Developing the Child's Brain Through Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Condorcet College, Paris, 15.5.80

During the last twenty years I have tried to bring yoga into the homes and schools. There was a great misunderstanding about yoga when I was a child. It was thought that yoga was only for those people who were finished with life. If anybody was practising yoga at a young age, people remarked, 'Yoga, so early?' Even now, many people still think mat yoga is only a pastime for retired people. But I was always of the opinion that yoga has much more to do with the evolution of the human mind and the human body. Of course, as a child, it was not possible for me to understand yoga as much as I do now.

Preparing the soil

When you want to prepare a garden, a row of flowers and trees, what do you do? Do you just sprinkle the seeds? Many people might do that, but they would not grow anything. First you will have to prepare the soil. You will have to make it soft and pull out the weeds. Then, you can sow the seeds, and they will grow into nice flowers and fruit bearing trees. The same law applies to the human mind.

The mind has to be prepared for accepting the seeds. The mind assumes many stages. There are certain stages where nothing goes into the head. Surely, you have met such people in your life. Whatever you tell them falls on deaf ears; nothing penetrates their brain. They are like hard soil. The best of seeds will not grow there, no matter how much you work at it. Then there are some people who are like soft soil. When you tell them something, they are absolutely responsive. These people have what are called receptive minds. Therefore, what is important in yoga is that we try to transform the quality of consciousness. Then everything can be planted into the mind without any obstruction.

Many years ago, when this became clear to me, I started to make various experiments with yoga. During my pilot projects, I tried yoga on many children. I would not say that I was 100% successful, but through these experiments I came to certain conclusions about the influence of yoga on the evolution of the human mind.

Importance of maintaining the pineal

The first conclusion was concerned with a particular gland in the human body known as the pineal. This gland is situated on the top of the spinal column. It is a very tiny gland with great importance. In fact, millions of years ago, this gland played an active role in the development of the human brain. Therefore the people of those times had greater psychic and spiritual qualities, and better control over their emotions. But, with the passage of time, the pineal gland has followed a course of degeneration. Today it is little more than a vestigial gland, and if we do not take adequate measures to protect it, within a few thousand years it will be completely lost.

In yoga, the pineal gland is said to be the physical correlate of ajna chakra. Mystics and occultists refer to it as the third eye and philosophers call it the super-mind. The pineal gland is very active in children, but by the time they reach the age of eight or ten it begins to calcify, and in elderly people it has little or no role to play in life.

This is very unfortunate, because in yoga the pineal gland is considered as the controlling and monitoring station in the brain. Even as you have a control tower at an airport, the human brain also has a directing, regulating and blocking tower which controls all the faculties of the brain. In yoga we call this control station ajna chakra; the word 'ajna' itself means monitoring, ordering or regulating.

When the pineal gland starts to degenerate, then the pituitary body comes into action and the emotions shoot up. This is the reason why so many children become emotionally unbalanced and disturbed during their preadolescent and adolescent years. The pineal body has a balancing influence on the activities of the brain, which keeps the whole brain in a receptive order. Therefore, I found that those children in whom the pineal gland could still be commanded or monitored were much more receptive than those whose pineals were no longer active.

The second important thing which I realised was that the adrenal glands have a very important role to play in the child's moral behaviour. Usually those with criminal tendencies have an overactive adrenal system. In terms of educating children, this has very important implications.

Stages of mental development in children

In the science of yoga, there are definite branches that control the functioning, behaviour and receptivity of the brain. Although the brain is a highly capable instrument of knowledge, this capacity sometimes undergoes periods of recession. In certain cases the brain is working very slowly. In others, the brain is evolved but dissipated.

Therefore, you will find that some children are dull in mind. Then again, some are very intelligent, but their thought patterns are dissipated. You will also find children who oscillate; at one moment they are very intelligent and the next moment they become idiots. Then you will find another category of children who are very intelligent and consistent.

