What’s in a name?

Date: 15/04/2019

What’s in a name?

Last week I went to a yoga class. I wanted to try out a new studio. I had a look at the timetable and booked into a class called Hot Hatha. When I got there, the instructor began by explaining that her way of teaching was slightly different to what I might be used to. While that wasn’t an issue at all (it’s nice to get a different perspective and try a different way of doing things), what the class ended up being was very far away from what I thought I’d booked. It was the slowest yoga class I had ever done. My expectation had been mainly set by the fact that our Hot Classic class could also be termed a hot hatha class (in yoga speak), so that’s what I had in my head. As we moved VERY slowly through poses, there was a lot of focus on moving mindfully, thinking about what we were doing with our bodies, focussing on our alignment. As a yoga teacher, slowing things down, really thinking about what I am doing within my body, is great as it helps me develop my teaching. What I am trying to say is there was nothing wrong with the class, it’s just wasn’t the class I was expecting.

Meeting expectations

Appropriately setting and meeting a client’s expectations is a real challenge facing yoga studios. Every yoga teacher will tell you that they’ve got their own style and approach to yoga that they want to bring to their classes. Another issue is the sheer volume of different yoga styles, sequences and ways of teaching being churned out by the various yoga teacher training schools. With all this yoga proliferation, how do studios best manage the problem of ensuring that when clients show up to take a class, it’s the class they were expecting to take?

Consistency is key

Whether you agree or disagree with them, McDonalds is successful on a global scale for one reason; it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you know what you’re going to get when you order a McDonald’s meal. There may be some slight variants from country to country, but essentially a Big Mac is a Big Mac. You could argue that Bikram Yoga is the McDonalds of the yoga world. Again, love him or hate him for what he stands for, Bikram brought consistency to yoga. A set sequence of 26 postures taught in the same conditions (and often with the same teaching script) in studios across the globe. It became (and still is) a global phenomenom.

You can’t deny that people enjoy the predicability of knowing what they are going to get. And, a yoga class is expensive, so we all want to make sure that when we hand over our hard earned cash, we know it’s going to be well spent.

Training our own yoga teachers

We see many yoga teachers at the studio. They approach us wanting to teach and will often tell us the type of yoga that they have learnt and want us to put on our timetable so they can teach it. The bigger question is, is that a type of yoga our clients actually want to do? We’ve been offered everything up to and including yoga combined with dance.

We realised early-on that achieving consistency in how a class was taught was going to be challenging. So we launched our own yoga teacher training school to ensure that we had teachers who taught in a similar way, so a Hot Classic class was always a Hot Classic irrespective of the instructor. Often finding the right yoga class for you is synonymous with finding the right instructor for you. When that teacher moves on the timetable or leaves the studio, you’ve often lost the class you loved. At Sweat, we tried to avoid the need to follow a teacher by having a consistency to the way we teach.

A new studio means a need for new class names

At the moment we are getting ready to open our new studio in Buckingham and it’s got us thinking about class names. The class names that we have at the studio now make perfect sense to me (they would, I came up with them!), but do they make sense to other people? In my mind, Hot Classic is a sequence of classic (could also be termed traditional or foundation) yoga poses taught in a hot room. When I explained this to the studio manager, Lucinda, she looked at me with surprise and said she’d never known that that was why it was called Classic. Clearly we need to work on our internal communications (!), but the bigger question looms; these naming conventions make sense to me, but do they make sense to you?

Keeping it simple

I often blog about the fact that one of the biggest barriers to people taking a yoga class is working out which one is right for them. The reality is the traditional naming conventions; hatha, vinyasa etc. mean nothing to the uninitiated. They need to be accompanied by a description of what that class is. And, even then, as my experience has shown, one (hot) hatha class can be fundamentally different to another. Hatha is simply a catch-all for describing a yoga class where postures aren’t connected/flow-ed together (as they are in vinyasa or, put more simply, flow) and there tends to be a pause between each one. Though honestly hatha flow (which I have also seen on timetables), blows that explanation out of the water!

So how do yoga studios tackle this problem? What names can we choose that are both easy to understand, appealing and mean from a consumer perspective, someone knows exactly what they are buying. To be honest, I don’t have the answer. Most yoga studio timetables are led by the yoga form (e.g. yin, vinyasa, hatha, kundalini etc.). While this works for lots of studios, this wouldn’t be the right approach for Sweat. Our goal has always been to remove the barriers to yoga, to reduce the complexity, so a myriad of different yoga forms that people have to choose from wouldn’t sit right with us. So what do we call our classes? Do we lead with the benefit the class will bring (some studios call their classes things like ‘Strong’ or ‘Chill’), or do we lead with what’s going to happen in the class (e.g ‘Flow’)? To add even more complexity, our studio in Buckingham won’t be offering hot yoga, so we need names that clearly show what’s hot and what’s not to avoid missed expectation.

The final decision

After spending a number of mind-bending hours, here’s where we have landed (for now). It’s a bit of a mixture of everything and hopefully covers all bases.

Classic – a set sequence of classic (foundation) yoga poses.

Hot Classic – a Classic class performed in a hot room. Simple!

Mix – similar to a Classic class but you can expect to ‘mix things up’ a bit. A chance to learn new poses and try new things.

Hot Mix – a mix class performed in a hot room.

Stretch (previously known as Flex) – a deep stretching (clue’s in the name, people) yoga class, where postures are held for a longer duration to really improve your flexibility.

Move & Stretch (previously Stretch & Flex) – simple-to-perform yoga poses, designed to move (geddit?) your body to increase your mobility, followed by a Stretch class.

Flow – a dynamically moving class where postures flow (again – see what we’ve done here?) together to form sequences. You can choose from slow flow (moving slowly – great for learning the basics), hot flow (flow in a hot room) or just regular ‘ol flow.

We are also going to be categorising our classes under three headings; work-out, stretch-out and, chill-out, meaning you can sign up for the class that best suits your mood and need and hopefully there’s no missed expectation.

There really is no right or wrong way of doing this, but it has to work for you, so let us know what you think! You’ll see these changes rolled out across our timetable, app and website in the coming weeks.