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On Raising Kids – an east-west view

A Perspective On Child Care Blending Eastern Philosophy and Western Science

Emotions make the environment 

I’d like to share with you what yoga psychology has to say about child rearing. It turns out that it is aligned with much of what western psychology has to say on the subject.  The foundational idea is that the early years (0-4) are like a continued gestation period with a brain that is only ¼ developed at birth but will triple in mass by age 4. Consequently, the environment must provide the necessary emotional support to allow the child’s nervous system to develop. Everything in the environment has the potential to imprint on the child. Whatever fears, anxieties and frustrations are present in you or other members of the child’s environmental community will become part of the child’s emotional experience.

Therefore, it is not enough to just feel and display love and support to the child, you have to manage the entire emotional ecology surrounding your child.That is a very tall order and requires planning and practice. What follows is a list of issues to consider in this process.

In Utero

According to the Vedic Model the time in utero is primarily stressful. The quarters are cramped and even frightening. Increasingly Western science is proving that the experience in utero can have a lasting impact on the baby. The first order of importance is the mother’s emotions.

The more balanced her nervous system the better. Getting stuck in either a stimulated state (angry, frustrated, nervous, anxious, fearful, keyed up…) or a depressed (parasympathetic) state (sad, lonely, depressed, fatigued…) can create an in utero environment that inhibits healthy development of the foetus. The more time the mother spends in a stable, content mood the better.

Learning to manage emotions is key to this process. It is important that emotional management be honest and not based on any type of repression as that will result in a disruptive influence on the child. Repressed emotions leak or spill out in an unhealthy manner and the baby feels what the mother feels, whether she is willing acknowledge it or not. You can’t lie to an embryo.

The next most important factor is diet. The goal is to share a diet in the mode of goodness (Sanskrit – sattvic). A sattvic diet is plant-based with limited amounts of refined simple carbs (white flour, white rice, white sugar.)  The ideal is to consume whole foods, complex carbs (whole grains, legumes, vegetables certain fruits), health fats (avocado, nuts, flax..). This type of balance of complex carbs and fats will provide sufficient protein.  Eating regularly (smaller amounts more often is better as it prevents hunger or over eating related mood swings.) Additionally, it is important to pay attention to the emotional state in which food is prepared and ingested. Be sure to check with a holistic-prenatal nutritionist for additional advice specific to your needs.

The next element to control for is the mother’s voice. Reading out loud or speaking out loud to the gestating baby is very valuable. While the sounds the mother hears are important to the extent that they influence the mother’s mood they do not directly impact the baby. What the mother speaks (or sings) on the other hand is the most perceptible sound the embryo will experience. So skip the headphones attached to the belly and instead pick a book and read out loud. As for choosing Dr. Seuss versus Shakespeare or Rumi, it is not going to matter to the baby as much as the mood it puts the mother in. So choose subject matter (or songs) that provides a positive effect on your mood. (Mantra chanting is an excellent pastime for mother and womb inhabitant),

0-2 years

Attunement is the emotional dance of reciprocation. This is all about being emotionally available without bringing your own needs or expectations to the process. Your child must feel that you are always emotionally present on their terms. If they are happy, then you are present with matching joy. If they are aloof or distracted you are patient. If they are grumpy or colicky you are present without demands or frustration, simply demonstrating support. This is very challenging, as it requires you to be emotionally engaged without being drawn into the child’s moods.

1 -3 years

In the early years, it is important to not admonish them with anger. Nonetheless, correction is crucial because it is for their benefit. Consequently, it should be done with emotions ranging from aloof-detachment to loving-engagement, but not with anger, fear or frustration. This is another reason emotional management is such an important skill for parents. The trick is to understand that emotions are both spontaneous and mechanical. In other words, if the anger and frustration you feel is spontaneous you can’t always stop it before it erupts. You can, however, choose to experience the frustration internally and display a different more constructive emotion externally.

This is a little like rubbing your belly and patting your head. It is hard at first but with practice you can learn to take responsibility for your frustration and anger by feeling it and acknowledging its presence in your body and then choosing to smile inwardly into the challenge. Then you can decide to experience and express a more productive emotion for the benefit of the child. I repeat my warning from earlier, this must not be just an act of repression. You must be honest with yourself about the frustration you feel, and that is not easy. It is a practice that requires courage. But in practicing the courage needed to feel difficult emotions on the inside, you model an important virtue for your child.

1-18 years

Do not feed them dead animals. Science is clear humans do not require meat to flourish. Omnivores are not carnivores. We can eat meat if we have to but we are not meant to. Children who are never given meat will not develop physiological dependencies on it. One of the great gifts of modern culture is that we don’t need to eat meat any more. It is a healthier, environmentally sound, humane choice.  Additionally, it instills a greater degree of empathy and virtue in those who do not choose to participate in snuffing out a life for their own sense gratification. The path to finding  deep happiness is difficult when we are bringing unhappiness to other sentient beings.

