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Father Knows Yoga

Neal Pollack is doing his best to inject some yogic wisdom into his parenting.

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Photo: Cleveland Groove

The other night, my nine-year-old son couldn’t sleep. He called me into his room, where he was bouncing on his hands and knees, giving the mattress quite a workout.

“How can I be of service?” I asked.

“I’M VERY HYPER!” he said.

“I can see that.”


“All right.”


Sometimes, he tends toward melodrama. He inherited this from me, but I’ve spent the better part of a decade deploying ancient practices to tone down that part of my personality. Thanks to yoga, I’m now only semi-melodramatic. Since I’m als0 a dedicated father, I want to share these practices with my only son.

Elijah won’t do asana with me (though he does have terrific form in Wheel, bless his untroubled spine), unless he really wants me to buy him something. Meditation is totally out of the question, because kids his age don’t sit still. But sometimes I sneak a little stealth yoga into his life anyway.

“Lie down,” I said.

He did, immediately. Someone was more tired than he thought. I asked him to turn on his side. He did that, too, and I started to rub his back.

Focus on your breathing, I said. Breathe in on the count of 10, and breathe out on the count of 10. And then work your way down, breathing in and out, until you get to zero. Just watch your breath, and you’ll be calm.

This was a trick that I’d learned in my friend Dara’s restorative class. It always seemed to calm me down when I was feeling restless, especially at night. Soon, I thought, my great yogic wisdom would soothe my son to sleep.

Maybe I was being mildly delusional. Equanimity is hard-won, and even harder to transmit; I’ll admit to an imperfect parenting track record. Patthabi Jois was fond of saying that he’d devised six series of Ashtanga yoga, but that family life was the seventh and most challenging series of all. Nothing tests your peace of mind, and your yogic sense of self, quite like your kids. I still yell “Knock it off!” too loudly, and sometimes I’m too permissive. And those are among my lesser sins. How are you supposed to teach good manners and right behavior to someone else when you’ve only just begun to learn those things for yourself?

But yoga allows you to be forgiving, particularly of your own flaws, and also to work diligently with good intentions, not worrying too much about making mistakes and not being attached to any particular result. That applies to parenting as well. Therefore, I’m kind to my kid more often than not and patient with him most of the time. When I slip, we both stew uncomfortably for half an hour or so, and then we move along. If he ends up seeing me as a relatively nice, moderately disciplining, more or less consistent guy who tried his best, well, that’s not a bad takeaway. But he ends up seeing me as a hard-headed jerk who doesn’t let him have any fun, I won’t complain either. It’s all part of being a dad. As is trying to get your dang kid to sleep when all you want to do is eat a bowl of fro-yo and watch Louie. 

That night, Elijah breathed calmly, per my instructions, and together we practiced pranayama junior. Then he turned on his back and stared at the ceiling.

“Do you fell better?” I asked.

“I do,” he said.

A pause.


“Yes, son?”

“Can we talk about YouTube for a few minutes?”

“Sure,” I said.

So we did, and then he went to sleep. Yoga takes many forms.