We are all children. We have created children in our own image. It is not merely that we have created them and that they grow up any way they like. We aspire to see a great flower budding out of them.
Previously people thought that yoga was only necessary for grownups. For centuries children were not concerned with the practices of yoga. People believed that yoga was a mystic or occult practice, a type of magic, or a chase after some unseen object. Therefore, children were kept out of yoga groups.
Over the last 11 years, I have been thinking about the scientific reasons for introducing the practices of yoga to children. I have made many experiments on a number of children to see how yoga influences their body, mind and personality. I was compelled to conclude for the time being that it is worthwhile to teach children the practices of yoga. I am convinced that yoga has a very important role to play in the structure and development of children's minds and bodies, and that children should be exposed to the practices of yoga.
The human body has a very important gland at the top of the spinal column known as the pineal gland. In yoga it is known as ajna chakra, ajna meaning 'monitory or commanding'. The pineal gland begins to degenerate after the age of seven. As the pineal begins to decay, the pituitary or master gland begins to secrete groups of hormones responsible for our emotional and intellectual growth, the development of sexual awareness, and the proper functioning of the organs. With this, the child crosses the threshold into external life.
Up to this point the child's consciousness is very high. The pineal gland is a psychic eye. It represents the psychic consciousness of the child. With the degeneration of the pineal, the child's purity, innocence and capacity to communicate with the higher consciousness diminish. He becomes aware of the external environment, of conflicts and moral personality.
At this time the gap between the biological, psychological and emotional development in the child is so great that he is often unable to bridge it. Through yoga we can restore and maintain the health of the pineal gland, thereby creating a balance between the physiological and emotional personality of the child. This is the main reason why yoga is so important in the life of a child in his teens, and why yoga should be included in the educational system.
Besides this there is another reason which should be kept in mind. In the classroom children do not respond favourably to the teachings. They respond out of compulsion; out of fear. Their only objective is making it through the examination hall. In the yogic system, however, education is carried out by a process of transmission. Children are psychically very sensitive and they respond much better to a transmitted form of knowledge. Their capacity to imbibe is fantastic. It isn't necessary to tell children all the intellectual or academic details. Nature has provided them with a necessary amount of intuition to know what is good and what is bad. But unfortunately, this natural gift which has been provided to the children is gradually being destroyed by the modern methods of teaching. Therefore, in trying to educate the children, we must remember the word 'transmission'. So what we think is a necessary process of yoga should be evolved in the early educational system, and this system of education in yoga should be evolved keeping the necessary factions in the life of the child.
When the child grows up and is in his 20's, he has many adjustments to make. His body has to accelerate the rate of metabolism and balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. At the same time, when he is developing his secondary sexual nature, the hormones that keep flowing into the body have to be properly fixed. If the hormones or secretions are not properly fixed then he has deep rooted psychological problems. These psychological problems are nothing but the disturbed patterns of individual energy. I don't disagree when the psychologists say that psychological problems are rooted in one's childhood, but there are other reasons.
Sometimes the energy patterns in the physical body are in disharmony due to physiological and biological reasons. For example, if a child has a dominant sympathetic nervous system, you will find him very offensive, violent and restless, because he is out of balance. On the other hand if his parasympathetic nervous system is dominant, you will find him submissive, shy or timid, nervous, lonely. This is due to nervous imbalance which can be caused by so many factors. It is not necessarily due to parents or to society. Its cause could be purely biological.
We should not consider the child to be just a bundle of flesh, blood and bones. Scientifically, the whole body is made up of molecules, electrons, electrical circuits, energy patterns. Frankly speaking, you will have to redefine the body. There is bone, flesh, blood, and mucus, but the body does not run on these principles. Man does not live just because his heart is pumping. Man does not breathe just because his lungs are working. Man does not think just because he has a brain. He is not able to speak just because he has a tongue. All these things will have to be understood in relation to the energy movements.
