Summer reads 2013

Beach, mountain or garden reading. Adventurous personal journeys, imaginative historical fiction, and self-aware wisdom, all available in hard copy or to download to your e-reader.


Sheaffer-Ten Methods of the Heavenly Dragon-CoverTen Methods of the Heavenly Dragon by Robert Sheaffer

This book explores the author’s experiences on a journey towards spiritual enlightenment. However, this journey is not without its challenges, and the author has to look to his very core to overcome the obstacles that block his way.

“In the ordinary world we don’t often go to the ends of the earth to seek the extraordinary. Fortunately for us, Robert Sheaffer did, and wrote this book so that we could all travel the journey with him. I was captivated from his very first words, and felt like I was right there with him every step.”

– Amazon reviewer


Wei_Valley-Spirit-A_978-1-84819-131-0_colourjpg-webThe Valley Spirit by Lindsey Wei

Lindsey Wei, a young American-Chinese woman, is drawn to the Wudang Mountains on a quest to understand her ancestral roots and discover the hidden knowledge of Daoist martial arts and spiritual wisdom.

“Very well written and insightful, a true glimpse of another world while at the same time facing issues common to young people everywhere, especially women, and the answers she finds. I highly recommend this book to everyone seeking answers or for those who thought they have found their way.”

– Amazon reviewer


Eaton_I-Send-a-Voice_978-1-84819-100-6_colourjpg-webI Send a Voice by Evelyn Eaton

A gripping account of Evelyn Eaton’s experiences participating in Native American Sweat Lodge healing rituals, and being eventually deemed worthy of carrying a healing Pipe herself.

A beautifully written, unique and deeply touching account of the author’s transformative spiritual journey into the sacred ways of Native American sweat lodge ceremonies, rituals, teachings and shamanism… A page turner, written by a remarkable woman describing a remarkable journey.”

 – Christa Mackinnon, author of Shamanism and Spirituality in Therapeutic Practice


Eaton_Go-Ask-the-Rive_978-1-84819-092-4_colourjpg-webGo Ask the River by Evelyn Eaton

The haunting story of the female Chinese poet Hung Tu, tracing her rise from Flower-in-the-Mist to Official Hostess at the court of the governors of the Silk City, against the backdrop of the scholars, poets, officials, and warring factions of ninth century China.

There are many good novels about the trials and courage of Chinese women in various historical periods, but Eaton’s book is outstanding, in that as well as a tense and dramatic narrative, it also provides a most insightful but easily readable insight into classical Chinese poetry, and a thoughtful approach to life’s hardships through a Taoist philosophy. Not to be missed!”

– thebookbag.co.uk


More on these books, and many more, can be found at singingdragon.com.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

Play the Frog’s Breathtaking Speech Game

Bring the benefits of yoga and yogic breathing techniques into the classroom and the home with this game from Frog’s Breathtaking Speech author Michael Chissick. Based on the book, the game is a fun way to help children to recognise negative emotions and lean how to turn these into positive ones.

Simply download the game boardcard set and instructions from these links and with some simple steps you’ll be ready to roar the house down with Lion, shake the walls with the Woodchopper Breath and more.

The game is at its most effective if used with the book, Frog’s Breathtaking Speech – find out more about the book here.

 Michael Chissick has been teaching yoga to children in primary mainstream and special needs schools as part of the integrated school day since 1999. He is a primary school teacher as well as a qualified yoga instructor. He is also a specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Michael trains and mentors students who want to teach yoga to children.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

Teaching Yoga to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders? A Piece of Cake!

By Michael Chissick, qualified yoga instructor, primary school teacher and specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and author of Frog’s Breathtaking Speech.


Exciting New Training Project

An exciting new initiative which delivers the benefits of yoga to hundreds of children with autism will be the cherry on the cake. The project will be in action at a Special Needs Academy in Lincolnshire, UK, after Easter with more to follow.

Over the past thirteen years I have developed a model of how to teach yoga to children with autism. The model can be used by class teachers and teaching assistants with no previous experience of yoga. The structures, activities and postures are easy to learn and are safe to teach. The model is suitable for children across all key stages.

