About the Author
Badri Matlock is a devoted disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda and Kriya Yogi of over ten years. He resides at Ananda Village in California where he serves in community management, and loves to play. He is blessed beyond measure by his great Guru, extraordinary spiritual family, and especially by his wife Gita, five-year-old daughter Tulsi, and three-year-old son Jay.
The Yoga of Parenting
“Suffer unto little children to come unto me, for of such is the Kingdom of God.” –Matthew 19:14
Paramhansa Yogananda, a Master of Yoga and a Christ like being in his own right, would oft quote the teachings and words of Jesus Christ and cite their deep, spiritual meaning. On one such occasion his disciple, Swami Kriyananda, was sitting with the Master, when he turned off the lights to demonstrate this principle. Yogananda withdrew a toy gun from a paper bag and shot sparks into the dark room, laughing with glee. Alighting the room, he proceeded to play with another toy, then gazed deeply into his disciple’s eyes with love and quoted the very same words of Jesus above. Kriyananda witnessed in Yogananda this truth which is still accessible in the deathless spirit of the Guru. His heart was wide open like a little child, but his mind and soul were utterly free, attuned to the Infinite Spirit wherefrom flows all love and joy. Like a mother unto a child, he offers that same guidance and example to us now.
Children are an absolute treasure. They teach us many valuable lessons, and give countless opportunities for our personal, spiritual growth. Like every other meaningful calling in life, parenting goes hand-in-hand with the spiritual path. How can we learn our spiritual lessons without facing them in daily life? Children provide us with precious opportunities to learn patience, unconditional love and selfless service. Moreover, they teach us to be in the present moment and to find joy, wonder and magic everywhere, and in everything in life, large and small. Here are few helpful approaches to parenting and working with children that are based in the ancient wisdom of yoga, as well as personal, direct experience:
In relationships with children, try to work with their individual nature at any given time. God has created each child in a beautiful and unique manner, just as each of a trillion snowflakes is distinct, beautiful and special. By tuning into the deeper needs, qualities and nature of a child we hold their highest potential for growth. Children will naturally express virtues like kindness, generosity and love if we facilitate their own experience of these inherent qualities, both human and divine. Relationships with adults and other children, learning to share toys and turns (“it’s my turn!”), and reflecting on hurts inflicted or received can all be helpful tools to enhance a child’s growth and wellness. While there are many tools and techniques, the most valuable thing is to cultivate a strong, spiritual foundation of one’s own. For example, a disciplined, daily yoga and meditation practice can sustain a steady calmness from which children and adults alike can grow and prosper in wisdom and love.
Find ways to engage children at their current stage of life, and work with energy. Swami Kriyananda’s book Education for Life outlines stages of maturity which every child passes through naturally. From early years onward we progress from the physical/body stage, to feeling, willpower and finally intelligence. All stages exist simultaneously but also correspond to one’s inherent phases of development. A toddler learns to control his body, while an eight-year-old works on refining his or her feeling nature; a teenager exerts his will and explores independence, and a young adult in his 20s explores philosophy, meaning and life directions to pursue. Each is appropriate and useful to the child’s development when complemented by wisdom’s guidance. The toddler must learn that to strike another child is hurtful to his own being, but excelling at cooperative sports or other games will give him the confidence, fulfillment and companionship he is seeking. Similarly the teenager must learn that to exert his willpower for selfish gain will ultimately further his own unhappiness, but using his newfound strength and independence for a noble cause will expand his horizons of fulfillment and joy.
The key to working with children (and very often adults alike) is to work with energy. Energy is an intelligent principle of the universe and exists within everyone and everything. While yoga and meditation practice are very helpful in learning to work with energy, it can also be useful to try any number of more direct approaches. A child in a bad mood can experience a drastic change in energy by simply going outside, taking certain food or drink, or listen to uplifting or energetic music. Our physical, mental and emotional environments exert a great influence over our energies. Whatever the parenting scenario may be, tuning into the energy and directing it in a powerful, positive flow is an invaluable technique.
Enter into their world – become childlike before God. Just as Jesus counseled his followers to be like little children before the Lord, so must we develop a childlike spirit of devotion, wonder and love. Children can be among our greatest teachers in this regard. Games and friendships, imagination and creativity, and exercising in cooperative, joyful play are essential tools for children of all ages. For what are we all but children before our one Mother, Father – God? Any time spent in the company of a child is a blessing if we embrace the love of God in our hearts, and share it in a spirit of childlike wonder, guileless friendship and fun.
Yoga and parenting are both quintessential parts of human nature. They are not unique to religions, cultures, or parents. By pairing the two, both are enhanced in a marriage that, although undoubtedly challenging, is exceedingly fulfilling in growth, happiness and love. No matter what difficulties we face in parenting or in life, the rewards are exponentially greater if we embrace them with courage, perseverance and joy. And like Yogananda and the little children before Jesus, in our childlike embrace we will behold the Kingdom of God.