Tall Tales Yoga combines breathing, poses and storytelling for Denver students.
Once upon a time, a group of playful elementary-age children, charged with energy, bounced about, giggling and wiggling.
A familiar story, yes? But, here comes the plot twist: A bell rings. And, just like that, they silence and perch on their yoga mats in perfectly still poses.
Enter Denver-based Tall Tales Yoga, which offers yoga through storytelling in local schools. The unique program, run by Levi Noe, supports children’s whole health— stretching their imaginations just as much as their bodies through stories like “The Wood Chopper and the Beaver” and “The Lion Who Couldn’t Roar.”
Recently, Noe expanded the Tall Tales program, designed for kids ages 3 to 11, so that it can be practiced at home, too, through eBooks and audiobooks that combine yoga poses throughout the stories. His latest book, “The Lion Who Couldn’t Roar,” is available for parents, teachers and caregivers to purchase. (The theme of the story: finding the strength and power to speak, help and even roar when need be.)
Children, Noe says, often best absorb information when they don’t necessarily know they are learning. However, through the yoga poses and stories that feel like play, they are exercising an array of cognitive and developmental skills.
Noe—or, as the kids call him, “Mr. Levi”—has achieved a career hat trick of sorts, combining a trio of passions.
“I have a teaching passion and I’m also a yogi who has been practicing daily for 10 or 11 years,” he says. “I have also been a writer my whole life. Teaching, writing and yoga are my three greatest passions. I can’t remember if there was an ‘ah-ha’ moment, but I thought, ‘What if I combined these passions and made something that could help kids out on multiple levels?’”
Noe says he noticed the lack of integration in traditional education—teaching academic subjects separately, for instance. He wanted to bridge that gap with a program that melds emotional, physical and social learning.
The story-based yoga practice improves motor skills, thinking, auditory processing, visual and spatial processing, attention and emotional self-regulation, Noe adds. And some of the benefits and growth are seen almost immediately.
“But, you can also plant seeds and see that growth in years to come,” Noe says.
Scientific studies have been building a strong case for incorporating yoga into the classroom. Children learn pratyahara, or self-awareness. In 2015, one study found yoga helped children regulate their emotions, while another discovered it promotes relaxation, creating an optimum environment for teachers.
Prior research has shown that yoga boosts children’s academic performance, brings more connectedness to classrooms, eases anxiety, reduces anger and fatigue and builds confidence. Yoga also has the potential to promote respect for others, improving patience and reducing impulsiveness.
Noe has received feedback from parents who say Tall Tales has taught their children to use breathing techniques to calm themselves. One mother told him that her son, who has asthma, has used yoga breathing to help calm himself during visits to the doctor. And some kids, he adds, will even correct their parent’s postures when they’re doing yoga at home.
The Montessori School of Washington Park is among the schools in which Noe teaches, bringing the enrichment program to children ages 3 to 6 years old on a weekly basis.
“There are so many benefits,” says Lisa Armao, the school’s executive director. “The younger children aren’t fully in their bodies yet. They learn how to control themselves, how to focus. It makes them more steady and it helps their emotional regulation. The power of concentration helps the children increase their attention span.”
Armao says she hears from parents of children participating in the program that their kids are more focused at home on the days they’ve participated in the class.
Tall Tales Yoga complements the “peaceful classrooms” philosophy at the Montessori school, which has mats and yoga cards demonstrating postures throughout classrooms and encourages children, when they are having a rough day, to drop into a downward dog or extend into a tree pose.
The kids in the Tall Tales program will help their peers with the various postures, Armao says, and practice their “belly breathing” when they need to calm down. “We trust that a child knows what they need,” she says.
NEED TO KNOW INFO
Tall Tales Yoga
WHAT IT IS: A Denver-based company offering yoga through storytelling in local schools.
HOW IT WORKS: Yoga poses are combined with eBooks and audiobooks to help improve a child’s motor skills, thinking, auditory, visual and spatial processing, emotional self-regulation, language and imagination.