Special schools that have a high proportion of children on the autistic spectrum will use the model. The advantages are that teaching and training are geared to the specific needs of their pupils, and staff can be trained economically without time away from school; and the icing on the cake is that staff can use the model immediately.

How did we reach this point?

I have been teaching Yoga to KS1, 2 & 3 pupils as part of the integrated day at Special Needs School for thirteen years. Many of the children I teach have autism and sensory processing disorders. During each thirty minute session I work with the whole class, class teacher and teaching assistants. Time restraints make it impossible for me to teach all classes in my schools, so I tend to alternate classes every half term.

I had noticed that when I returned to a class to continue after a 5/6 week break there was a need to start over again, which can be frustrating. For many years I simply regarded it as part of the job of teaching pupils with ASD.

However over the last couple of years I have noticed that some classes had retained what I had taught them and were as enthusiastic as ever for their yoga. So what distinguishes the ‘ready-for-more-class’ from the ‘let’s-start-again-class? The answer is that the class teachers and teaching assistants have been teaching their pupils yoga without me… and doing a brilliant job at it too!

Why does it work?

The answer also lies in the fundamentals of my highly structured approach. For example, the children are seated on chairs in a circle. I use a visual timetable and posture cards to keep my verbal input to the minimum. Within the structure I target several layers or elements simultaneously; it’s like a multi-tiered cake. These layers are easily recognised by colleagues who are already experts at working with children with ASD and are using similar models in other curriculum areas.

 

The Layers

  1. Engagement tactics are, for example, encouraging children to choose from posture cards hanging from an umbrella; or children throwing tiny bean bags into the holes on a colourful board as a means of choosing a posture.
  2. Fun is key! Children eagerly get out of their chairs and into the posture because it’s fun; if it continues to be fun then they will want to stay in the posture.
  3. Repetition of postures over the weeks is a crucial; as children become more at ease with the posture leading to improved skills and greater confidence.
  4. Every child Achieves in the lesson.
  5. Social Skills like waiting, listening, speaking, helping each other, taking turns and following rules are targeted.
  6. Fitness Flexibility and improved co-ordination are the layers that tend to hit the news.
  7. Sensory is the sweetest layer. The vestibular system ‘tells us if we are moving or still, while our proprioceptive system is the unconscious awareness of our body position’ (Yack et al 2002). A combination of both systems gives us vital information about movement and where we are in relation to, for example, the floor. I teach many children whose vestibular and proprioceptive systems are dysfunctional. Using yoga postures I help to regulate those dysfunctions.

Feedback

Feedback from the Academy in Lincolnshire was wonderfully positive describing the day as excellent and staff commented that the model:

‘…does away with many pre-conceptions and prejudices – it helps make different types of movement accessible to all.’

It is early days in Lincolnshire, but soon the children and staff will be enjoying their yoga while I’ll be teaching 175 miles away. Seems like I’ll be having my cake and eating it.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Novels as journeys deep into the human heart: Marte Brengle remembers her grandmother, the novelist Evelyn Eaton

Marte Brengle is the novelist Evelyn Eaton‘s eldest grandchild and only granddaughter. She is also a writer, and manages the family publishing company, Logan Books. Here, she shares some personal memories of her remarkable grandmother and reflects on the personal significance of Eaton’s books, Go Ask the River and I Send a Voice.


Photo: “Four generations of women – Gran, my daughter Meghan, me and Mom – taken just a few months before Gran died. I think it represents all that was happy about our relationships.” (Courtesy of Marte Brengle)


Your grandmother, the novelist Evelyn Eaton, lived an enormously rich and varied life. How much did all this come through when you were growing up? Or are you still finding out about her?

I didn’t know a lot about Gran’s life until I read her autobiography in 1974. She told us some stories about her life, but there was a lot she didn’t talk about. My third novel is based on her life, my mother’s, and my own, and in re-reading Gran’s autobiographical books I have had to extrapolate and fill in the blanks a lot. I wish I had thought to ask her to annotate a copy of her autobiography, because as I’ve re-read it this past year I can see she put in some very subtle hints about the parts of the story she left out. In many ways, Go Ask the River is Gran’s story just as much as it is Hung Tu’s. The paralells are quite striking. I named my son after her father, since my son was born 60 years almost to the day after his namesake was killed at the battle of Vimy Ridge.