You will have to accept that your child is a moving mobile energy pattern. It is not enough to feed him with food or stuff his mind with book knowledge. Food is necessary to keep the body going. Styling his brain with arithmetic and geometry is necessary to make him a professor, an administrator, a doctor or an advocate. These things are necessary, but at the same time, you have to take care of the thousands and thousands of energy currents that are flowing in to his body, and that ultimately maintain the whole structure of his existence.
When the child reaches his twenties, the metabolism slows down slightly, and the body begins to accumulate waste. When that waste is not thrown out it reacts on the biological, physiological and mental structure. At this time, in his twenties, he needs a system and a discipline.
I am talking about self-discipline, not about institutional, religious or social discipline. I have my own definition of discipline. I know what I should and should not do. There is a system of balance in the physical body. If you know the secret of how to create harmony between the energy patterns in the body you can automatically create an idea of discipline in the child.
For example, you have a nice motor car, but its wheels are out of alignment. When you drive the car it always swerves to the right, so you have to continually turn the steering wheel to the left. Is this the way to discipline the car? Better send it to the mechanic who will fix the alignment.
Discipline is an expression of profuse harmony in body and mind. Discipline is not teaching the gospel to children. You don't have to do anything; you don't have to say anything to the child. I think that imposed discipline and morality are the first things that mankind has to leave behind and forget. Grownup people always think that they have great wisdom and that it is their duty to teach children the right way. Maybe the children are right and we are wrong. There is a difference between them and us. They can't understand us and we can't understand them. It has been my difficulty with young disciples- I think my own way and they think theirs. But this is a difference I understand. Now therefore, the children will have to be disciplined by indirect methods, and this discipline comes through the practice of certain yogic postures and pranayama.
I have always hated the word discipline right from my childhood. I used to tell my master, 'I am not a soldier in the military. You don't have to tell me left, right, about turn, right turn.' If I'm tired I'll walk slowly; if I have to catch something I'll run. I don't think that genius is necessarily an outcome of discipline. Most geniuses have been very undisciplined people, but I do not mean to say that undisciplined people become geniuses.
The foremost problem of children is that they try so hard to have a first class memory, to be top in the class, but they can't actually make it. What limits their capacity? They say it is due to a weak brain, or a weak memory. But what is this weak brain, this weak memory? Does it mean that the child doesn't have a particular circuit in the brain? No, it means that the brain's circuits are not all functioning. If we divide the whole brain into ten compartments, then in the normal brain only one part of the brain is functioning and able to cope with the daily workings of life, the other nine sections of the brain are still silent. Sometimes the brain is able to transmit an electric magnetic wave from one of the silent areas. This brain wave creates a flash or an idea and one becomes a scientist. Suddenly another part of the brain throws a wave, and one hears some notes or some music, records them in black and white and becomes an eminent composer.
It is necessary to develop these silent areas of the brain if you want to give expression to your genius. Children's genius has to be expressed and it is for this reason that we make experiments. There have been geniuses in every field, even today, but we have not made them. They were freaks of nature, an accident. Nobody knows how to develop the genius in the child. In order to do this we will have to create a systematic process which will awaken all the silent areas of the brain.
These silent areas of the brain are the dormant potential centres of energy. Within them there is education, knowledge, awareness, a completely computerised process. I will give you an example. Many times you have been to the garden. You must have seen oranges and apples falling from the trees, but did you ever discover the theory of gravity? One man, Isaac Newton, did. He was a genius because he was able to observe a normal phenomena with' amazing perception, as though something abnormal was taking place.
Of course, if this tape recorder suddenly started rising into the air you would notice it. If you were practising transcendental meditation and suddenly began to levitate, you'd wonder: 'What is this due to?' But if something falls down, this is a normal affair, and you hardly notice it.
Perception has qualities and you'll have to develop the quality of perception in children by exposing them to the practice of meditation. Now this is a different topic altogether in regard to what type of practices they should do. Each perception has a completely different formation when it penetrates into the brain. Every sound, for example, has a different form and that is the subtle form of the sound. You say 'ah', but in the brain that sound is transformed; it is not 'ah' there. In the same way, if you look at my photograph, I look exactly the same as I do here, but your quality of perception is completely different.
