All yogi parents would love to see their children reap the benefits of yoga, but the surest way to get kids to run the other way is to force it on them, says Judith Hanson Lasater, an East-West psychologist and a yoga teacher. Realizing that children will rebel when forced into situations, Lasater let her three little ones come to yoga on their own. “If I had made them do yoga, I would have been missing the whole point,” she says. “It’s when they choose it, with their own intention, that it really has value.”
Lasater recommends making your practice part of everyday life—and a public part—so that kids can join in if they choose but don’t feel that they have to. “Do your practice or meditate in the living room,” she says. “Eventually, they’ll ask to do it with you.” When Lasater’s children asked to be part of her practice, she took the empowerment one step further and asked them to help lead the session. “If they wanted to do Handstands, we did Handstands,” she says with a laugh. The strategy seems to have worked. All three of her grown children practice yoga, and Lasater’s daughter taught yoga while in college. Now a graduate student, she says her practice is the key to staying sane during such a demanding time. She didn’t want her name used for this story, but she does agree with Lasater’s approach: “We’re all really glad yoga was never forced on us, so we never resented it. I’ll do it for the rest of my life.”
How to Instill Yogic Discipline
Letting children make their own choices with yoga doesn’t mean letting them choose everything on their own.
Janice Gates, a meditation and yoga teacher in San Anselmo, California, with a five-year-old daughter, Sacha, has found a technique that both sets boundaries and empowers the child. When Sacha starts doing something that she knows is wrong—drawing on the walls has been a recent favorite—she gets disciplined, but Gates also asks Sacha how she felt in her body before she made the decision to break the rules. Gates then explains to Sacha that every time Sacha makes a choice that might have negative consequences, she should check the feeling in her body. “I really see her making the connection,” Gates says. “She’s learning to both trust her intuition and understand the causality between actions and consequences. I’m hoping it will carry over to when she’s a teenager and has to make a harder decision with drugs or relationships.”
How to Make the Sacred Fun
Be it a dinnertime prayer or an equinox celebration, ritual seems to bring kids closer to yogic principles and also brings families closer together. Yoga teachers Charles Matkin and Noah Maze, who were raised around ashrams and later became prominent teachers, count chanting with their families as some of
their best memories from childhood, memories that kept them tethered to the yogic tradition even as they rebelled against it in high school. “Chanting is just natural to kids,” Matkin says. “It plants a good seed.” The devotional yogi and musician Jai Uttal has recently begun hosting what he calls “kiddie kirtans” and “baby bhajans” on his tours all over the world, which can be a perfect introduction to chanting for families who want to do it on their own.
Making an altar to put in their bedroom is another ritual kids love. “Sacha puts on her altar anything that means a lot to her,”says Janice Gates. “She has feathers and special stones and her favorite stuffed animals. It’s a way to teach her about gratitude and also a way for her to connect to what her parents are doing.”
Since holidays are often busy with extended-family gatherings and travel, the solstices can be a great opportunity for more peaceful activities that teach children about their connection to the greater whole. The Matkins use solstice-day rituals to blend gratitude and lessons about nature. On the winter solstice, for example, the whole family rolls pine cones in peanut butter and bird seed, then hangs them outdoors as an offering to wintering birds.
Jaimal Yogis is a writer in San Francisco.