Evelyn’s books ranged across wide territory. The two in the Singing Dragon list cover very different worlds – the life of the Chinese Tang dynasty poet Hung Tu, and initiation into Native American Sweat Lodge ceremonies. Do you think that for her there was a connection between the two?

My grandmother was always interested in the supernatural world, and the ways in which spiritual beliefs shape people’s lives. She could see the supernatural quite clearly. I think she believed she was the reincarnation of Hung Tu, and also the descendant of Native Canadians, so she herself provided the connection between the two. She always said: “There are many paths to the center, and all of them are true.”

Her book about ancient China brings to life a completely different world, and as Chungliang Al Huang’s Foreword recounts, was based on a strange and intense experience she had while a war correspondent in China. And of course as a Native American Medicine Woman, she must have carried much information she could not talk about. Was this obvious in meeting her? What was she like as a grandmother?

Gran always seemed to understand me, and what was in my mind, far better than my mother did. Even though we weren’t together much (separated by geography), I always felt I could tell her anything and ask her anything and she’d understand what I meant even if I didn’t express it properly. She understood my brothers in the same way. To me it was obvious that she was deeply connected to the supernatural world, and it was clear to some other people as well. I don’t know how she was perceived by the world at large, but clearly she was a remarkable person and would have gotten anyone’s attention.

I remember in the spring of 1975, my husband and I took the train from our home in Kansas to visit Gran in California. Gran could tell the future with a pack of ordinary playing cards and she was very good at it, although it wasn’t something she liked to do because of the possibility of seeing something bad. I asked her to read the cards for me. At the end of the process, the person whose future is being told is asked to pick three cards while thinking of a question that can be answered yes or no (without asking it out loud). My silent question was “Will I have a child within two years?” Gran looked over the cards and immediately said “The answer is yes, and if you’re asking about a child, it will be a boy.” When I was expecting my first child, my doctor – who didn’t to ultrasounds, amniocentesis or any of those things – told me she thought I was expecting a girl, so I went through the whole pregnancy thinking I’d have a daughter. But, as Gran predicted, the child was a boy, born almost exactly two years after the prediction.

Did she continue to be interested in China and the Oriental arts throughout her life?

I think she did. She always had Chinese artifacts in her homes, and she burned Chinese incense in her writing room before she began burning sage. I inherited some of the embroidered silk panels she brought back from her trip as a war correspondent. They’re faded now, but I keep them on the wall as a reminder of Gran.

Do you know what took her to the immersion in the Arapaho healing traditions that occupied the last years of her life?

If you read her autobiography, The Trees and Fields Went the Other Way, you can see how she encountered Native spirit guides very early in life. She always connected with people, and I think when she moved to California it was only natural for the Paiutes to come to trust and accept her. It wasn’t an easy path, because they were quite rightly wary of revealing too much to outsiders (and indeed, the Sweat Lodge to which she once belonged has been closed to outsiders for many years now, as Eagle Man’s descendants think differently about the inclusion of non-Indians).

I Send a Voice is such a powerful account of the process of change and becoming. Did her relationship with the family change also during that time?

We were separated by great distances while this was happening – my family in the midwest and Gran in California. She didn’t talk about it much in the beginning, so we weren’t affected by her new understanding of the universe. After my mother and two younger brothers moved to California, they got involved in the Sweat Lodge and it was clear that it had a great personal connection for them as well. I attended one Sweat Lodge ceremony and was so overwhelmed by it that I turned down later invitations to join in.

What happened to her pipe after her death?

My mother inherited Gran’s pipe. She talked about giving it to other people several times over the years, but my brothers and I always maintained that it should stay in the family. My mother left no instructions about Gran’s pipe when she died, so it remains with my second brother, who bought the house Mom lived in and took care of her during her last days. My brothers and I have talked a bit about what should happen to it but we have never really decided one way or the other.

You are also a writer – how did you grandmother and her books inspire your own writing?