We all know that the brain has archetypes. In yoga these are called yantras and mandalas. They are the triangles, squares, hexagons, circles, all kinds of geometrical, symmetrical patterns. Every thought, every experience, every sound and every sensation has its own individual yantra. This also means that there should be a language already existing in the brain. Unless there is a language, computers can't work.
There are already thousands of yantras existing in the structure of your consciousness in the brain. You can develop the sensitivity, the frequency, and the expression of these archetypes. You can train yourself to perceive these things through sound or any process of inner visualisation. If you are able to train and develop the perception of symbols and language that already exist within the brain, then you can bring this cosmic computer into action. The brain is a storehouse of thousands and thousands of faculties. But the child can only become a master of these faculties by developing his power of perception and bringing this storehouse within his area of conscious command.
Today it is very important that the children's ambitions should be fulfilled. Children want to do well in class. They want to be able to just look into their books, and have the information imprinted in their mind. They don't want to cram and do exercises 5, 10, 20 times.
Once Swami Vivekananda went to one of the universities in the USA and borrowed an encyclopaedia from the library. Next morning he returned it and the librarian asked, 'What did you do with the book?' He said, 'I read it.' The librarian said, 'Impossible!' Swami Vivekananda said, 'Ask me any page'. The librarian tried him and has since written: 'I have never seen such a man; he looks at a page and remembers it.'
This is a photographic memory, not a thought-ographic memory by which you have to think and then you remember. There is such a thing as a photographic memory; I had one and I lost it in 1946. You know how I lost it? I made a very sad mistake. I went to one of the Himalayan mountains away from the noise and the people. There was a lot of snow and it was very cold, 10,500 feet above sea-level, three times higher than the alps. The whole day I smoked ganja, marijuana, and that completely damaged my memory.
Of course I have a good memory, even now, but it is not the memory of a genius. Up to 1946, if anyone spoke for one hour, I could register it and sit down at the typewriter and type it. If you compared it with the original tape recording, you would find no mistakes, even with the commas and full stops.
You know how I developed it? I was born in the Himalayas. As a child I had a very great imagination. In my imagination I used to see the snow-capped mountains, valleys, high hills and so many beautiful panoramas. I always used to think about how I would climb all the Himalayan mountains. Ultimately I was able to reach the highest snow peak; I was the first man on Mt. Everest - not Edmund Hillary. Yes, I reached there in my imagination, in my concentration, in my dhyana. That is how my whole mind was structured for a new type of perception. In my childhood I must have made the trip not less than 600 times, over the same paths, crossing the same streams, climbing the same hills and valleys.
Now, if you practise concentrating 600 times on one point, what is going to happen to your brain and perception? You can just imagine! It is the training of the brain that is important. Training of the brain in its structural basis is discipline. If you are not able to discipline the energy patterns of your brain, you will not be able to increase the faculties of perception, even if you accept any religious discipline. Religions say, 'Become pure and you will become great.' I say, 'It is impossible; purity is a social quality.' If all the people are pure, the society will be a sleeping society. I'm not against purity, but I have no faith in it.
You must increase the capacity of perception and awareness of your children by a scientific means. In the brain and body there are monitoring centres. You can monitor them through modern machines, and you can also monitor them through concentration on those respective centres.
It is not possible for children to be trained in all these matters, but adults can be trained. You do not have to push your children to practise yoga. You should tell them about it without creating the impression that, in order to practise yoga, they must become puritans or religious people. The only way that yoga should be interpreted to the children is: a method for the enlargement of their perception and awareness.
If I tell an adult to concentrate, he will understand what I am talking about. But if I tell a child to meditate he will not understand. At the same time, if children know that through their yoga practices the perception and the quality of awareness can be amplified and that they can develop some of the faculties in their personality, I think children will be the first to practise yoga.
