Yoga is not just a physical practice, it is an 8 step programme to enlightenment. While we often think of yoga as something we do as an individual, it can help us in all aspects of our lives, including how to parent and how to deal with our own parents.
Here are 6 ways that the yogic principles of yama and niyama can help.
Ahimsa – Non-violence
Ahimsa is the first of the yamas, or general ethical disciplines, and it’s first for a reason. Non-violence is an essential principle for harmonious family life. Firstly, it discourages the obvious physical violence, but it is also about non-violent or injurious speech and thought.
Sometimes we use expressions of violence in our language – ‘I’ll kill you if you do that again’. Obviously we don’t mean it literally, but it leaves a nasty atmosphere.
Practice using gentle language and notice thoughts of anger and violence arising towards family members. Then focus on characteristics that you love in that person. Love is the greatest antidote to violence.
Satya – Truth
Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Truth is God and God is Truth.’ Being truthful doesn’t mean being tactless, but it does mean being honest about how one is feeling. Good communication within a family is the difference between a functioning family unit and a dysfunctional family unit.
If the holidays have led to family rows, try suggesting a family meeting: sit around the table and allow every family member to have a say, without any interruptions.
You might be surprised at what emerges.
Aparigraha – Non-possessiveness
It’s easy to be sucked into the cycle of ‘need’ that our consumer society foists on us. We ‘need’ that new phone, better clothes and so on. While it’s nice to treat ourselves to the odd luxury item, the object itself brings only temporary happiness. If we can detach ourselves from the constant desire to have new things, we make time and space in our lives for what really matters – being with our loved ones.
Go through your children’s clothes and toys and de-clutter, encouraging them to let things go. This makes their room easier to keep clear, and teaches them the skill of letting go coupled by the abundance of what they do have. Perhaps during Christmas, you could suggest to your family that you pare down gifts and instead donate to a charity or volunteer.
Saucha – Purity
Saucha is the first of the niyamas or rules of conduct that apply to individual discipline. Saucha is cleanliness of body, mind, heart and spirit.
Keeping the family clean and healthy is a daily and sometimes relentless challenge, beginning with food. According to the Ayurvedic tradition, food should be simple, nourishing and soothing. On a whole, Ayurveda recommends a vegetarian diet, though lots of people like to sneak in a steak and chips.
Even if you’d never go vegetarian, it can be healthy to incorporate more fresh fruit and vegetables into the family diet. Try making fruit smoothies for everyone and sneak in a couple of veg. Or make your own pizza dough and top if off with some fresh tomato sauce. Suggest to your Gran that you can make dinner and surprise her with a vegetarian dish that will have her asking for seconds!
Santosa – Contentment
This is one of the hardest qualities to cultivate in the world we live in. We are constantly being told to ‘follow our dreams’, ‘achieve our goals’ and a multitude of other platitudes that encourage us to be constantly looking to the future to find our happiness.
Family life is no different. When our kids are tiny we long for our babies to grow up and sleep through the night, and when they start school, we look forward to the holidays – and then to school starting again! Perhaps a parent is constantly prodding you to do more, be more, in a less-than-helpful manner!
Try practising a gratefulness exercise with any family member. Ask them to come up with three things that made them content that day, and encourage them to be aware of how much happiness lies in the smallest everyday things.
Svadhyaya – Self-study
Svadhyaya is learning to change your outlook on life. As a parent we fall into the trap of habitual behaviour. We shout at the children, they shout back, the cycle of negativity continues. Is there a family member who knows just how to push your buttons and exasperate you? By examining ourselves objectively, we may recognise how we focus on the negative aspects of family life, when we are showered with blessings. In order to study ourselves, we need to fall still and quieten the mind, which is what our physical practice can help cultivate.
Sit quietly for 10 minutes at the beginning or end of the day. Observe what thoughts bubble up. Let the thoughts pass and see them for what they are – just thoughts. They are not you.