Dullness, dissipation, oscillation and one-pointedness are different stages in the evolution of the brain. When children are intelligent and consistent, we have to see that they do not regress. When the children are sometimes intelligent and sometimes foolish, we must see that this oscillation stops. In those children who are very intelligent but dissipated, we must see that some kind of unification is brought into the pattern of their brain. Finally, we have to find a way of tuning or transforming the dull brains into intelligent brains.

Yogic system of education

There are various processes through which knowledge can be implanted in the human brain. During the last few decades many methods have been introduced into the educational system. The oldest method, of course, is teaching in a classroom with a cane. When the child is intelligent give him a high mark, and when he is dull give him a big zero. The teacher gives a lecture and writes the points on a blackboard, and the student has to understand. If he does not, then give him a cross. This is a system of teaching, but not a system of education.

Real education is educating the behaviour of the mind and brain. There are other forms of teaching which have been introduced in the last few decades, but these fall short of education. In most of them the learning process takes place at an intellectual level. In the yogic system, however, the process of imbibing knowledge is a spontaneous affair, which takes place at the deeper levels of the mind. At every moment of our lives, right from birth, we are constantly receiving impressions. But these are not registered in the same form as when they went in. They are registered in the form of symbolic vibrations. Have the educators developed a system like this to teach children?

You can teach geography, history, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, botany or anything through symbolic methods. This is the form of education which has to be used for the dull type of student. You can explain a certain concept to an intelligent child and he will understand it. But the dull child will not know what you are talking about, because his conscious brain, his intellect, is incapable of receiving the knowledge that you are giving him. Therefore, you will have to transmit the knowledge in a symbolic form directly into his subconscious mind.

An experiment with yoga nidra

This is precisely the system of education in yoga. The principle of yoga nidra can be applied for increasing knowledge or developing the brain in dull boys and girls. Teachers and parents should be able to communicate with the subconscious mind of the child. This communication can take place if you know how to develop the child's subconscious state.

I have tried many experiments with this. For example, in 1967, a child of four came to join me as a swami. I could not accept him at such an early age, so I told him to come back when he had completed seven years and then I would accept him. To my amazement on the very day he turned seven, the boy left his home and came back to me. This gave me an indication of his mental character.

That boy lived with me for about eight years. Throughout this period he created unending problems and disturbances for me. All day long he used to break things and play tricks on the visitors who came to the ashram. He was not prepared to go to school or to study anything. So, what did I do? I experimented with yoga nidra on him.

At night, as soon as he went to bed, I would note the time. Then, after five minutes, I used to start reciting Gita, Upanishads, Bible or anything that I wanted him to learn. This worked very well, so I did another experiment. I tried reading to him in English and then in other languages. I finished my experiment within two years, and today he is one of the most brilliant swamis I have.

Physiological basis of yoga

This is how the education of the child can be imparted even without the child's knowledge. The brain composition has to be influenced by certain practical methods. Through the practice of yoga nidra, pranayama, surya namaskara and chanting of mantra, the inner components of the brain can be brought to a point of regulation. Therefore, yoga should be properly investigated by the educators.

Modern education cannot just bypass this truth by saying that yoga is a physical or gymnastic system, or that yoga is a science for the other world. Many scientific experiments have already been done. Yoga is not a system which should be regarded as beyond the scope of scientific investigation.

During the practice of pranayama, the activities in the brain have been investigated, and the claims of hatha yoga have been properly substantiated. Hatha yoga talks about ida and pingala nadis, the cold and hot channels. It states clearly that these two channels are physiological in nature. They are not abstract or symbolical, they are real.

These two important channels exist within the framework of the spinal column. One channel controls the brain and its faculties of consciousness, and the other channel controls the life force and its impact on human existence. Therefore these two channels should be properly regulated in order to ensure the balanced development of the child.

In the case of a blockage in these two channels, the brain has to suffer. When a child is dull, how are you going to scientifically evolve this condition of the brain? It is not enough to classify children as dull and forget about them. A dull brain can be tackled by rejuvenating the respective nadi or channel.

