A group of young explorers is paddling down a treacherous river when suddenly they unexpectedly plunge over a waterfall. When they emerge from the water, they find themselves face to face with a family of warthogs. Nope, these kids aren’t paddling down the Mississippi. They are actually in a yoga class at the Portland-based Imagination Yoga. The boat pose mimics floating down a river, the seated forward bend invokes the movement of going over a waterfall, and the cat-cow pose means facing those warthogs.
Founded by siblings Jamie Hopkins, Jessica McClintic, and Jon Hopkins in 2009, Imagination Yoga began franchising in 2012. The franchise specifically caters to kids ages 2 through 12, teaching yoga poses and concepts by having them act out adventure stories set in a number of exciting settings, including farms, castles, and outer space.
The franchise’s origins are humble. Jamie came up with the idea for Imagination Yoga while working as a preschool teacher at the Nike Child Development Center. An experienced yoga instructor, Jamie made use of the big, full yoga breath (characterized by breathing up and exhaling down) in order to help children with behavioral problems to calm down. “I encouraged the kids to use their imaginations, maybe painting a rainbow around themselves,” she said. “Awareness arose in these little people and helped them realize that their bodies were feeling angry or anxious or whatever it may be. It became a tool to calm their bodies down.”
She eventually began teaching the program in after-school programs and community centers. She decided to combine yoga with storytelling, adding in poses that allowed the kids to enact imaginary scenarios, turning them into animals tromping through the jungle or explorers navigating a canoe through a treacherous river. “I’d been going from class to class honing my skills, and the other teachers saw that this worked,” she explained. “They saw that it helped their kids get the wiggles out and that the kids slept better.”
Demand grew, and so did the business. Jamie’s sister, Jessica, quit her own job at Nike, where she worked in operations and merchandising, and joined forces with her sister. Their brother, Jon, eventually joined in as a co-owner. Imagination Yoga soon began giving teacher-training workshops and shortly thereafter made the decision to franchise, a move that has proved to be a highly successful one. In 2011, Microsoft named Imagination Yoga as one of the five most inspiring small businesses in the country, a designation that came with a $50,000 prize and a full day with Cindy Bates, Microsoft’s senior vice president of small- and medium-sized business development.
“The passion they have has that change-the-world kind of feel,” said Bates, who took an Imagination Yoga class as part of her visit. “But they also have unique intellectual property. I think they’ve hit a sweet spot in a gap that exists, and they’ve brought a creative solution to it. ”
And the accolades keep rolling in. Just this past June, Entrepreneur magazine included the company in its list of 10 promising new franchises, and last October, it was dubbed one of the 15 most innovative new companies in the U.S.
Imagination Yoga currently has 12 franchises, with five more in the works. All in all, it looks like Imagination Yoga is poised for continued success, thanks to a great business model and a truly innovative idea. As Jessica explained, “There is nothing cuter than kids doing yoga, than kids sitting in a calm, relaxed state.”
Article by Jason Duncan, CEO/Founder of ManagerComplete.com. ManagerComplete is an online software application that helps multi-unit franchises manage operations effectively. Follow him onTwitter for latest updates.