2-5 years

Don’t reward them emotionally for what they produce; reward them for simply being. Let them feel important because they exist, not because they must do something to earn your love.

5-10 years

After the age of five they should learn self-discipline and pranayama. Self discipline is based on learning to do what the body and mind do not want to do. This is a great art to teach. It cannot proceed too slowly as the principle will not be learned, or too fast as the child might be harmed. Rewards have to be used lightly because the real benefit of self-discipline is in having it for its own sake rather than as a result of external rewards and outcomes. This helps teach the important principle of being focused on their actions rather than their outcomes.

Pranayama provides the ability to manage their emotional experience of life. They must learn and become experienced at controlling their own nervous system. This technique alone will improve the quality of their lives. In order to teach them pranayama you must first be experienced and proficient at it. This is not difficult but it does require practice. Your personal practice can be a simple as controlled counted breath.

Allow them to make mistakes in an environment you manage. Create opportunities for them to create and fail. Learn to apply the principle of controlled chaos in allowing them to learn the decision making process. You do this by giving them chances to make choices and allowing them to experience the consequences.

Teaching kids to be simultaneously present and detached

They are not the roles that culture and society impose upon them. The question and the goal is how do you get them from identifying too deeply with these roles? How do you teach them that all the world is a stage and we are just players? And, how do you teach this without risking that they become sociopaths? One clue is that the difference between the sociopath and the enlightened being is intention. This brings the focus to the development of character and virtuous intentions. The additional challenge here is how to develop real character without simply superimposing a superficial notion upon those kids smart enough to simply mimic it for the sake of getting rewarded?

For them to be secure in who they are they have to be ok with the insecurity of not knowing who they are because that is the human condition. Anything else is just reinforcement of the ego, which is the source of prolonged suffering. So focus on the development of virtue and character.

Father’s role

The father’s role should not be overlooked in all this. If the mother provides more nurturing and support than the father, their identity and gender awareness may be impaired. It is just as important that the father practice attunement, emotional management, and the ability to be lovingly present without expectations.

Catch-22

So here’s the catch – if you consider the full range of your responsibilities and the magnitude of what can go wrong in the raising of your kid you can reasonably expect to be overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. At the very least the weight of your responsibility will be stressful. Persistent parental stress has been shown to be a predictor of developmental disruption for children. So the more you worry about raising your child the more you put her or him at risk. What to do?

Embrace the impossibility of life…life is not a game you win; it is an event you experience, either positively or negatively.  Life becomes more positive when you emphasize experiencing life over understanding life and self-forgetting over self-love. The key to being an experiencer of life and an in the moment self-forgetter is in your willingness to embrace and appreciate the mystery, the paradox, and the impossibility of life.

Consider the paradox that children represent: for all the joy and hope associated with the birth of your child you have simultaneously condemned a human being to pain, disease, and a non-commutable death sentence. These are the inevitable realities of human life. Do you reflect on these facts? Have you enshrined these truths along with the dreams and well wishes you have for your child? Can you allow the good will you have for your child to coexist with the reality that despite your best efforts you cannot control the way your child will turn out?

You might choose to ignore the negative side of raising a child but that would be unwise. Resisting or ignoring the darker aspects requires a type of emotional repression. You would have to be unwilling to be present and to experience reality. This impoverishes you as a human and leads to unconscious stress; a stress that will impact your child’s development.  The challenging and all-important solution is to choose to live in the impossible paradoxes created by life. You can if you wish choose to feel everything. This gives you tolerance and resilience. This gives you the ability to be present. This allows life to flow around you in all its mystery and variance. It doesn’t make the unpleasant or difficult moments of life disappear but it makes you a stronger more balanced person and you will be modeling this to your child.

So you must live with the catch-22; raising a child is stressful and stress must be minimized when raising a child. The more you learn to enjoy and have a positive emotional experience of the challenges of raising a kid the better the environment you will create for them.

Have fun loving 🙂

Yoga Philosophy for the female clad

[One of three essays on the theme of Goddess Yoga]

The gender of the soul is a mysterious and transcendental subject. It is cloaked in the paradoxical and the inconceivable. 

The gender of the body is a fleeting and transient experience, neither real nor illusion, but temporary fact. Gender, in the realm of matter, flips back and forth over lifetimes, driven by karma and desire. This back and forth blurs the lines and the content between male and female so that over time we all have much of both.

Nonetheless, from life to life we generally find ourselves in one or another. Yet regardless of gender, we (the soul), continually find ourselves in an earthen vessel that is both temple and prison. This creates the ironic goal of having to both worship the temple and break free of the prison.