Although I had done a lot of technical writing and had written magazine articles, reviews and the like, when I first tried my hand at writing a novel it took me more than twenty years to complete it! The good thing about that is that I was a much better writer by the time I finally got it done. My two published novels are stories about people trying to make peace with their pasts. No high drama and flashy action, just human stories and human nature. My third novel is based on my grandmother’s life, my mother’s and my own. It will be a very long book, covering the time span from 1902 to about 1980.

Gran’s stories were also about human problems and human nature. With Go Ask the River, especially, she went deeply into the human heart. I did not start out thinking I was going to be a writer. I tried a lot of other things before going back to the novel I’d half-heartedly started. I realized there was a better story to be told than what I’d written, and I drew on some of the advice Gran gave me when I went back to work on it. She said you have to know your characters almost as well as you know yourself. I didn’t quite manage that, because my characters kept suprising me by saying and doing things that I didn’t consciously have in mind, but I did try to keep them, and what they said and did, as realistic and true to life as I possibly could.


Evelyn Eaton (1902-1983) was born in Montreux, Switzerland to Anglophile Canadian parents, and educated in England and France. She began writing while still in her teens; her first collection of poems was published in England in 1923 (the same year that she was presented at court) and her first novel in 1925. She became an American citizen at the age of 42, and was a war correspondent in China, Burma and India in 1945, then a lecturer at Columbia University from 1949 to 1951. Partly Native American (related to the Algonquians of New Brunswick, Canada) her later years became increasingly focused on Native American culture and mysticism. She wrote thirteen novels, five volumes of poetry, two collections of short stories, and seven other books. For many years she was a contributor to The New Yorker and other journals.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.

Can Yoga Improve a Child’s Behaviour? A case study by Michael Chissick for World Yoga Day

Michael Chissick has been teaching yoga to children in primary mainstream and special needs schools as part of the integrated school day since 1999. He is a primary school teacher as well as a qualified yoga instructor. He is also a specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Michael trains and mentors students who want to teach yoga to children.


While the main focus of World Yoga Day is on Human Rights, I thought I would give myself poetic licence to focus also on Children’s Rights – specifically the rights of those children whose behaviour is often labelled ‘disruptive’, because, frankly, it is.

In the following case study from my personal experience as a yoga teacher, you can read how *Sinclair’s behaviour improved significantly because of his success in the yoga lessons over two terms. The plan, to teach challenging postures with aspects of social and emotional learning at the core of the programme, helped change Sinclair’s attitude and behaviour.

*Not his real name.

Is this scenario familiar?

Sinclair was a Year 4 pupil child in a primary school where I was asked to deliver yoga for a year. His class teacher described him as having a low self-image; often being moody, with a short attention span; and often disrupting the class with silly noises or swearing. Sinclair was aggressive to other children and found group work difficult. On the positive side, Sinclair enjoyed Physical Education, loved football, was sharp and incredibly flexible.

My main focus

Whilst I am a specialist children’s yoga teacher, the main focus of my work with children centres on the social and emotional aspects of learning. I teach the whole class and everyone is included. The foremost aim in every lesson is to enhance children’s self-esteem. Other benefits like improved flexibility, fitness, better concentration and calmness, for example, are natural when you practice yoga, yet combined with the emphasis on the aspects of social and emotional learning contribute to a powerful increase in the child’s sense self-worth.

Photo: Michael Chissick’s yoga class students in Tiger Posture (courtesy of Michael Chissick).


Individual Aims for Sinclair

Working with his Class Teacher we decided on the following specific aims:

  • Improving Sinclair’s self-esteem
  • Encouraging Sinclair to be a role model 
  • Improving Sinclair’s group communication skills

Our Approach

Our approach was to cultivate and build on the following three positive aspects:

  1. Sinclair the demonstrator
  2. Sinclair the ‘helpful teacher’
  3. Sinclair the ‘star’ at school and at home

Sinclair the demonstrator

Sinclair was a natural yogi and we quickly realised that he was excelling at the posture work. We decided to use Sinclair as much as fairly possible to demonstrate new postures and reinforce old ones to the whole class. Before the lesson, the class teacher would remind Sinclair that he was being given the responsibility of showing the other children postures and it meant that he had to show responsible behaviour too.

