Rose City Yoga works with Club 21 to help kids with Down syndrome achieve their dreams

Leo Greer has a hard time concentrating. One problem for this 10-year-old fourth-grader is his Down syndrome, which sometimes makes paying attention frustrating and difficult in a typical educational classroom environment. But Leo seems to have found a way to quiet the noises that distract him in school simply by practicing yoga with other kids like him each week.

His mom, Lynne, says Leo struggled with school before Club 21.

“We had a challenging year after Leo started school. He was in a special education class. I remember his teacher saying (with my son nearby) something like he was one of ‘the most challenging students in the class.’”

Greer says a chance meeting at a doctor’s office appointment one day changed everything.

“I happened to meet a dad whose daughter had Down syndrome. He told me that they were members of Club 21. I visited the Second Saturday program the next month,” Greer says of the program, run by Rose City Yoga out of Club 21, a nonprofit that serves kids with Down syndrome and their parents. Club 21, she says, is so much more than a support group. 

“Their motto is ‘Together is Better.’ With Club 21 there is always a behavior therapist, expert or experienced parent on hand to navigate curriculum, behavior, or a tricky dynamic,” Greer says. “Whatever it is, they work with us to find a solution.”

Rose City Yoga, a local yoga collective founded by Melanie Colbrunn and Kimi Cantrell, was chosen for the 2017 Athleta campaign through their work with Club 21. Rose City Yoga partnered with Club 21 in fall 2015 in order to provide children with Down syndrome the opportunity to practice yoga in a social setting with other children just like them. Club 21 co-founder Audrey Gray is an avid “yogi,” and one day realized that the body and mind benefits that yoga offered her could do exactly the same for her daughter, Estelle, and other children with Down syndrome and disabilities. She approached Rose City Yoga about teaching classes for children with special needs, and Colbrunn and Cantrell jumped at the chance.

“When Audrey asked us about partnering with Club 21 we were thrilled,” says Colbrunn. “Our vision for Rose City Yoga has always been to bring yoga into the lives of our community and to give people the ability to practice mindfulness, foster creative energy, and connect with one another in a way that’s rare in the crazy, chaotic world we live in. The kids at Club 21 face the same challenges that we all do — stress, fatigue, anxiety. And they, too, need a space where they can find a sense of peace and calm.”

That peace comes naturally through yoga, in which children can practice poses, learn breathing techniques, and work on their inner calmness and focus. It also gives the kids an opportunity to be themselves, have fun and learn something new with their friends.

Club 21 Co-founder and Executive Director Nancy Litteken says the organization is all about support.

“We knew that our focus was education and supporting teachers,” says Litteken. “The research supported that inclusion of individuals with DS not only made a huge difference in their lives but in their classmates.”

“We all know how it feels to be overwhelmed, and the most rewarding part of teaching yoga through Club 21 is that we are giving the kids the tools to breathe, relax, and refocus, which can really help when things get tough,” says Rose City Yoga’s Cantrell. “It’s amazing to watch each child progress in their practice and to see the confidence it gives them when they can hold their favorite pose. Being different is hard, but in the studio, everyone is the same. Each individual student is on his or her own path, which is what makes yoga such a perfect outlet for these amazing kids.”

Litteken says Club 21’s focus is unique.

“We are the only facility in Greater Los Angeles whose focus is education. We support C21 families and their educators. We have paid the sub fee to school districts so that we can train teachers.”

Greer says Club 21 changed everything for her son.

“Club 21 lit a fire under us and gave us language to advocate. For the first time, we believed our child deserved to be educated alongside his peers in his neighborhood school. His expressive language has grown so much. He went from not being able to write his name to now writing short essays. He is beginning to learn to type. He received four ‘Ready Reader’ awards this year. My seven-year-old was talking generally about shapes. Leo said, ‘Yeah, Mom, like a trapezoid.’” 

Cantrell says Rose City Yoga was born out of the desire to create community in Pasadena through yoga.

“We provide yoga classes to Pasadena residents, groups and organizations. Because of our public classes and events we are able to provide free yoga to local organizations and nonprofits in Pasadena.”

Cantrell says Rose City Yoga has been actively serving in the community for almost two years.

“We first began partnering with local nonprofit organizations — that’s when we learned a lot of organizations would like a yoga program to complement their current outreach efforts but may not have it within their budget to implement one. Our yoga classes and events enable us to provide these free yoga programs to our community partners.”

Cantrell says it’s rewarding.

“We love that the kids at Club 21 are the embodiment of what yoga should be. They come to practice yoga with us free from expectations of what their practice should look like or be. They make every practice fun and are willing to try everything. The kids remind us to be present in the moment, to be open to new experiences and to enjoy the journey along the way.”

Big dreams are ahead for Rose City Yoga, according to Cantrell.

“We hope to continue our collaboration with Club 21 and grow the yoga program. We dream that one day the kids will be practicing yoga in our studio, or in any yoga studio. And most of all, we hope that they can take the same diligence, earnestness and mindfulness that they have learned in their yoga practice and apply it to all areas of their life, as they grow and pursue their dreams.”

Gray says the sky’s the limit.

“We are striving to add new programs and expand our reach regionally in order to better serve the variety of needs from infancy to adulthood,” Gray says. “Club 21’s vision is that society will see individuals with Down syndrome as valuable and contributing members of society.” 


To find out more about Rose City Yoga and their work with Club 21, visit rosecityyogapasadena.com.