Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Sabrina Merchant, a mother, an author, and a Yoga specialist has made that motto a reality. As mothers do, she passed on the healthy habit of Yoga into her little ones’ daily regime. Seeing the success, she began her venture Li’l Yogis in late 2018 with a goal of reaching as many kids as possible. In the span of just two years, she has built a community that is loyal and has introduced and coached over 5000 children to the art of yoga.

With time, Sabrina came up with the idea of inculcating this healthy habit in the form of a fable to children of all ages. Little by little, the lessons became a story, and the story, a book. That is how Ocean Yoga took birth. Ocean Yoga is a tale of two kids, Maya and Zen, going sailing in the Ocean. It is a story of the importance of yoga and relates all the scenarios to new poses for children. Conceptualised by Merchant herself, the book has been illustrated by Lotta Farber aka Gitanjali. In conversation with Suhani Lakhotia, Sabrina Merchant unravels her inception, challenges and her journey that produced her self-published book, Ocean Yoga.

First and foremost, congratulations on your book! How do you feel about having a book out there, sharing your passion for yoga and having children read the story?
Li'l YogisWhen I started out, I wasn’t sure how the book would turn out. Not just in terms of business but also in the response that would come from kids and parents. The feedback I’ve got after launching the book has been overwhelming. The reviews on Amazon speaks tons about how the parents and children are enjoying the book. Having self-published the book, I am very happy with how things turned out. The sales have been wonderful and exceeded my expectations. People have already started asking me about my second book!

Your venture Li’l Yogis came much before the book. Please take us back to how Li’l Yogis began.
The concept of Li’l Yogis came into existence in December 2018 when I decided to pass on my love and passion for yoga to my 5-year-old daughter Iqra. I used innovative and creative methods to make yoga interesting for her. Looking at her eagerness and interest I decided to take it to the next level. Following that decision, I got my formal 200 hours of teachers training from The Yoga Institute in Mumbai and converted my own personal terrace into an open-air yoga studio for kids. That was the inception and commencement of Li’l Yogis.

With so many yoga practitioners around, how do you devise new and relatable ideas?
My belief is to not look at competition. I don’t try to stand out. We are all here for a purpose and the universe is big enough for all of us to fit in together. However, I do love coming up with new innovative themes. I keep in mind what kids of different age groups enjoy. Looking at those trends, I use my creativity to combine yoga poses with it. Making it fun at the same time helping kids benefit from yoga – that is my motto.

Let’s come back to the book; how did the idea for your book titled Ocean Yoga come about? Please tell us the story.

Ocean Yoga

Ocean Yoga, self-published by Sabrina Merchant

Li’l Yogis caught the attention of a lot of parents. In the span of just one year, we crossed many milestones. We got featured in a 26-episode series called Mothers Menu on Living Foodz channel. Additionally, we were talked about in leading print and online publications. Subsequently, we also had many collaborations with brands like High Street Phoenix mall, Safari Kid international school, Market City Phoenix. All of this helped the brand scale to new heights.

I started getting calls from parents across the country looking for similar classes in their zone. While I personally had very limited bandwidth for travelling everywhere, Ocean Yoga was all about reaching out to a wider audience. The idea was to be able to help parents all over the country situated in different locations introduce yoga to the kids at an early age in a fun and interactive manner.

What made you decide to create an illustrated storybook of Yoga for young kids? Please share the journey of the book from conception to print.
Kids are born natural yogis. Their muscles are still developing and that provides a canvas that can be stretched and moulded accordingly. But they are also stubborn and don’t listen to instructions at the first instance. The way yoga needs to be introduced to them has to be different from the way it is introduced to adults. It has to be made fun and interactive. Stories always work wonders with kids.

Ocean Yoga was one of the lesson plans I used in class. I usually incorporate elements of nature in my lesson plans. I believe kids connect to nature and are very observant, more than adults. Yoga comes from nature and has a lot of animals in it. Earlier it was believed that man coexisted with animals and everything around us has been derived from that. So I use our history while devising class plans. Naturally, I wanted to include this in Ocean Yoga as well. I chose this as my first theme because I find the underwater world very colourful and versatile. I am also deeply connected to water. Water bodies have always fascinated me. I wanted to show the underwater world and narrate a story that kids would enjoy and learn from.

Of course, the content couldn’t be as heavy as it is during the classes. I only had a picture to show the storyline and the yoga poses. I had to make the book crisp and at the same time, ensure that the child could relate to the story and the pose simultaneously. There is so much to look for in terms of illustration too. While the story is very simple and straightforward, my book emphasises on the poses and the benefits you derive from them.

Once you decided on the underwater theme, what were the next steps?
The challenge was how to move ahead. I had no idea of publishing houses and had no clue where to begin. I calmed and paced myself and started with one step at a time. First step to get the book going was to look for an illustrator. I put up a random post on the social media platform looking for someone who could illustrate a book for kids. To my surprise, I received numerous entries. Through the post is how I met Gitanjali (aka Lotta Farber). Her illustrations are beautiful and she was huge support all through this journey. She understood my demands very well and delivered the entire book to me in just 2 months of time.

Why did you decide to self-publish Ocean Yoga?

