity for the growth of yoga than to introduce it to more men. And yet.

Instagram Pictures of Instructors instead of Students

Maile and I talk about things we notice in the industry all the time, and a main topic of late is how rarely we see pictures of yoga teachers teaching yoga. Seriously, when's the last time you saw a really great photo of an instructor helping someone hold a handstand? When is the last time you saw an instructor doing an adjustment on their student? Generally speaking, when it comes to yoga and instagram, it's all about the teacher and not at all about the student.

Applying these lessons to your own business

Like I mentioned early on - I don't think any of this is the result of malice. It's just that often times people forget that in order to grow an industry, you need to make it accessible to new adopters, and that those later adopters need help crossing the chasm.

A good question to ask is: for every existing practitioner you serve, how many non-practicioners are you working to introduce yourself to? Opportunity is abound.