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Awakening the Storyteller
by Sydney Solis, RYT
Editor's Note from Michael Williams: In this article, yoga teacher and storyteller Sydney Solis awakens the storyteller with practical advice for using story and yoga with children. Tips and techniques are accompanied by a short story which readers can use to explore the power of words and movement.
Words have power. The power to create, connect, relate and excite. The whole universe is created by sound and words and many traditions speak of this - from the Bible to the Hindu Goddess of speech, Vac, to Jean-Luc Picard saying, “Make it so.”
I use the power of words with storytelling to teach children yoga at my local school, Creekside Elementary, in Boulder, Colorado. Each week story, symbol, imagery, yoga, dance, music and nature fill children’s after-school hours. Additionally, I teach English and Spanish language storytelling classes at this Title One and Green Star school.
You can tap into this power and awaken the storyteller within using stories and yoga with children at home and in the classroom. I offer children images. Their minds hear the words, connect to their bodies and create the images within, which in turn connect them to their environments. That’s when the 'boons' come, states mythologist Joseph Campbell when he speaks of the function of myth, and you realize that you are at one with the powers of the universe. This is a goal of yoga.
Children learn best when they play imaginatively. Story is used to set themes and we act out the story with yoga and the body using an educational method called 'Total Physical Response'. Stories’ metaphors are symbolic language. It’s necessary to be able to master relationships with symbols to understand and learn other symbolic languages like computers, music, reading, or math. Imagination is needed to solve problems and provide alternatives. Neanderthals died out because they didn’t imagine making tools.
Storytelling combined with yoga provides children ages 3 and up—as well as teens and adults—with the tools for freedom, peace and joy and to assist us and others in self-realization.
HOW TO USE STORIES IN YOGA WITH CHILDREN
You can use story to teach yoga in a variety of ways:
* Tell a story and then re-enact the story with yoga poses as you ask children questions about the story’s structure. Who was the story about? What happened? What happened next? And finally? Stories offer elements such as trees, cows, cats, bridges and more; the possibilities are unlimited. Have kids pick any yoga pose and take on the quality of that character, object or action.
* Tell the story first and use it as a theme to teach during yoga. Contemplate the qualities of the story within yourself as you take on the pose. Encourage children to be the character and other story elements.
* Tell the story during relaxation and start class with relaxation. I call these 'Story Siestas'. You can use either of the above suggestions for the remainder of the class, ending the session with a meditation. Call out images during meditation, as well as words such as “Calm” and “Ease”, “Peace” and “Joy.”
* Let children lie on their backs in relaxation, or shavasana. Use imagery such as the sun's or moon’s rays or imagine filling up with sand as you call out body parts. Children’s minds will rest on the toes, feet, legs, knees, hips, chest, arms, hands, fingers, neck, head, jaw, cheeks, eyes, nose, ears, and the whole body.
* Drop imagery from the story into the relaxation. Create a guided meditation using images to help the child journey in their imagination.
HOW TO TELL A STORY
Memorize the first and last sentence of the story.
Run through the story in your head asking who is the story about? Jot down an image. What happens next? The monkey sees the moon. Write down other images. These images serve as your stepping stones to get from beginning to finish as you paint the image with descriptive words for the listener.
Practice telling on some trees, then some stuffed animals, then a trusted friend, then some kids.
Change your voice, use gestures, and change the pace or volume of your telling. The younger the child the more exaggerated it should be, as well as interactive.
Breathe in and breathe out and be present and enjoy the power of the sounds and words your own body creates.
Have fun! Relax, be silly and exaggerate, whether you are telling to kids or adults!
FOLLOW UP and ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES
Ask kids to tell a story about what they saw during the relaxation.
Have children draw pictures of the elements in the story; tell and write about the story. Youngest children can dictate the story to you.
Tell kids to practice yoga and tell stories at home. Ask them to keep a practice journal. Ask them to make up their own stories and add yoga poses to them.
THE MONKEY AND THE MOON – A Story From China
There was once a monkey happily swinging from tree to tree. He swung to a branch where there he saw an amazing sight.
Below him was a pond with the glimmering image of the moon shining in the water. He was amazed by its beauty and brilliant white light.
Hanging on to the branch with one paw, he used his other paw to reach for that beautiful moon.
He reached and he reached, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not reach the moon. And he refused to let go of the branch to get closer to the moon.
Try as he might, even until death, he will never give up trying to reach for the moon in the water and he will still hang on to his branch.
But by grace or chance, the branch he was hanging onto broke. The monkey plunged into the water. He slapped around in the water for a moment, looking for the moon. Then he looked up into the sky and—there! There it was! The monkey saw the moon shining brightly against the dark night’s sky.
From the book The Treasure in Your Heart: Yoga and Stories for Peaceful Children (2008), The Mythic Yoga Studio, Boulder, Colorado.
WORKING WITH THE STORY WITH CHILDREN IN YOGA
What is this story about? Only the listener can create true meaning from this story. We can offer a meaning for the sake of teaching a yoga element, such as non-attachment, aparigraha, illusion, maya; or offer the story without your attached meaning and allow the listener to process it as he moves through yoga asana.
Tell this story and act out the story with yoga. Monkeys can jump! Hanumanasana, the splits! Half Moon pose, ardha chandrasana. Tree pose, vrksasana, monkey swinging from tree to tree.
Use the story to explore a theme in class. Tell the story, and then bring the theme of attachment or illusion up as you move through asana. For instance, do a moon salutation vinyasa to illustrate the phases of the moon: indicate that it’s only light cycling through shapes on the moon, rather than the moon actually changing.
Create activities associated with the story. Go and look at the moon! Check out its cycles. Create artwork. Check out monkeys, either at the zoo or Google them online. What do your dreams say about this animal? About the moon? What are you attached to? What can’t you let go of?
ONLINE RESOURCES FOR STORYTELLING
Joseph Campbell Foundation. www.jcf.org.
National Storytelling Network www.storynet.org.
Healing Story Alliance www.healingstory.org.
Interfaith Story Alliance www.interfaithstory.org.
Story Bee – www.storybee.org.
Learning to Give - learningtogive.org.
Spirit of Trees – spiritoftrees.org.
© 2011 Sydney Solis. Used with permission.
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About the Author
Sydney Solis, RYT, is the founder of Storytime Yoga, which teaches children peace, health and literacy through yoga and story. She is the author of the DVD The Peddler’s Dream (2007) and books Teaching Yoga to Children Through Story (2008) and The Treasure in Your Heart: Yoga and Stories for Peaceful Children (2008), published by The Mythic Yoga Studio. To order these products and to learn more about Sydney's work, visit her website at www.storytimeyoga.com.