Sinclair the ‘helpful teacher’

Group work was an essential ingredient of the lesson in achieving our aims. The children worked in groups of six. Each group was to work as a team to find a way to perform a specific posture in an interesting way that also supported and connected with each other.

We made it clear that we were looking to reward group skills which included listening and making decisions. Above all there was an emphasis on group members helping each other in a kind and encouraging way. In other words, children were given the responsibility of looking out for each other.

Sinclair’s expertise at the postures set him up as a natural leader and his attention to detail meant that he could spot ways to help children in his group.

We had given him some input on how to get his classmates to change an aspect of the posture in an encouraging way, and Sinclair learnt and applied these skills with ease and a gentleness that his teacher had not seen before. Sinclair was also very keen to be the group spokesperson, yet gradually, over time, he more readily agreed to let someone else have a turn.

Sinclair the ‘Star’ at school and at home

Sinclair performed the most challenging postures to the whole school at two achievement assemblies, where he was encouraged to explain how yoga had helped him to be calmer and more focused. We also discovered that his family eagerly awaited his return from school on yoga day when he would teach them new postures and play yoga games with his two brothers.

Certificates and stickers

Sinclair worked hard to get the special certificates that were awarded to children who could show:

  • Good listening skills to teachers and children
  • How to help other children in group work
  • Improved behaviour

He also earned his fair share of stickers for good listening, learning to be still in calming postures and games and relaxation, as well as increasing concentration and being well-mannered.

Summary

The combination of our behavioural approach and the yoga improved Sinclair’s self-esteem and consequently improved his behaviour because:

  • he experienced a great sense of success in the yoga.
  • the calming and relaxation aspects of the lesson gave him experiences that helped him feel in control.
  • he was perceived as an expert by his class and earned their respect
  • he tried hard to overcome his disruptive behaviours in order to win the special certificates and stickers that were an incentive for him to change.
  • Sinclair’s parents were able to celebrate his success at home and give lots of genuine praise.
  • the combined effect of rewards and praise from me, the class teacher, peers and parents had a very powerful and positive effect on Sinclair’s self-esteem.

Conclusion

This case study is yet another example that supports the case for yoga to be taught in schools as part of the integrated school day on an ongoing basis. Clearly, it also shows the importance of placing the social and emotional aspects of learning at the core of the yoga lesson.

If there is one message I hope teachers and parents take away on World Yoga Day, it’s that yoga can help children foster a sense of achievement regardless of stature, academic ability, upbringing and other differences.

Read a Preview of Frog’s Breathtaking Speech »

This post was adapted with permission from Yoga at School. Visit www.yogaatschool.org.uk for more info.

Yoga breathing techniques to help children deal with anger and stress and build self-esteem – An Interview with Michael Chissick

Michael Chissick has been teaching yoga to children in primary mainstream and special needs schools as part of the integrated school day since 1999. He is a primary school teacher as well as a qualified yoga instructor. He is also a specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Michael trains and mentors students who want to teach yoga to children.

Michael is the author of the forthcoming children’s book, Frog’s Breathtaking Speech, which teaches four yoga breathing techniques in a fun and interactive way and shows how they can be used to deal with anger, anxiety and tension.

In this interview, he shares the story of how this beautiful book came to be and the rewarding experiences he’s had teaching yoga to children; why he believes children nowadays need tools to cope with life’s stresses more than ever before; and how the breathing techniques in the book can be used with all children, including those with special needs.


Tell us a bit about you – how did you get into yoga, teaching yoga and teaching yoga to children?

I first came to yoga in 1974, and although I practised regularly it was not till 1990 that I consciously stepped up my practice and interest.

In 1990, following the death of my wife Jill, I decided to give up my business and look after my children. I made up my mind that Jill’s death would not be wasted and that I would do something meaningful with my life. I signed up to an Access Course, which got me back into studying and prepared me for University. As a mature student I simply thrived on the course and it unleashed a creative side of me that I had never known before. I went on to take a four year degree course in Education, (BEd Hons) and eventually took up my first post as a primary school teacher in Old Harlow, Essex, UK at the age of forty-six.

It was during my four year degree course that I established my deep interest in children’s self-esteem – specifically how it can be damaged and how it can be improved. Of all the areas that I studied this was for me the most important and I determined to make enhancing children’s self-esteem the core of my approach to teaching.

