Can a children’s book help create serenity, peace and self-awareness?
Many who have read Happy Leaf or heard the author, Divya Ma Lovingly read from her book, have felt the power of serenity that emerges from each page. It’s a power not lost on parents and educators who understand how the central character, a little leaf, lives in the moment, and experiences endless love and gratitude.
“Happy Leaf sees and feels love with all the creatures in the universe. She makes friends with nature, the water, fish, the sun, butterflies, rocks, birds, the moon and the natural world around her,” the author said. “Being in nature she helps people breathe deeper, relax, go inward and appreciate life in general. This is how a feeling of serenity and calmness develops.”
Lovingly said her book helps children get in touch with their hearts and spirits.
“The by-product of all this is the awakening of beauty, love, peace and understanding that is in all of us,” she added.
In a recent national competition, Happy Leaf received a silver medal in the category of picture books from Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards.
At book presentations Lovingly reads from her book and adds a full program of simple yoga, music and art.
“Young children, about 3 years old and up love movement and enjoy techniques of relaxation especially when their parents do them, too,” Lovingly said. “The energy of the parents affect the child and the child also learns to relax.”
In the 1990s the author was one of the U.S. pioneers who introduced yoga in public schools and at a community center in San Antonio, Texas. She saw several first-hand benefits when yoga was introduced, especially when it was combined with music.
“At first, the kids were very active, but after yoga was introduced, they were calmer and more relaxed,” she said. “They also developed motor coordination, awareness of directional space, fine movement and sense of inner balance.”
Reducing stress and anxiety
Yoga blends physical activity with breathing and guided imagery to help children separate themselves from feeling stressed or anxious. Deep breathing exercises send signals to the brain telling it to relax. Yoga focuses on the present moment and encourages children to leave their thoughts and worries behind.
With a relaxed body and mind, children are better able to cope with their emotions and frustrations.
Parents and teachers, such as those at Westside Elementary, often integrate children’s yoga and mindfulness practices into classroom and extracurricular activities due to these benefits.
“Yoga gives children a chance to develop self-discipline instead of discipline imposed on them,” said Lovingly.
The story of Happy Leaf
The words ‘peace’ and ‘serenity’ played a part in writing Lovingly’s book. She wanted to help children get in touch with themselves, their innate essence and who they really are. She says serenity helps children find patience and understanding and to have compassion for themselves and others and see the bigger picture in life.
One day a few years ago when the author was trying to sleep, suddenly she thought of a leaf she saw dance and dance until it landed softly on the ground. “As I was falling asleep, words, feelings and images came flowing like a gentle river. When I awoke I immediately wrote down what came through me and that was how Happy Leaf was born.”
Throughout the beautifully illustrated book, each page showcases serenity, calmness.
“Since children are more open and in the formative stage of their lives, to awaken this awareness within them is a beautiful gift of love, Lovingly says.
When the story is read to young children they go on a journey with Happy Leaf throughout her day.
“The simple story instills awareness of beautiful positive emotions in both adults and children. It benefits individuals as well as the global community,” she said. “Developing inner peace and serenity is a wonderful gift to share with others and the world around us.”
Helping children become more grounded
“Children have more demands on them than ever before,” said Dr. Nicole Fenske. She is a functional medicine practitioner, chiropractor, and certified clinical nutritionist at the Holistic Healthcare Center in Madison.
Fenske said kids today are frequently over-scheduled, and when they do have more, they spend less time playing outdoors in nature and just playing outdoors due to the prevalence of screen time.
“Research has demonstrated that this results in a more sedentary child who is less socially connected and more prone to depression,” Fenske said. “Yoga results in a child pausing and being grounded in their body.”
For those who don’t recognize the importance of play, especially the significance of exploring the outdoors as Happy Leaf does, Fenske provides some points to consider.
“Children, especially young children, are kinesthetic and need to explore the world physically more than intellectually,” Fenske said. “Yoga is a tool for this.”
How can yoga be beneficial for children? Fenske said purposeful movement combined with deep breathing settles the stress hormones and nervous system giving the child a respite from the chaotic world.
“Yoga can be playful and rhythmic which is what the young child needs for their development,” she added.
Those benefits play out at Lovingly’s in-person presentations in front of adults and children. “She uses singing and guitar playing to engage children with moving, dancing and singing together,” noted Fenske. “These tools create quicker connections with Divya and are therapeutic in and of themselves.”
In addition to yoga, Fenske said Happy Leaf embodies the calm, peaceful, gentle spirit that is often overshadowed in the modern world.
“Reading the book to a young child has similar effects to a yoga practice for both the adult and the child,” Fenske said.
Reading to children has long been associated with building bonding opportunities between readers and young people. Emily Hennemen, children’s services librarian at the DeForest Public Library, said when presenters at library programs read to children out loud, it helps build literacy development and strengthen ties within the community.
“Children’s programming is fun and brings joy to children and their caregivers. I love seeing a child’s beaming face when they are singing or reciting part of a story,” Hennemen said. “I love seeing the joy on their caregivers’ faces. Watching them is priceless!”
Hennemen said the DeForest Library has a wide range of children’s programming such as story hours and tiny tot times which allow children to learn through movement, dance and stories.
“We also have special programs like Divya Lovingly’s program about Happy Leaf. Her interactive program included music, guitar playing and a sing-along in combination with yoga,” Hennemen said. “It was fun for everyone there. Happy Leaf is beautifully told with lovely whimsical illustrations.”
The children’s service librarian explained that adding yoga into a library program is an excellent, interactive way to get children to relax, focus, and be more flexible.
“I also love that Divya added music into her program,” Hennemen said. “Children love music and that helps literacy development,” Hennemen said.