When little ones see their parents practicing asanas or hear them speak about niyamas and yamas (the do's and don'ts of living offered by the Yoga Sutra) as they do in the Shearer household, chances are that solid, simple, nonviolent messages become part of a trove of tools for living. I asked Haji and Jasmin on separate occasions how their yoga practice affects their disciplining the children, especially in a world where spanking is the norm. Taking away privileges and "treasured items" and time-outs are definitely part of the package, says Haji.
But hatha yoga or focused breathing also gets harnessed into their family life. "When I get upset, I just sit down and breathe and repeat a mantra to myself," says Jasmin. Similarly, when the kids "start getting off balance," she says, "I'll tell them 'come into yourself' and I might have them go sit down and breathe." Jasmin admits that the kids' responses vary, but she believes they are "getting" her centering tactics on some level: She's overheard both Patanjali and Sakeena tell their friends, "Sit down and breathe."
Children can better understand the power of such centering devices when they can deploy them on adults too. "Sometimes when I'm disagreeing with Jasmin, Patanjali will tell me 'Dad, You need to be nicer to Mom,'" Haji says, "and I'll stop and realize that he's reminding me to hold fast to our principles."
To have an 8-year-old show you or tell you that you're wrong is great yoga training, Haji adds, with a hint of amusement. After all, good role modeling is not about being right all the time. "It's about asking who's going to go for the highest good—which one of us is willing to get up off of our ego," he says. "To think that we adults are the only teachers in the house or that we always have all the answers is the height of ageism."
Children as Gurus
Our children are perfectly capable of showing us who we should be—a fact Robin Gueth, who teaches at the Yoga Source in San Anselmo, California, has realized repeatedly since her daughter Katharina was born five years ago. Just recently, Katharina offered her mom a way to ease her own adult emotional pain. "We were visiting a friend of mine, when this friend and I had a tough argument. So I took Katharina and left. Driving back in the car, I burst into tears," Robin recalls. "Then I realized that Katharina had never seen her mother cry, and I started to worry how she would take it. But I'll never forget the way she looked up at me and said 'You know what, when I miss somebody, I howl like a coyote.'" It wasn't exactly a time-honored spiritual tradition, this canine hue and cry, but it resonated all the same. Says Robin, "We howled and howled like coyotes until it rattled all the way down to our hearts."
Loving without Attachment
When we meditate, we're taught to see our thoughts drift by, without judging or harboring. Certain thoughts, however, don't waft so well. For parents, in fact, no thought is quite as primal and terrifying as the fear of losing a child. I suspect many of us have fretted privately, with varying degrees of obsession, about losing our children to illness or death. But for Marcia Miller and her husband Roland, this fear was no mere mental exercise in terror. Six or seven years before their sons were born, Marcia gave birth to a daughter who lived only three days. A year later, another daughter was born; she lived three months. Both infants had heart defects. With each death, Marcia remembers, she felt herself "lose connection with that universal spirit." In time, that excruciating pain, that utter bafflement at life's random cruelty, passed, making way for what she says was a much deeper connection to spirit.