Storytelling and Yoga: lessons from my 2-year old

The yoga tradition is rich with stories- mythological, didactic, allegorical. They are essential methods of passing down the teachings of yoga throughout history. This juicy storytelling has often been overlooked when our society talks about yoga and what yoga is. But stories have a powerful effect of fostering culture and values and foundational language.

My son loves stories. He loves to hear them over and over again, often in one sitting. He memorizes them as we repeat them to him, page after page, retelling after retelling. He knows the words now to so many, that if I miss a word, he'll correct me. I love this. He also loves music. He loves to hear his favorite songs again and again, many times over.

The other month, wanting a break from the CD of children's songs that played incessantly as we drove in the car, I popped in a kirtan CD. Kirtan is devotional chanting. It can be slow, fast, serious, playful. And my son, Liam, recognized some of the words in the songs: Shiva, Ganesha, Om, Jaya Jaya. So, he didn't quickly dismiss this new CD, like he had to so many other intruders into his favorite playlist. I explored more when I got home, and found via the internet that there was a CD called Kirtan Kids by Jai Uttal.  I ordered it.

In our home, we have beautiful statues, or murtis, placed throughout our home. Murtis are depictions of the Divine in various forms. You may recognize the names of some of their aspects: Shiva, Ganesha, Lakshmi, Buddha. Liam knows who they are and a bit about their stories. Kirtan Kids has tracks that tell stories about creation myths, the presence of the Divine among us, the Divine in both childlike and infinite forms, and he is captivated by it. He wants to hear more about the characters and more of these types of stories in general. And I feel as if he is memorizing these.

Yoga for me is not just a way of supporting my body's health and vitality, but it is also my  foundational support emotionally, mentally, and most potently, spiritually. Raising my son and nourishing my family's connections to each other and the world around us, is informed and fed from the deep practices of yoga. Many families feel and know the power of religion and spirituality and go to church or temple regularly. The community, stories, and culture all feed the family and their deeper sense of meaning and belonging.

There's no local yoga temple or yoga church that we attend, but the desire to feel connected to the larger community that holds these beliefs and practices as treasures is strong. Stories connect us. So when Liam knows the story of Ganesha, when after walking around his mother and father declares that he has walked around the universe, I feel like he is connected to a spiritual tradition that is ancient, yet relevant and exciting enough for a two-year old. When he sings about Hanuman, the great monkey god who is playful and ever-loving, my heart feels so happy for him- that he is steeped in a tradition that is full of wonder, play, and depth. 

We have some wonderful yoga books for children in our home. One very special one is a picture book- fantastical, beautiful, colorful. It's called Little Gurus: A Yoga Discovery Book with illustrations by Olaf Hajek. It's full of pictures of animals, flora and fauna, and children doing asanas. Visual stories. We all gaze upon this book and feel the spirit of our yoga come alive on the pages and within our family.

With all the videos and books we are exposed to, what if we chose words and visuals that connected us to each other, to streams of wisdom? Learning from Liam, it has become clearer to me that children reflect more quickly the effect their environment has on them. And yet, all of us, no matter how old, are affected by the stories we read, the narrative we buy into -- or are exposed to -- again and again. This is one of the reasons I love to bring in the ancient stories and myths into the yoga classroom. We are affected by the symbols and visuals of stories in real and powerful ways. They connect us to archetypal collective unconscious. As we practice asana, we open channels throughout our body/mind matrix. What do we offer these open pathways? Let's drink in stories. Let's soak up stories of beauty, courage, learning, friendship, love. By sharing them, we strengthen our communal language. We foster connection.