Health & Medicine

Studios say free yoga day more than a marketing tool

It’s All Yoga drew a full class for its morning Hatha yoga class on Sacramento’s Free Yoga Day on Monday.
It’s All Yoga drew a full class for its morning Hatha yoga class on Sacramento’s Free Yoga Day on Monday.

Shannon Bravo, 26, never had stepped foot in a yoga studio prior to Monday. For years, she had practiced in her living room, relying on YouTube videos for instruction.

Studio membership – which she found to be around $100 a month – seemed too steep for Bravo, a recent graduate of Sacramento State’s social work master’s program. Single classes were expensive as well. “Granola-eating, effortlessly flexible yogis” added to the intimidation that kept her from practicing in a studio, she said.

But a Facebook post about Sacramento’s Free Day of Yoga – an event for people of all ability levels and ages – lured Bravo and her friend Caytlin Costa, 26, to a noon Vinyasa flow class at It’s All Yoga on 21st Street. Bravo said she enjoyed the social and structured nature of the class – so much so that she plans to become a member there in the near future.

But while increased membership is a welcome byproduct of Free Day of Yoga, it’s not the primary focus, studio owners said.

“The point is to let people explore the enormous variety that yoga offers,” said Michelle Marlahan, owner of It’s All Yoga and founder of Sacramento Free Day of Yoga. “We’re trying to show people that you don’t have to be some vegetarian, stand-on-your-head yoga-type – literally anyone can just try a class for free.”

Monday’s Free Day of Yoga offered classes from novice to expert levels and multiple methods including Bikram and Yin yoga – saving attendees anywhere from $15 to $20 per drop-in class. More than 20 studios participated, including some in Davis, Vacaville and Rancho Cordova.

Studio staff and community volunteers helped coordinate and run the event. Local vendors, such as Sun and Soil Juice Company and Wheel Lemonade, offered products at participating studios.

Nationally, yoga’s popularity continues to rise. Approximately 24 million adults practiced yoga in 2013, according to a survey by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. More than $10 billion was spent on yoga classes and equipment in 2012, according to a market study by the Yoga Journal.

Free Day of Yoga – which originated in Austin, Texas, in 1999 and has gone nationwide – arrived in Sacramento four years ago by way of Marlahan, who said she appreciated the day’s inclusive, nonintimidating nature.

According to Marlahan, the event’s attendance has increased over the years, with more than 2,000 people participating in 2014.

Around 10 percent of attendees at last year’s Sacramento’s Free Day of Yoga were first-timers, according to statistics gathered by participating studios. Others used the day to check out new studios or methods. But a visit doesn’t necessarily guarantee studio loyalty, Marlahan said.

“We see people come in (on Free Day of Yoga) who normally go to other studios and just want to try us out,” she said. “The people who are new to yoga entirely may studio-hop for a while after Free Day of Yoga before settling in somewhere. We see some people coming back, but keeping track of retention and attrition rates is always a tricky thing in the yoga industry.”

Marlahan estimated that 10 percent of people who visit her studio on Free Day of Yoga return, which falls in line with the studio’s general retention rates.

But Solfire Yoga co-owner Ellen Moe agrees that the event is more than a marketing tool. It’s designed to draw attention to the health benefits of yoga and offer people a no-risk way to try it.

Solfire opened days before last year’s Free Day of Yoga and saw a large turnout for the event, Moe said. However, she said she’s both unaware and unconcerned if her studio’s participation increases its customer base.

“We realize we have to have a space, and pay rent and our instructors, but what we really try focus on is doing what we can to facilitate the best practice possible,” Moe said. “Whether we are getting people who decide to join our studio after a class (on Free Day of Yoga), I don’t know. We don’t ask people why they are here. We are just happy they are here.”

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