Edith Starke Elementary School in DeLand, Florida recently got a call from Stan Lee, noted writer, editor and former book publisher of Marvel Comics. The school had received an F rating, unjustly the principal said, because of a new School Board grading formula, according to an article in the West Volusia Beacon. The principal, staff and school made a YouTube video saying their school is more than just a grade. Lee heard about it and proposed to adopt the school and help fund it. A life-sized statue of Iron Man is going in front of the school to stand as inspiration to the kids. The school will be rededicated as Tony Stark Elementary, the character in Iron Man who overcame challenges using his intellect to create a suit of armor.
Superheros are all the rage and serve as mythology for our times, which lack a functional guiding mythology that helps people cope with overwhelming modern challenges. People love the fantastic and will flock to theme parks in Orlando to participate in myth by dressing up, acting out and becoming their favorite hero, be it Harry Potter, Mickey Mouse or soon the Star Wars crew. Adults and kids alike crave connection with the mythic dimension of their beings, which is on an heroic adventure for ecstatic merger with the divine Self. The reason is Tat Tvam Asi, thou art that, all the gods and goddesses are within you, Mythologist Joseph Campbell said. Superheros are an aspect of ourselves, the energies and powers within. Because that is the purpose of story, or myth. It is to pitch you out of the mundane and profane world and put you in contact with the sacred transcendent world beyond time and space that is YOU!
So a good story to use for kids yoga must contain an element of such fantasy, be it a talking fox, man or woman with super-human powers, or some mythical beast in another world. Stories set in the mundane world without fantastic elements keep us tied to the wheel of duality and maya. Narrative in the third person also serves as a vehicle for self-reflection, or svadhyaya, to help kids identify with the characters for in self-awareness, self-regulation and self-soothing, as their fantasies are amplified via the superhero or mythical creature.
Yoga and meditation motivate kids to take on the role of a superhero in an unconscious journey toward their inner true life. They battle the bad guys, or personal demons within, such as anger, doubt and fear, and develop the qualities of wit, patience or kindness from these encounters. They slay the dragon of ego and master the relationship to self and other. Acting out the myth helps occupy the body and gives kids a safe vehicle to understand and experience their shadow, or unacceptable aspects of themselves, in a safe manner. It’s cathartic and helps kids to avoid acting out difficult emotions in real life violence that could get them into trouble. The Ancient Greeks understood this well and contained tragedy as well as comedy in their theatre, which was an essential social event that functioned to aid citizens’ psychological and spiritual needs.
Kids love to act out superheros when practicing yoga. Kids become the superhero of their fancy by taking Virabhadrasana – Warrior I, II or II asana in yoga. As they embody the hero myth and participate in it through the ritual of yoga, they acquire the courage and strength to cope with the world in a mindful way, understanding not with the intellect but the intuitive mind whose silent voice speaks from the body to realize that the war outside is the war within. A full range of yoga asana can be used for kids and teens to go with the myths. You just have to use your imagination! Or check out my classic book Storytime Yoga: Teaching Yoga to Children Through Story to find out how and get your creativity flowing!
Have fun letting kids act out Superheros and myths! Let them know that their hero is them! Put their own face in it! Be your own hero! BE! But don’t limit your kids yoga classes to the modern comic book SuperHeroes fad. I put on library programs here in Florida for teens called The Hero with Your Own Face and use Greek Myths, which tie into the curriculum, as the original super heros. Grail myths and King Arthur tales are also excellent to use to act out in Storytime Yoga® for kids or contemplate during yoga asana for Mythic Yoga experience for teens or adults. For again, these stories serve as psychological and spiritual guides that mundane stories do not offer.
Don’t forget to go beyond the image, an important tenant in yoga, as a Zen saying reminds us, “The finger points to the moon, but don’t get stuck on the finger.” A mythic image has one foot in reality and the other in the transcendent, Campbell says. The image serves as a link, as the Latin root word for religion is religio, to link. The final step into transcendence has no image. It is beyond anything the mind can imagine. Remind kids that the heros point to themselves! Like the Disney character Dumbo, he doesn’t need a magic feather to fly. He had the ability within himself all the time.
Also, Hollywood’s superhero trend “ is headed in the wrong direction.” according to some directors in a recent article in The Atlantic. “Like so many fads the industry previously embraced.” The heavy use of CGI takes away from the suspension of disbelief required for the story experience. By (Christopher) Nolan’s era, digital effects were the norm, but he insisted on using them only to slightly embellish his visuals. “I looked back at the ’70s blockbusters like Superman and felt like there was a tactile quality to what you see that you could really believe,” Nolan says. “I just think that you can tell the difference between animation and real photography.”
Which is why you will want to TELL SuperHero stories to your kids ORALLY. Too much external visuals in blockbuster movies with lots of special effects and CGI or always using books take kids out of their bodies. Kids become consumers of story (and all the marketing associated with the movie or book) rather than experiencers, for oral storytelling uses both sides of kids’ brains and they must create original images in their heads of the stories, essential for learning everything from reading to math to music. There is a greater propensity for kids to have self-awareness through oral storytelling, as the internal images allow them to vicariously follow along with the hero and associate their own lives to him or her.
Visit the StorytimeYoga.com website for more articles on using myth and stories in your children’s yoga classes! And don’t forget to be the SuperHero with your own face! Read myths, tell myths! Do it with kids and just add yoga to act the story out! Do Tell!