To further our sense of the paradoxical nature of being, consider that while we are in these clay coverings we are considered prakriti or mother nature (the feminine aspect)and the soul is considered purusua or consciousness (the male aspect). Yet in the realm of the soul the soul is called prakriti (or feminine) and the source of consciousness is call purusua. This gives a tiny hint as to the paradoxical nature of the soul’s gender.

Goddess Yoga, is meant to ask the question, “Are there differences in spiritual practice (sadhana) for you (the soul) when you are momentarily trapped in the female form versus the male form?”

The answer is yes and no; there are some differences and some similarities. The exposition of these essays will be the exploration of the differences.

The spiritual journey is different for the spirit-soul residing in a female body versus a male body. For example the female covered soul is generally much more in touch with the concept of body or form. This includes body in its various permutations: her own body, her lover or mate’s body, and her child’s body. This attunement is part of why the path of aestheticism has always been arduous and in some ways inappropriate for the feminine garb.

While the male body has the likelihood of being slightly less attached to the body they are not necessarily better off. In fact, it is this tendency towards bodily nonchalance that necessitates the austerity and submissiveness of the male-bodied path.

So while it is important that the male shaped aspirant grovel and serve the guru menially, that is not necessarily what is best for sister-spirit-soul.

So what is best for the female shaped ones?

The simplest answer is to use all the bodily proclivities to create connection to spirit.
+ Respect and beautify the body, not as you, but as a mystical clay temple of the supreme soul living within.
+ See and treat the lover/mate as representative of the divine.
+ Raise children as ambassadors of pure consciousness.

In addition, the mind should be disciplined in the dialectics of spirit… to learn to resist polar views of black or white and instead to entertain the paradox of synthesis…

+ surrender the need for certainty in exchange for pursuit of clarity
+ stop seeking control and instead celebrate beauty in nature and spirit
+ do not be moved by illustration which is only ABOUT something, but champion art which IS something
+ do not over value knowledge, instead learn to worship mystery
+ and above all do not mistake matter for spirit

In future essays I will explore and bring together easter science and western philosophy, with the hope of expanding our understanding of hatha, pranayama, mantra, and some of the esoteric meanings of the ancient Sanskrit text. The goal of this is series is to learn about the nature of the spiritual journey for souls who are in a female body. I look forward to your feedback.

Looks like we’re going to be here a while… [ESSAY]

Culver City, California – A tired and poor black man shuffles by the Starbucks. A motivated-pencil-skirted young woman strides briskly into the store. A hip-hop based soundtrack plays over the scene from a Mercedes-Benz idling at the stop light. Jacaranda-tree-filtered-sunlight gently fills the outdoor patio. The question occurs to me at that precise moment. What is this place? What am I doing here?

This query seems to stir up a desire to be of help to others. As that thought rises up through the self-conscious soup of my mind, I can’t help blushing at the unoriginality of it.

It feels both presumptuous and arrogant to think I can be of help to anyone. Up to this point I had thought, if I knew more about yoga and its psychological implications than most people, I would be allowed to play the part of teacher or expert. In a quiet moment of self-honesty, however, this seems hopelessly grandiose.

As that hopped-up caterpillar sitting on his toadstool puffing on his hookah would rightfully say to me, “And whoooo are YOU?!??” After all, my life has hardly been a paragon of principle and virtue. I have lied, cheated, stolen, and participated in countless amounts of self-indulgence. However, having been there, done that, the longing to be a little more selfless and perhaps encourage others to share this journey of self-reclamation with me persists. Why invite others to come along on this journey? The words of Mark Twain come to mind, “Misery can be experienced on its own but to get the full measure of joy you have someone to share it with.”

Inviting others to share any type of journey or event, however, is fraught with peril. Not just the peril of presumption that arises from thinking one knows better than others, but even worse, the risk of over-thinking and mechanized parts of life that are meant to stay organic and spontaneous.

The good news for the reluctant explorer is that the journey suggested in these letters is predicated on Yoga (the ancient transformative one, not the sweating and bending one.) The wisdom reservoir of Yoga has a plan for defusing the tension and tendency of over mechanizing the journey of self-discovery.

Yoga’s built in fluidity compensates for time and circumstance (see my summary on the history of Vedanta.) Yoga additionally suggests an approach that begins with an expedient amount of structure and discipline but blossoms into irrepressible spontaneity (see my article the hidden history of Yoga.)

The goal of these letters (articles, blogs, electronic offerings…) is to hew to the fluid, structured, spontaneous nature of Yoga while exploring the lesser-known face of Yoga: a system of psychology, a healer of identity and the synthesis of celebration and scholarship.

The goal of the author is to offer his services as valet. Allow him to hold your coat and baggage while you enter and explore the working dimensions of the world of yoga psychology.

The goal of life is to learn how to be a modern yogi: balanced, focused, kind, connected to spirit, and happy to serve; all while grabbing a decaf mocha latte, answering your iPhone and surfing the waves of 21st century life.

See you soon.

Your servant with love,

Atma…

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