A baby business grows up

Updated: 2012-06-07 13:25

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily)

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Briton Ian Gordon and his wife Angelina Liu Fangfang had little inkling the baby yoga training they took for their unborn son Oliver in 2006 would lead to a massive business that would expand beyond China into Southeast Asia.

After training in the United Kingdom, Liu started hosting free lessons for friends in Beijing.

"After about 6 months of classes - and there were many - I realized there was a healthy niche business that we could expand on if the yoga program was developed to suit the Asian market," Gordon says.

It took about a year to develop a baby yoga program for infants from 4 weeks old to walking age, and another with four developmental stages for children ages 3-12.

The idea came to Gordon when he met the Harrow School Beijing's head of activities on a flight to the United Kingdom. He invited Gordon to teach at the school.

"I then realized there was a business model that could be expanded and was manageable, but we didn't envisage how big the business was going to get," he recalls.

Incy Wincy Yoga now serves most of the international schools in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as those in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. It will expand to Hong Kong and South Korea later this year.

"We want them to improve their focus and concentration through our classes," Gordon says.

"From studies around the world, it has been proven that kids yoga can increase a child's attention span, which has a natural effect on their behavior and academic success."

The company doesn't have a studio, because Gordon says he realized how "crippling" the overheads of long-term renting could be.

Incy Wincy Yoga teaches, on average, at 25 schools, 10 kindergartens and 10 community centers in every city in which it operates. It adds up to 250-300 classes a week, Gordon says.

Liu also teaches what might be China's only baby yoga teacher training certification course.

"(Kids yoga) is new to China and awareness is lower than it is about other exercises," Gordon says.

"But once parents realize that by practicing Incy Wincy Yoga, their child's concentration improves, their confidence builds and their team spirit does, too - and that we help them control and lower stress, especially at exam time - it becomes a no-brainer."

He believes that's why the business continues to grow.

"Anything beneficial to a child's development and overall health in a world filled with junk food, endless TV, video games and, above all, stress, has to be a winner," he says.

"The health benefits are immense. It improves motor skills, flexibility and physical fitness, and helps a child's emotional growth."

US studies have also found a correlation between kids yoga and improved grades.

Gordon believes it's perhaps easier for Asian schools to accept kids yoga than schools elsewhere.

"Most of the teachers look at alternative methods of empowering students," he says.

He says classes are tailored according to different cities' conditions.

"We feel, as market leaders in Asia, we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg," he says.

"A greater awareness will come through time. We have no doubt. As China is special to both Angelina (Liu) and I, we will continue to develop Incy Wincy into sectors where children benefit."

Incy Wincy Yoga is expanding its nonprofit work and seeking volunteers to teach underprivileged students.

He also points out there are no spiritual elements to their programs.

"Classes are noisy at times, with students mooing like cows, roaring like lions and purring like cats," Gordon says.

"They are filled with adventure stories, and we focus our kids during the class, helping them to have fun through expression. It's not like any adult yoga class I've seen."