In the nineties yoga was such an essential part of my life that soon I had completed my yoga teacher training with the British Wheel of Yoga, and was able to begin my new career teaching yoga to adults. It was an obvious next step to merge my skills and experience as a primary teacher and qualified yoga teacher, and thus I become a children’s yoga teacher. I set up an after school club but found the work frustrating primarily because of my realisation that yoga needed to be taught as part of the school day for children to benefit most.

Nevertheless word of my work had spread and one day I was asked to teach yoga to children in a Special Needs School in East London. That day was a turning point in my life. Despite all my experience I stood there not knowing what to do while this group of children were going absolutely crazy, at one time cussing at me and throwing shoes around – it was chaos. I tried various activities, all to no avail. Then, amazingly, with one specific activity (it was Sun Sequence), they were suddenly hooked… and I even got them to do a relaxation. The transformation was astounding. I came out of there that day, sat in the car and cried tears of joy that I could make such a difference. That was a Tuesday Morning in 1999 and I have taught there every Tuesday ever since. Over time the school has become a beacon school for teaching children with autism. This means that for more than a decade I have been developing teaching approaches for teaching yoga to children with autism. I am now regarded as a specialist in teaching yoga to autistic children. I am very proud of that.

In the last few years I have been fortunate to have taught continuously in the same nucleus of schools. This means that I am there on a specific day every week, every term, every year. It also means that I have had to be creative and develop fun and interesting activities or risk the children’s boredom. I have taught yoga in schools as part of the integrated school day for more than a decade now and have developed many approaches and activities that the children love.

One of those activities has now been turned into a book called Frog’s Breathtaking Speech. Now my enthusiasm for writing knows no bounds and I am busy with three new books that will enable me pass on my considerable expertise to others. Frog’s Breathtaking Speech – and incidentally The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Gruffalo, and Going on a Bear Hunt – all make terrific stories to embed yoga postures in.

What inspired you to write this wonderful book?

I have been using Frog’s Breathtaking Speech in children’s yoga lessons for many years. The story grew out of the need to increase children’s awareness of their breath and, more importantly, how to apply it in stressful situations. Situations such as dealing with exams, spelling and table tests, being bullied, tension, headaches and anger, and of course performing or presenting to their peers and parents in assembly.

Although, as an adult, I had experienced the benefits of yoga breathing techniques I had honestly found them dry and unexciting. If I was to grab the children’s attention I needed to teach breathing techniques in a way that was fun and relevant. My strategy was to use the story in a yoga/drama format and it was an immediate success.

I would set out the yoga mats in a circle in the hall. As many children as possible would be given the opportunity to be Frog. I would ask for sad faces and then ask for less sad faces as the story unfolds. The other characters, Crocodile, Lion, Humming Bee and Mr Gumble the Woodchopper, would be played by the whole class. To keep the “chorus” in unison I would hold up placards in pantomime style saying, “Why so sad Frog?” and “I know an interesting way to breathe”. We have also performed Frog on stage to great applause.

I think there are several reasons why this approach worked well, including:

  • there was sufficient repetition for everyone to be able to join in;
  • it was obviously great fun;
  • the children were learning the techniques in a fun and relevant context;
  • children found the characters interesting.

Looking back I think that one of the main factors that inspired me to turn the yoga play into a book was the feedback from the children. I have lost count of the amount of times that children would tell me how they had used the techniques to deal with incidents in their lives. Problems ranging from being angry at siblings who stole their sweets or broke their toys, to being the calming influence in big family arguments. My two favourites will always be: the nine-year old boy who was terrified of the dentist and who quietly sat in the waiting room, and ultimately the dentist’s chair, practising his Crocodile Breath to calm himself; and the ten year old girl, who was angry with her parents, who would go to her room and practice Woodchopper Breath every day for three weeks, who eventually came and told the class teacher and me that that she had Haaaa’d out her anger.

The other main factor that inspired me to turn the play into a book was, simply, to get it out there. If this story helped the children that I taught it would help all children.

Can you tell us about your collaboration with the illustrator,
Sarah Peacock?

