THE WASHINGTON POST – “Our story begins on a warm summer’s day, with the sun in the sky,” said a brunette woman who is wearing an oversized bow and appears to be standing in the middle of a cartoon garden. “So we reach up to the sky and say, ‘Hello, sun!’ “
It’s story time. It’s gym class.
The woman stretches and waves, then lies on the ground, inviting her young viewers to follow along with her movements. Over the next 30 minutes, she’ll act out the story of Alice in Wonderland, getting on hands and knees to hop like the White Rabbit, running in circles while racing an imaginary dodo bird and dropping to her belly as she pretends to be the blue, pipe-smoking caterpillar – a move yogis would recognise as cobra pose.
At the end she lies still, like Alice recalling her dream. “It makes us think about our dreams, too,” she sighs. “How wonderful our imagination can be – the stories we think of, the places we can go in our head.”
The pandemic has taught us the many meanings of “essential workers” – the doctors, nurses, grocery workers, bus drivers and others who are holding the world together. For parents of young children, “essential” is also the right word to describe the quirky British yoga lady in the blue jumpsuit.
Kids call her Jaime. Parents tend to use words like “lifesaver.”
She is a modern-day Mary Poppins whose magic, child-wrangling powers come not from songs but deep-breathing exercises and mindful movements, allowing their exhausted caretakers 15, 20, maybe even 25 blessed minutes for themselves. She has become America’s de facto physical education teacher, calling millions of children to attention with her secret yoga code word: “Naaa-maaaa-stayyyyy.”
Which is quite a turn of events for Jaime Amor, 41. Nine months ago she was a children’s birthday-party entertainer who for years had lost money making yoga videos for kids. Videos that were popular but not, you know, essential.
“It’s been absolutely nuts,” Amor said in a Zoom interview, her thick eyebrows climbing skyward.
Amor trained to be a classical actress and moved to London in her 20s. She auditioned a lot and got a few parts, but often felt uncomfortable in front of a camera. She felt her presence was somehow too big, too theatrical – “like I’m a caricature,” she said. To pay the rent she started doing children’s parties, dressing up as a fairy or a princess or a pirate and telling stories. With five-year-olds, the bigger and more theatrical, the better.
By 2010, a friendship with a roommate, Martin Amor, had turned to romance. After a trip to the Burning Man festival, they made the snap decision to leave London for a quieter life in a village not far from Jaime’s hometown. Waves of regret soon followed. “It took me six months of having a proper identity crisis. Of going, ‘I’m not an actor anymore. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who I am,’” she recalled. She trained to become a yoga teacher.
In 2011, after leading an after-school cooking club at a local elementary school, Amor decided it might be fun to teach the kids yoga. Rather than just lead the kids through sun salutations, she told her old birthday party stories, having students act out the characters’ motions on their mats. The club was so popular that Amor was soon doing 15 classes a week around town, lugging a giant sack of yoga mats everywhere she went.
Amor’s husband, Martin, worked in consulting, advising businesses on branding and innovation strategies. On a trip to Silicon Valley, he had a revelation. Broadband was just being rolled out, and every tech executive he met with wanted to talk about “content.”
“I remember standing in a mall in San Francisco, calling (Jaime) saying, ‘Video. We’re going to do some video,’” he recalled.
They hired a cameraman with a green screen. “Wouldn’t it be cool if it was on a really fun TV background?” Amor remembered saying. “I don’t want to look like a hot yoga girl. I want to look like a Teletubby.” A photo of Harry Styles rocking an adult onesie in the airport was the inspiration for her outfit.
For two months in 2012, the pair was too embarrassed to show the videos to anyone. “We thought they were weird,” Jaime Amor said. But gradually they picked up a following on YouTube – friends first, then strangers. To bankroll better production values, Martin Amor sold a house he owned and the couple spent some of their savings. A digital animator helped Jaime Amor’s yoga-inflected storytelling – some original tales, plus classics like The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and Frozen – come alive. Kids seemed to love her expressive face and exciting stories, each of which asked children to take on the role of the hero and offered subtle lessons of empowerment and social responsibility.
In a video that told the story of an old crocodile, for instance, Amor asked her young viewers to reflect on how much they have to learn from their grandparents and elderly neighbours.
Then the virus hit, trapping families inside their homes. Confined to their own 753-square-foot home, the Amors watched the views on Jaime’s videos surge.
“Before we had a hundred thousand views a day on average,” Jaime Amor said. “And it jumped up to over a million views in a day.”
They suspect that teachers who used the videos in their classrooms emailed the links home to parents. So instead of registering one group viewing played in school, it was recording 20 or 30 views from kids at home. Many gym teachers, who face a new challenge in finding ways to get their students moving remotely, in whatever little space they have at home, are turning to Amor’s yoga videos.