Shamir Sidhu, MoreYoga

Why Mental Health Needs to be a Key Focus for Operators

Mental health has been on the agenda for the fitness sector for a while now, but COVID has pushed that into the spotlight. Lengthy national lockdowns took a toll on many people’s mental health and rates of anxiety, depression and low mood are at all time highs. Gyms have long been the place where people go to look after their physical health but what can operators do now to help the thousands of people struggling with mental health? We sat down with Shamir Sidhu, founder and CEO of MoreYoga to find out. We talked to Shamir about: 

  • How operators can look after their clients physical and mental health
  • What they are doing differently to help support people mentally
  • How to train staff to help with mental health issues and
  • Common mistakes to look out for 

As an operator, how do you look after your clients both physically and mentally?

As one of the largest yoga operators in the UK, we are fortunate that we already offer a product that provides a 360 wellness experience. Yoga fuses together the mind, body and spirit and it is the spirit and mind elements that are increasingly at the forefront of mental health conversations. The goal for us now is getting our service to more people. How do we take the outcomes of yoga therapy and build a wider spectrum of services for today’s consumer? This is our current challenge.

What are you doing differently now that you weren’t doing a year ago?

Like many operators, we had to pivot quite quickly and move into an online platform. We actually closed one week before it was required because we could see the writing on the wall, and we thought it was the right thing to do. We opened up here and there, but we’ve basically been closed for a year. So, we made contingency plans to continue in what was going to be a one-year or more lockdown. Originally, we filmed more than 150 hours of on demand content in one week. We had three studios and three film crews filming for 18-hour days. It was a huge undertaking, but it was critical as it allowed us to keep people on as members with a comprehensive digital offering.

Over the last year, we’ve focused on developing our online platform called MoreYoga Wellness TV. The backbone of this platform is yoga therapy. It has several pillars including body, soul, life and mind. Body, of course, is the physical practice of yoga. It also includes Pilates and HIIT. Soul is all about the spirit and digging deeper inside oneself to find what’s hidden. Life is about things like financial wellness, nutrition, life coaching and relationships, and the mind part focuses on things like anxiety therapy, depression and self-confidence. It’s truly a 360 degree approach to wellness. We partner with guest speakers and through MoreYoga Wellness TV, we offer classes, workshops, talks and breathing exercises related to the different pillars. Some are live. Some are on demand. Through MoreYoga Wellness TV we’ve been able to expand our range of services to our existing customer base without having them pay more. It’s been a great retention tool for us.

MoreYoga Yin

Do staff require any new or specialised training as it relates to mental health?

Our staff were trained in elements of mental health pre-pandemic through MoreMind, our mind offering where we brought in professionals to do talks or workshops on things like trauma, anxiety and depression. Our teachers were also given access to these professionals to dig deeper into these topics and learn more about how they can support their clients.

We’ve also been working with a clinician from the Minded Institute to offer a trauma training workshop for our teachers. This will help instructors working in physical studios to be able to recognise indicators of people suffering from trauma. With the increase in distress over the last year, this has become a high priority for us.

What are some mistakes you see other boutiques in the sector making?

We’re in a fortunate position because we have mind, body and spirit built into the core of our products. But broadly speaking, it is difficult for operators to try to be everything or to try to be something they’re not. For example, should a bootcamp operator invest in other aspects of health and wellness and start offering things like breathing and meditation? Is that even applicable to their business? It needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with each operator really assessing whether their members would be receptive to things like this. The crossover could be difficult.

Many people use multiple operators for their overall health and wellness needs. The key is figuring out where you fit in the consumer’s wellness journey.

For operators who haven’t traditionally focused on mental wellbeing as part of their offering, what options do they have?

It’s an opportunity to creatively expand your services to benefit your business commercially. A lot of people come to yoga for the physical benefits, but they leave with their nervous systems relaxed. Without even realising it, they’ve gone to mental therapy. Is there a way to get people to feel what they feel from a yoga class in a more physical setting? Some options could be getting professionals in to teach people how to decompress a bit better or adding a relaxation to the end of HIIT classes to just have a moment, relax and move all that peripheral stress out of the way.

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What’s been your biggest lesson so far?

I think most operators would agree that no one planned for a pandemic. You see things like earthquakes or terrorism on insurance forms, but it’s easy to question whether you really need a plan for these things since the likelihood of them happening is vanishingly small. Over the last year, our biggest learning is that we need to plan for the worst. As so many businesses have realised during this period, especially in the boutique market, we need to have more cash in reserve. We also learned how important it is to have contingencies for crisis situations.

Another thing we learned is that mental health will be at the forefront of our offering. What we now know is that the future of wellness is based around physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health. This is where the fitness industry should be moving forward. People need to think about these four pillars or they’re missing out. It’s not just about physical fitness anymore. Mental, spiritual and emotional health are the next frontier of wellness.

Given that mental health issues span a wide range of people, how can operators make their offering more accessible?

It’s difficult for boutique fitness. By definition, it’s a socially exclusive sector. It’s frowned upon now to have an elitist offering that creates have and have nots. Broadly, I feel the industry is not doing enough to offer wellness for all. I think all boutique operators should offer health and fitness to a wider audience for a serious concession, and really think about how you can help people who have nothing. It’s a wider moral issue, but one that operators need to consider given our overarching ambition is to help people.

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Posted in Gyms & Clubs, Interviews.