by Cat Wheeler
Of course I was aware that Ubud heaved with svelte yogins of every gender. They strode our shattered sidewalks in stylish togs which revealed startling expanses of lean, tattooed epidermis. Numerous retail outlets catered to their every imaginable need at first world prices. Advertisements for yoga classes, workshops and teacher training covered all available horizontal surfaces.
I had, in fact, witnessed the very first glimmer of Bali’s now-booming yoga industry. After the Bali bomb in 2002, tourism tanked. Ubud, with its economic focus on tourism, was in dire straits. Meghan Pappenheim decided to do something constructive to attract a new kind of tourist to Bali. The artifact export business she’d built up with her husband Kadek Gunarta was not doing well. She was casting around for new directions and we were brainstorming a website she planned to call www.balispirit.com
“Yoga,” she said intently as we sat in her little office in the family compound on Jalan Hanoman. “We need to bring yoga to Bali.” “Yoga? Bali?” I struggled to connect the two concepts. “Yes,” she nodded emphatically. “Yoga is going to be really big.”
The rest is history. Meghan opened a small yoga studio on top of her house in 2004 and began to market the concept of yoga in Bali internationally. When the Yoga Barn and Intuitive Flow opened in 2007 they joined the Bali Yoga Shala in Seminyak as the first dedicated yoga studios Bali. Now there are about 20 on the island, attracting an important chunk of the tourism market. The ripple effect is significant, with shops selling everything from mats to books, clothing, oils, music and jewellery. The yogins patronise a growing list of healthy restaurants which in turn support farmers of fruit, vegetables, herbs, cashews, rice and spirulina. The Bali Spirit Festival brings hundreds of participants and teachers to Ubud each year. Yoga has become a leading tourism activity.
About 40 years ago when I started doing yoga, it was far from mainstream. In those days it was pretty much Hatha. Yoga was a slow, stately, careful meditative practice requiring no particular clothing or fancy accessories. Just a mat, some sweats and a teacher who had studied for years in India. Along with most of my generation this is still what I imagine when I think of yoga. I was vaguely aware of a whole menu of different yoga flavours that had evolved in the intervening decades, so I studied the class list to select an appropriate option. ‘Gentle Flow’ sounded promising.
Oh the shock of it, Dear Reader. I had done a little lazy bending and stretching at home over the years and called it yoga. My misty memories were soon abandoned in the face of the contemporary interpretation of the practice. There was nothing gentle about it. This was a real work out for my older, out-of-shape self, and it moved fast. The teacher was about 22, as were most of the class participants, and they could all put their toes in their ears. This was discouraging.
I soon learned to get to class early in order to unroll my mat against the back wall, where I wouldn’t frighten the horses doing Downward Dog. It took several sessions to learn the different poses, which changed with dizzying frequency. “Inhale, Cat. Exhale, Cow. Inhale, Tabletop. Exhale, Cobra. Inhale, Up Dog. Exhale, Down Dog, Warrior, Lunge, Goddess, Chair…”
The pace was grueling, and it was every yogin for him/herself.
Inverted in Down Dog (“Lengthen the spine! Sit bones to the sky!”) I heard the next directive with alarm. “Step or float to the front of the mat.” Now, my feet were at the extreme far end of the mat; I could not imagine how they were going to cover the intervening real estate in a single graceful movement. I was still stumbling clumsily to the front of my mat while everyone else was already in their graceful Half Lifts.
I admit that for the first few classes I was demoralised. I was constantly falling out of my poses. No one ever said, “Hey you at the back, the one with gray hair, are you okay back there?” Then I got cross. Didn’t these whippersnappers realise that my generation discovered sex, drugs, rock and roll, yoga, vegetarianism and vibrators?
They did not know, they did not care. I was invisible. But in fact I represent a substantial business opportunity.
According to a 2016 story from the American Marketing Association, women born between 1946 and 1964 – ‘Boomer Women’ – remain invisible to marketers. Less than 5% of advertising dollars are targeted to adults aged 35 to 64, even though they hold much of the nation’s wealth. The estimated number of female boomers in the United States alone is 38.44 million. They have money to spend and the time to spend it, but no one is noticing.
“We are 100% invisible to marketers. That’s pretty easy to establish,” says Marti Barletta, author of Marketing to Women and PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big Spenders.
Girlpower Marketing released a report in 2013 titled “Boomer Women: The Invisible Goldmine.” Surveying 200 female boomers, the report found that 53% felt overlooked by product advertising and marketing because of their age. The survey also found that 68.3% of respondents felt advertisers never or very rarely target their age group on a regular basis, while 31.7% said advertisers sometimes target their age group. No one in the group said they were targeted by advertisers often or almost always.
According to a 2012 Nielsen study, ‘Introducing Boomers: Marketing’s Most Valuable Generation,’ boomers now control 70% of the country’s disposable income. Boomers made up almost $230 billion in sales for consumer packaged goods in 2012, 49% of total sales. In addition to their existing funds, baby boomers are set to inherit $15 trillion over the next 20 years. Add to this the fact that women drive about 75% of all consumer purchasing, and it’s pretty clear who spends the most.
So, a little respect, please.
In the past month I’ve gradually become more comfortable in yoga class, although I still position myself against the back wall. But there are hardly any yoga clothes in this town that I can wear. I’ve found very few age-appropriate classes, or teachers of Boomer age who understand and have personal experience of 65 year old joints.
I’m not alone here. There are hundreds of us Boomer Babes living in Ubud who would love to get back into yoga and fitness routines. It seems that every other niche market is being addressed except ours. Surely it’s time someone recognised the opportunity and welcomed we over-55s back onto our mats?
All illustrations and original photos ©Rio Helmi