Everybody should know what they must do. All children are made to follow the same system, but this is wrong. Everybody is born with a different innate capacity. Some are made to be intellectuals, some to be politicians. There are so many faculties which can be developed. Do parents know what is the inherent capacity of their child, or do children know for themselves? For instance, when I was in my 20's, if I had not decided the road which I have taken, maybe I would have been a tremendous failure in life.
A person who is capable does not succeed everywhere in life but only in that particular field for which he is made and chosen. Who is going to decide the mission of the child? That is the perfect puzzle, the greatest question. I do not refer to vocation here - becoming a doctor or a professor - that's a different thing for which we receive a particular education. I am talking about a greater dimension of education which teaches us what we have to do, which shows us what the expression of our existence is going to be and how we can best fulfil it.
There are many young people today who are floating in the darkness like ships without rudders. This is not because there is anything wrong in society, or because they lack discipline. They are rudderless because they haven't found a base for their existence. If you can give this to the child, you are giving him the ultimate education.
The harmony in the society of children should not just be discovered in society. We should expose them to the practices of yoga in a gradual way, not only in the schools, and other educational institutions, but yoga schools also must have a separate wing for children. I know that to teach yoga to children is the easiest of all jobs. In fact the children are gurus and we are the disciples. It has always been said that the child is the father of man. In the same way the disciple is the guru of his guru.
All over the world most people have children and the children are going to be the good and bad citizens of tomorrow. If their personality is not completely integrated, that will be the structure of your society. Whether it is politics, social events, or a great war, the children of today will be directing the affairs. If you want to produce scientific thinkers and statesmen, the children are there. So the parents are the factories and the children are the finished products. Now let us create products of the finest quality by teaching our children yoga.
I would like to know why so many swamis have a childlike quality about them?
In yoga there is a formula: you may increase in age, you may acquire any amount of knowledge, but there is some part of the personality which should always remain a child. Therefore in yoga they practise concentration on ajna chakra. Ajna chakra is the pineal gland which starts decaying after the age of 8. Ajna chakra, that is, your pineal gland, keeps you a child.
If you are 75, and your ajna chakra or pineal gland is still healthy, then you will simultaneously be an adult of 75 and a child of 8. Almost all geniuses have the personality of a child and the body of a grownup, and therefore they are able to keep in contact with the higher sphere.
In order to keep in contact with the higher sphere and to be as a child, your ajna chakra, pineal gland must be very healthy and active.
At what age should children start yoga classes?
At the age of 8, teach them surya namaskara, mantra and pranayama. These three practices should be continued for several years until the signs of puberty appear. Then change the practices and give them more asanas and pranayama. When you start these three practices at the age of 8, puberty will naturally be delayed for two or three years. Usually puberty takes place between 12 and 14, and is established between 14 and 16. But if the child practises yoga, puberty will start at the age of 14 and will be established at the age of 18. When the signs of puberty appear, the child can take up all the major asanas.
Meditation techniques should be taught after the age of 21. This applies to those children who have been practising yoga from the age of eight. Up to the age of 21 they should use the simple methods of meditation, such as kirtan, chanting and visualisation.
Is mantra or music helpful for children?
Well, relaxing the brain through the mantra is one of the methods of increasing perception, but yantra is a more direct method because it is not a process of relaxing, it is a process of awakening. Some systems give music to the children to help them relax. This is not bad, but it creates a particular amount of inactivity. Most music makes the mind inactive, although some types of music make it expressive and other types are very awakening for the children. Visualisation of yantra is a totally dynamic, activating method, not a relaxing system. When you practise awareness of the yantra, your mind is continually generating higher wave patterns; it is never regressing. Concentration on a particular yantra stimulates a similar archetype in the brain, which creates an awakening at a higher level.
