How two Chicago educators saw over 3,000 bookings within the first two weeks of launching virtual classes.
Buddha Belly Kids Yoga is a mobile yoga company founded by educators and dedicated to nurturing kids' innate desire for movement and play. In 2014, kindergarten teacher Erin Bracco and reading specialist and literacy coach Meg Reckley took a kids yoga teacher training with the intention of incorporating yoga and mindfulness into their classroom. This accidental business evolved and expanded with an after school club, several birthday parties, and a hybrid yoga-art camp — and the pair became co-founders.
Now, Buddha Belly has expanded to a team of almost 15 teachers that serve thousands of children and families throughout the Chicago area. Buddha Belly believes in kids first, then yoga. Classes explore yoga through poses, breathing, and mindfulness while encouraging creativity and fun. Offerings balance both structure and spontaneity — and every experience is created with an educator's touch ensuring that classes are rooted in child development.
We sat down with co-founder Erin Bracco to see how Buddha Belly uses Sawyer Tools and how her business saw over 3,000 enrollments within the first two weeks of launching virtual classes in Mid-March 2020.
Buddha Belly Kids — like so many businesses we work with — has been impacted by COVID-19 closures. Prior to social distancing, what did your in-person offerings look like?
Our in-person offerings include toddler and caregiver classes, weekly and after-school yoga for preschools, daycares, and K-12 students. We also offer family yoga events, summer camp, birthday parties, private yoga sessions, workshops for parents and caregivers, and professional development for educators, child life specialists, therapists, and other corporate offices.
What do your current online offerings look like?
We launched our virtual yoga programming in March 2020 through Zoom, YouTube, and Instagram Live. Currently, we host almost 20 live-streaming classes a week and are still able to adjust our in-person classes to share via virtual platforms.
“To us, community is your logical family. The people, whether blood related or not, whom you turn to in times of joy and sorrow. The people who show up... over and over again. Community is collaboration, not competition. Community is all the beautiful, wonderful, magical, amazing, messy, complicated, real life things.”
— Erin Bracco
How have you tested online offerings?
We began with an assortment of free classes through Zoom, which quickly turned into a donation based and pay-as-you-go model. We believe wholeheartedly that yoga and mindfulness should be accessible to all, especially at this time. We are building content to add more pre-recorded videos for our YouTube channel and working with a variety of organizations to continue to provide unique partnerships. Right now we are focusing on building community and establishing or maintaining important connections.
What does community mean to you? How are you expanding your definition of community using online resources?
To us, community is your logical family. The people, whether blood related or not, whom you turn to in times of joy and sorrow. The people who show up... over and over again. Community is collaboration, not competition. Community is all the beautiful, wonderful, magical, amazing, messy, complicated, real life things.
As a business not tied to a physical space, but rooted in collaboration, we are not foreign to partnerships. Therefore, we are honing in on our skill of connecting and widening it to partnerships outside of the Chicagoland area. Our online platform is allowing children and families from all over the globe to access yoga and mindfulness during a time when they need it most.
How are online classes impacting your business?
We feel fortunate that yoga translates well on a virtual platform and that we were able to quickly pivot our business. During the first two weeks alone, we saw almost 3,000 children from 47 states and 20 countries. We are committed to providing free classes during this time. So, we set up a Venmo account (@buddhabelly-kidsyoga) to try and stay afloat. We are grateful for the generosity we have already seen.
“Knowing that we are helping these children make sense of their world and create lifelong habits and coping skills drives every decision that we make.”
— Erin Bracco
What inspires you to work with little learners?
The little learners themselves! Watching and hearing about how our little loves are transferring these yoga, mindfulness, and social-emotional learning strategies to life off of the mat is inspiring. Everyday we receive photos, videos, or messages with anecdotal stories about when a little one did candle breath while feeling upset or stopped and did downward dog before writing a story. It is what keeps us going! Knowing that we are helping these children make sense of their world and create lifelong habits and coping skills drives every decision that we make.
Do you use any Sawyer Tools features for your online classes? What works well?
All registration for our online classes are through Sawyer. Families register one child per household so that we can ensure there are enough log-in spaces via Zoom. We've been able to include optional add-ons for a few fixed donation amounts for parents. The latest online classes feature allows us to embed a Zoom link so that families receive it before class starts. This saves us a great deal of time on the backend with tech support. Additionally, using Sawyer Tools as our main registration system allows us to build a database of emails.
What is more important: video or sound? Why?
For our purposes, video. While cuing with words is an important part of yoga, modeling the poses is essential. Children learn best through seeing and doing, so being able to see the teacher's body is more important. Plus, movement is a universal language, so children don't have to understand English to follow along with a video.
Thanks so much for sharing your time and thoughts with us. Do you have any advice for other businesses testing online activities and classes?
Nobody has all the answers and nothing is perfect — so let it go. Remember that if you currently offer high quality programming, it will translate to a virtual world. The content that you are offering is more important than sound quality. Providing a space for children and families to develop healthy habits is what this world is about. In fact, we encourage our families to be inspired to use imaginative play and real-life scenarios as learning opportunities.