Lil Yogis

Yoga with Kids

It was the biggest dilemma I was going through at that point of time. I wanted to make sure that I was in full control of the entire process of creating my first book, Ocean Yoga. It was akin to my baby and I had to, needed to know about every step that it was taking. This made me choose Self-Publishing between the two options available. I didn’t want to hand over my book to another publishing house which wouldn’t understand my needs. It was, no doubt, the more difficult path, but it’s by far the most enriching experience as a writer and an entrepreneur. 

Once I had decided to self publish the book, a lot of spadework was done to find a way to create the ISBN number online. The next step was printing. My father has been in the printing business for 30 years. That is where all my printing demands were met. I got a 1000 copies printed and launched my book on 14 December 2019 at the World of Christmas at High Street Phoenix, Mumbai.

Please share your feelings after that first launch.
I can honestly say that day was one of the highlights of my life. When I got the first lot of printed books at 1 pm, the quality was not up to the mark and I had to distribute the editions to several people present at the book launch scheduled at 4 pm. But I had author Tanya Virani and actress and celebrity chef Amrita Raichand who were a part of the launch; they helped me sort everything out.

There were Christmas celebrations all around the Hamleys store in Phoenix Market City store which added to the aura of the launch. There was a panel present who talked about parenting and yoga for kids. Also, the top twenty mom bloggers of the city were present at the venue. I was across at least 100 Instagram stories. During the launch, the vibes were wonderful. I got a great response.

What were some of the challenges that you faced while executing Ocean Yoga as a self-published book?

Ocean Yoga

Ocean Yoga Printing Process

Hurdles are part and parcel of any project you undertake. I faced some printing issues, especially in printing and distribution. The first lot of books I printed were completely damaged. The binding quality was bad. And the quality was everything to me. I was very clear in my head that my book quality cannot be what it was. It had to be a hardcover bound book as paperbacks tend to get torn by kids when they handle it. I didn’t want to compromise on the quality so I took the risk and got a new lot printed, which was perfect! The thought of giving up never came in my mind. This is my passion, how could I let it go?

Also, distribution and networking was a challenge. Most big book stores prefer having a distributor in between. With just 1 book to sell, not everyone wants to deal with you. They prefer publishing houses that have a versatile selection of products to choose from. The solution, as is with any problem, was to keep trying. I kept writing to every store I knew. While some were kind enough to write back, many refused to even acknowledge. I wasn’t disappointed by that. I know how business works. They get caught up and sometimes don’t look at emails or forget to reply. The ones who were not able to put up my book in their store gave me their distributor’s number so I could contact them. I contacted them and they gave me a flow of how they run their businesses and the reasons why they couldn’t employ my book. Nonetheless, I wasn’t heartbroken as I understood the reason. I kept trying and a lot of online platforms opted to put my book on their website.

Can you elaborate on some of the marketing techniques you employed for Ocean Yoga to gain more visibility?
I haven’t really followed any marketing strategy. It was honestly just word of mouth. I have always believed in doing good work and delivering quality. I did not compromise on the quality of my book. I had to make sure that every element was just perfect. Right from the thickness of the page, to the special effects inside and the hardbound cover, the quality was of utmost importance. The book delivers what it promises and it’s doing brilliantly well on Amazon.

The first time we sold was at Hamleys during their annual Christmas fest. There was also a pre-order we had announced for the kids who used to come to my studio for Yoga classes. That was an organic approach. My next step was to get to Amazon. I wrote to them and filled the necessary forms for registration. Amazon has done wonders to my book and I recommend the website to every self-publisher. After Amazon, I went to Title Waves in Bandra who were very accommodating as they let my sole book put up in their stores. We eventually listed on other platforms like Firstcry and The Nestery.

Social media has become a game-changer when it comes to interacting with the public. Shed some light on keeping your brand grounded and maintaining relations with your audience through the use of several platforms of social media.
Absolutely! Social media has definitely been a game-changer for me. But having said that, I choose to keep it real out there. I handle my own pages and put up content that I and my brand relate with as well. It is important for your audience to know what your ideologies are. It’s not about just putting up fancy creatives, but also putting up meaningful and useful content. 

How has Li’l Yogis and Ocean Yoga impacted you in your personal life? What lessons have you incorporated into your day-to-day routine?

Lil Yogis

Li’l Yogis: Being flexible with Yoga

The biggest lesson learned is to listen to my inner voice. Li’l Yogis is completely passion-driven venture and it has been the most liberating feeling ever. Ocean Yoga has taught me to follow my dreams and not my fears. One part is of course your passion, the other bit is that these things don’t come for free. You have to put in money to get returns. Most people hold back because of this reason which has also come in my mind. But as I mentioned, this has been my dream and there was no way I was giving up on it. I was sure of it right from the beginning till the very end. And today, the book is doing very well on all the platforms. It has taught me that I am capable of doing things I put my mind to. 

What’s next in store?
We are currently going global with our online yoga academy. We are already reaching out to kids from Dubai, Singapore, Australia and Switzerland. Our team is growing and we are also working on bringing on more teachers under our brand. I am also planning to launch the next book in 2021.

Our Interview Takeaways

Meet Sabrina, the big yogi who is helping little yogis have a healthy future. Visit her on @lilyogis_sabz or watch the kids have fun yoga at lilyogis.co.in!

Published On: January 8th, 2021 / Categories: Interviews, Self Publishing Diaries /