Being a parent is hard work. From lunches and homework to music lessons and sport practices, parenting provides a seemingly endless array of things to do. Yet being a parent is about so much more than producing smart kids who can get good jobs just so that they can repeat the parenting cycle all over again.
On the contrary, raising children is a unique opportunity to contribute to the expansion and unfolding of human awareness. By integrating yogic principles into family life, we can take an active role in the evolution of consciousness.
Below are some easy ways to incorporate the essence of yoga into our childrens’ lives. These practices help children to build an awareness of their higher purpose and as an added bonus, they help us to stay on track too!
1. Discuss the yamas and niyamas on a daily basis.
While we may be familiar with the first two steps of Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga, our children most likely are not. By regularly discussing the ethical principles of the yamas and niyamas in an age appropriate fashion, we provide children with a framework within which they can develop discernment. As children discern between actions that stem from their soul and those that are generated by ego, they will naturally choose to align their deeds with their intrinsic soul nature.
Application: Write the yamas and niyamas on small squares of paper. On a select day every week, have each family member randomly choose one of the of the squares from a jar. During family dinners throughout the week, encourage each person to share how they practiced this principle themselves or saw someone else put it into action.
2. Practice yoga with your children.
As busy parents, we often schedule our yoga sessions at times when we know we will not be interrupted. This translates into practicing yoga when we are away from our children or when they are asleep. While it is important to create a space of our own, it is also vital to let our kids to see us practicing yoga. Inevitably, they will want to explore some of the poses right alongside us! While their yoga session may last for only two minutes at a time, they are still learning valuable concepts about postures, breath, and flow.
Application: Pull out your mat and practice yoga at home at least once a week. You might even purchase a kid’s yoga mat for your little one. Encourage your child to practice with you and be open to his unique approach to yoga. Some children are creative and want to create and name their own poses. Others are more competitive and would rather see if they can hold a plank pose longer than you. Embrace your child’s style and have fun with them.
3. Spend time in nature together.
We live in a technological age. More than ever before, children are spending time interacting with devices. From television to iPads, computers to cell phones, and smart watches to portable gaming devices, children are surrounded with technology. While many of these devices can help nourish creativity and critical thinking skills, they do little to balance the channels of energy in the body. According to Ayurveda, there are over 72,000 pathways of prana, called srotas, in the human body. Each one of these srotas is revitalized through contact with nature.
Frances Ming Kuo, a researcher documenting the positive link between nature and human health, has concluded that exposure to green environments such as grassy parks, forests, and gardens is correlated with children’s physical, mental, and social health. Patanjali teaches that this link extends to one’s spiritual connection as well. Connecting with the Earth reconnects us to nature’s rhythms, our body’s cycles, and our intrinsic being.
Application: Include “Vitamin N” (N as in nature) as part of a balanced diet each day! Run, play, kick off your shoes, have a picnic, or simply read a book under a shady tree! Your child will be more than happy to oblige. Not only will you build a healthier relationship with your child but you will teach him to how to practice self care.
4. Create Nourishing Rituals.
Rituals are activities that families perform that provide a sense of purpose, value, and community. Rituals don’t have to be time consuming or difficult. In fact, sometimes the simplest rituals can make the most impact. Perhaps you and your child can begin the day with an intention or prayer and end the day with a list of things for which you are both are grateful. As you create rituals, look for ways to integrate service, celebration, and sacredness. Can you work with your family to pick up trash on a local trail, ring in the solstice with a hike, or spend a few minutes meditating together?
Rituals are not the same thing as routines. Routines involve instrumental tasks that need to be done but have no emotional or symbolic meaning attached to them. Eating dinner, putting on pajamas, and going to sleep are all routines. Rituals, on the other hand, attach meaning and higher purpose to tasks. For example, eating dinner as a family, singing the same song each night while putting on pajamas, and saying a prayer before bed are all rituals. Rituals build inner strength, help to release negative emotions, and connect us to our higher selves.
Application: Introduce one new ritual into your family that can build greater peace, harmony, and love.
By taking the time to integrate positive yogic parenting practices into our days, you will find that creating health, balance, and joy for yourself and your child are not all that difficult.
Consistently applied, these practices will help to expand your child’s awareness from a limited concept of self to a broader consciousness of humanity. And in between baby bottles and college applications, isn’t that our ultimate goal?
Author: Erin Easterly
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Alena Getman/Flickr