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 raising smart, healthy, and talented kids. Being a yogi Mom is my great opportunity to intergrate yogic principles into my parenting journey, because I understand that raising children is an unique chance to contribute to the expansion and unfoldment of human awareness.
From my experience, below are some easy ways to incorporate yogic principles into your child’s life and help your children build an awareness of their higher purpose. As an added bonus, they can help you stay on track, too!
1. Discuss the Yamas and Niyamas
While you may be familiar with the first two steps of Patanjali’s eight-fold path of yoga ( please see the image above ), your children may not be. By regularly discussing the ethical principles of the Yamas and Niyamas in an age-appropriate fashion, you provide your children with tools for them to 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.
Exercise: Write the Yamas and Niyamas on small squares of paper or on different small papers. On a select day every week, have each family member randomly choose one 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 when we are away from our children or when they are asleep.
While it’s important to create a space of your own, it’s also vital to let your kids see you practicing yoga. Inevitably, they will want to explore some of the poses with you. While their yoga session may last for only a few minutes at a time, they are still learning valuable concepts about postures, breath, and flow.
Exercise: 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 or her 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 too much time with digital devices. From television, iPads, and computers to cell phones, smart watches, and 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 more than 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 correlates 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.
Exercise: Include ‘Vitamin N’ (N as in nature) as part of a balanced diet each day. Run, play, jump, dance, 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 also teach him or her how to practice self-care and show themselves authentically.
4. Create Nourishing Rituals
Rituals are activities that your family can perform to create 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 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 or meditating together before bed are all rituals. Rituals build inner strength, help to release negative emotions, and connect us to our higher selves.
DAILY OILING (ABHYANGA)
This practice was harder for me to begin than the others because I didn’t see how a skin care routine could support the giving and receiving that parenting requires. But I learned in ayurvedic training that the act of giving and receiving is directly connected to our hands, our skin, and our ability to touch and feel. I also didn’t think I had the time to oil my entire body every day, so I started small—with just my hands, face, and feet—and gradually I began to notice how this practice calmed my mind. Now my abhyanga practice includes my whole body.
The three classical ayurvedic texts—Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and Astanga Hrdayam—note that abhyanga also has added benefits. It is said to increase longevity and minimize the effects of aging, help to establish and maintain healthy sleep patterns, strengthen the body’s resiliency, and increase circulation.
I find that oiling allows me to give myself the same gentle, loving touch I extend to my children. This kind of support to the body becomes crucial when trying to change stress patterns. Now I find that oiling myself from head to foot allows me to be more present in my body because I’m physically touching my body. My abhyanga routine has also helped me to soften as a person. It makes me feel that not only can I survive the stress of a fight-or-flight moment, but I can thrive in the midst of it.
Exercise: 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 your day, you will find that both you and your child effortlessly maintain health, balance, and joy. Consistently applied, these practices will help expand your child’s awareness from a limited concept of self to a broader consciousness of humanity.
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