I have worked with Sarah Peacock in her Hertfordshire Primary School for five years. Sarah would come into in the yoga lesson with her class and over the years had been involved with Frog’s Breathtaking Speech on many occasions. She knew the story very well and how much the children liked it.

Examples of Sarah’s amazing illustrations were displayed around school. Often over lunch she had talked about her dream of being an illustrator. When I finally wrote the story as a book, I asked her to illustrate and she came up with the wonderfully timeless and charming illustrations that make the book so readable.

Where did the character of Frog come from?

Frog came about for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, children can stay in Frog Posture easily for longish periods without too much discomfort (and it’s great for their knees and hips). Secondly, I like Frog characters – they make me laugh; and thirdly, there is a long history of Frogs (and Toads) in children’s literature – for example, The Frog Prince and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher.

I saw Frog as a character that boys and girls could relate to because he was honest about his fears. I think they could also relate to his courage in taking action, facing his fears and achieving a victory.

I suppose he is based on many of the children that I have taught and if I am being honest there’s a lot of me in Frog. (Well, even grownups need to calm themselves and get angry sometimes.)

Can you describe scenarios in which the different breathing techniques would be especially useful?

I think that being a child nowadays is stressful. I have already mentioned my two favourite examples of how techniques from the story have helped. However as educationalists we are constantly aware that the children in our care are travelling through a minefield of emotional problems in different areas of their lives.

For example children are dealing with major blows within the Family like divorce; separation from parents; death of a family member or friend or pet; worries about family’s financial situation; worries about a family member’s health; or perhaps a new baby brother or sister has arrived.

At school children are often anxious about their lack of specific skills, being bullied, tests, SATs, how to deal with an overload of activities, a belief that they do not have enough friends, lack of self-esteem, fear of failure, and even fear of success.

On the social side, children can be anxious because they may see themselves not “in” with the right crowd, too fat, too thin, too tall, too small, too ugly and so on.

I believe the social pressures on children – in or out of school – are immense today and we need to teach them all manner of strategies to help them deal with the pressure. Yoga and breathing techniques being at the top of the list.

The four strategies that are taught in Frog are:

  • Crocodile Breath. Situations where children could apply the technique are: tests, exams, sports day, making speeches to peers and parents, going to the dentist, finding courage.
  • Humming Bee Breath. Situations could include: headaches, feeling tense, panicky in the middle of a busy shopping centre at Christmas.
  • Woodchopper Breath. Situations could include: venting anger or frustration.
  • Lion Breath. Situations could include: strengthening voice or loosing tension.

How can this book be used with children with special needs?

Frog can be used with all children and that includes many children with special needs.

Used purely as a story, Frog is highly engaging, the illustrations compelling, and there is sufficient repetition to help reinforce readers and invite anticipation. There are also ample opportunities to compare the Frog’s experiences to the children’s if the children are at a suitable level.

On a higher level, if you are reading the book to children and encouraging them to practice the postures there is a lot to be gained. Firstly, the children will benefit from increased flexibility and better muscle tone. The big reward, however, is that yoga postures can help children with Sensory Processing Disorders.

Many children with autism, for example, have Sensory Processing Disorders which affects their Vestibular, Proprioceptive and Tactile systems. This is a vast subject that I will deal with elsewhere. Suffice to say that yoga can go a long way to identify any extremes in a child’s sensory behaviour and provide strategies to help regulate their nervous systems away from those extremes.

Using the story in a yoga/drama format also creates opportunities to work on speaking and listening skills and other communication skills like, for example, projecting the voice. Also social skills such as taking turns, waiting or applauding another child will come up when you use this story.

One massive benefit of using the story with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for example, is the opportunity to be acting out different emotions. Frog becomes less sad as the story progresses. In fact, emotions range from sad to happy, scared to brave, beaten to successful. A great excuse to give those face muscles a good workout.

Finally, if you are using the story in a yoga/drama format and including the breathing techniques then you are encouraging the children to be “in the moment” – a well hackneyed yoga term, I know, but totally appropriate for children on both extremes of the hyperactivity scale who need to find “that middle ground of alert interest where they are not overwhelmed or underwhelmed” (Sher, B. 2009 p. 22).

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.