A group of explorers is sailing down a river when suddenly they plunge over a waterfall and, emerging from the water, find themselves face to face with a family of warthogs. These intrepid adventurers are actually a classroom of preschoolers experiencing Imagination Yoga, a program that uses storytelling to encourage kids to move through a series of yoga positions such as the boat pose (mimicking floating down a river), seated forward bend (going over a waterfall) and cat-cow pose (yes, warthogs.)
The program got its start when Jamie Dix, an early-childhood educator and certified yoga instructor, decided to combine her two passions. Her technique worked so well that she was asked to instruct other teachers on how to integrate it into their classrooms. It was then that Dix teamed up with her siblings, Jessica McClintic and Jon Hopkins, to turn Portland, Ore.-based Imagination Yoga into a business.
They started out offering a licensing program, then switched to a franchise system in 2012. Now they've decided to offer both options to accommodate those who want to teach the Imagination Yoga program as a hobby and those who want a full-time franchised business.
"We didn't want to stifle the overall growth of the business by focusing on only one business model," explains McClintic, who serves as business director. The siblings are also hoping to publish a book soon, to spread Imagination Yoga's philosophies and techniques even further.
We asked McClintic to share some wisdom from her adventures as Imagination Yoga's franchisor and one if its instructors.
Can you really get kids to do yoga?
When people think of adult yoga, they think of quiet and calm and perfect poses. But we're never asking the children to sit still. So much of school right now is, "You must sit still and listen to what I have to say." But what we're saying is, "I want you to move your body, I want you to roar like a lion, I want you to be silly and crazy and loud with me." And because we're having fun with them, we get their attention, and it creates a platform for having these conversations that are so desperately needed.
One of those conversations is about being what you call "boldly kind." What does that mean?
A little girl came up to us in one of our classes and asked, "Do I have to be kind to a person that's bullying me?" So that was where the idea of "boldly kind" came from; it means that by looking at that person and saying, "No, you cannot treat me that way," you're actually showing them a kindness, because you're helping them understand it's not OK. Kindness doesn't have to be gentle. Kindness has to be about doing the right thing and making sure everybody is treated fairly in the world.
Why continue to teach Imagination Yoga classes yourself instead of focusing on running the franchise?
One of the things I always have to ask myself is what parts of this business do I love the most and why did I get into this business in the first place, and the reason is because I love working with children. I also love teaching adults how to work with children, and I feel like I owe it to the adults that I teach to remain authentic. At the same time, I teach fewer classes than I could, in order to be the support to my franchisees and licensees that I promised them I would be.
Do you want your franchisees to be hands-on, too?
Yes, we like them to make a commitment to teach classes themselves for at least a year, because as the leader, you have to understand what it is you're asking people to do. And in order to run this business successfully, you have to love working with children. That's the No. 1 thing I look for in a franchisee.