So our efforts should be to keep the process of awakening active in the brain. I know music and I like it, but it tends to make the mind inactive. Inactivity cannot be the objective of yoga, especially when the purpose is to awaken the potentialities in the child. Every practice we teach to the child should create a movement or an event of awakening in him. This doesn't mean that music is not included in the scheme of yoga. If music is rightly practised, it has its own archetypes in the brain. It can create a gradual awakening in the structure. But first we have to define what we mean by music. If the music is unsystematic or sexually stimulating, we do not know what it will do.
How much yoga should be imparted to children or should it be left to their own choice?
If you are going to leave yoga to their choice then you should leave everything to their choice. Children are pliable, innocent and devoted. They believe in higher realities but they need proper training. It is better to give them an education in spiritual life, discipline and yoga from the very beginning.
When both parents and children follow discipline and a regular life it will ultimately reflect in the behaviour and personality of a nation. Your nation, government and family are your pride and that pride is discipline. All the achievements of America, Germany, Russia or China have been brought about through discipline. The first yoga sutra of Patanjali is 'Atha yoga anushasanam' which means yoga is discipline. It doesn't even say yoga is practice.
Give your children discipline, but only little by little. If you press a pencil too hard the lead will break. Give your children discipline in the light of a spiritual and yogic education.
What can we do to counteract the bad influences on children?
The family life has a great influence on the child. So the first thing that must be done is to reintegrate family culture. The family structure has been undergoing a process of disintegration for the last 20 years, but now we must stop it and start emphasising the correct family life, The greatest corrective influence on children is other children. If a child is wrong and other children tell him so, the child will think about it. But if the parents tell him the same thing, the child will not care. So we must have the correct system in the family.
Secondly, the schools need some sort of reorientation. In India we have the gurukul system. Children live in ashrams with the guru for several years. They are far from the city and the children manage the whole school themselves. They wake up early, have morning prayer, go for a bath and do their exercises.
Are there any general rules in yoga for bringing up children?
Parents worry too much about their children. Children must be left with other children; they must be left to grow on their own. The duty of the parents is to take care of them as long as they are innocent so that they don't get into trouble. I have seen myself, and most of you will agree, that parents worry so much about their children that the children go wrong.
How should parents encourage good habits and discourage the bad?
You must set an example, and children will follow it. When the child is in the womb, you can train him there rather than trying to change and brainwash him when he is born. Life in the womb is more powerful and more receptive because you can change the entire structure of the DNA molecules.
How should we bring up children so they don't become egoistic and aggressive?
Children should not be suppressed. The personality must grow; the ego also must develop, but you must create a way for their spiritual advancement. That you can do either by living a spiritual life yourself or else let them follow their own nature without any obstruction from your side. We should not try to force or to build the children in our own pattern, or to modify their personality. They must follow their own nature, not yours.
Do you support students taking part in politics?
Youth power is dissipated by politicians. Dabbling in politics will do more harm than good. Even in the olden days young people were exploited by corrupt and influential political leaders. Students should be led along the right path by the educated. The system of education should be re-orientated and backed by mature principles.
When should yoga be integrated into the school curriculum?
Yoga can be taught in easily understandable terms from class five to university level, step by step, by teachers who have made a thorough study of the subject and undergone special training.
Along what lines should the educational system be re-orientated?
The school system should be based on self-discipline rather than the enforcement of outer discipline. This requires that the teacher imbibes the yogic philosophy in order to increase his own inner power and thereby inspire discipline in others. This is more effective and long lasting.
How can yoga help the restless youth of today?
Young people must have contact with yoga. They will attain peace through yoga and spread it throughout the world. The intelligent youth of today have no spiritual mooring, no guru, no religion, no way. That is why they become hippies; that is why they smoke marijuana and take LSD. They want to discover the truth, but society has not been able to supply them with a way. For the last 150 years there has been spiritual regression in society. When yoga comes, the society will progress. Thousands and thousands of boys and girls will have a practical way of life and they will learn how to follow the path of truth. If children don't want to go to church or temple, let them meditate. If they have no faith in the outside, they must have faith in the inside. For the children of today and the civilisation and society of tomorrow, yoga is an epoch making philosophy.