When a child is dull, it does not necessarily mean that he has some mechanical or structural defect in his brain. Dullness may be due to a deficiency in the quantum of energy supplied to the brain. Hatha yoga is very clear about this. It states that through the practice of pranayama, the pranas are extended to every part of the brain, increasing and awakening the total functioning capacity. Circulation of the pranas is very important, not only for the physical activities, but also for the mental activities.

With the help of pranayama, you generate certain electrical activities within the body. In scientific investigations, it has been shown that during pranayama the brain emits special electrical charges. In the same way, while practising yoga nidra, one is not just sleeping. It has been noted that during yoga nidra, alpha waves are intensified. During ordinary sleep, however, delta waves are predominant. Whether one is sleeping soundly or is in the state of yoga nidra can be properly deduced by examining the brain recordings for delta or alpha waves.

Hormonal blocks

Another important factor which has to be noted in educating the brain of the child is that the blocks have to be removed from the hormonal structure. Sometimes the thyroid is not functioning properly. This can be the cause of dullness. Or perhaps the gonads are in a state of disharmony; that can also bring about dullness. Many children are very intelligent up to the age of 12 or 13, and suddenly they drop back. This occurs particularly when the gonads are in a state of disharmony.

The body assimilates a certain amount of hormones, then certain wastages are thrown out. When they are not properly eliminated they are again assimilated by the body and that affects the functioning of the brain.

Poisoning the minds of our children

The most important factor which we have to consider in regard to educating children is a very sad one. Children are not allowed to be free; they are tempered and tempered. They are pushed into modes of behaviour which are not natural to them. What happens is that we cast the shadow of our personality on the children. We have one image of our self, and our children have another. When children are small, they are helpless and have no choice but to accept our shadow within their mind. But when they grow up they revolt.

Actually, it is not the parents whom the children revolt against. It is the structure which has been put into their mind. If there is useless furniture in your room, you throw it out, not because you don't like the manufacture of the furniture but because it obstructs the room. Similarly, the children don't want these impressions. They want to be free of them, to be able to think and act according to their own nature and choosing.

After all, parents are also simple people. Not all are yogis, gurus or exemplary people. Parents fight because that is an emotional factor which cannot always be controlled. They are satisfied or dissatisfied with their children because that is the nature of parents, and because they don't know that this is going to affect the child's brain.

So, what can be done for the children in this situation? Through the practice of antar mouna the impressions that are buried in the mind of children have to be eliminated. Children should be allowed to visualise, to fantasise, to operate their mind in absolute freedom. But first they must be made conscious of what is happening in their mind. They should not practise this independently, nor should they practise for a long period of time. They should practise it with your help, and only for a short period. Then gradually, step by step, they will throw out the impressions they do not like.

Parents are very much in the mind of children, but it is necessary for the child's growth that the parents get out. As long as parents obsess the mind of the children, they can never develop. Parental love and care is an obstacle in the process of evolution of the child's brain. Of course, the parents have to take care of their children. They cannot just throw them out or keep quiet and ignore them. However, there comes a time when complete cleaning of the child's brain has to be done, and that can be accomplished through the practice of antar mouna.

Mantra and memory

Now, we come to the final point, the problem of memory. Memory is a great problem for children, that is, the problem of reception, retention and reproduction. All these combined are known as memory. Once you solve the problem of memory, you solve the greatest problem in education. If you can find a method to improve the child's memory, you will be introducing something truly revolutionary into the educational system.

People have been trying different methods, but I have found that in order to develop the memory, children have to be guided through the path of mantra. The mantra works immediately on the subconscious and unconscious plane. With the help of mantra, antar mouna and yoga nidra, you can develop a very clear memory in children.

How to implement yoga

Yoga should be properly introduced to children by the educators. In my opinion, all the experiments that are being done in every part of the world should be compiled together in relation to the educational system. A lot has been said and a lot is being done. Science is very clear about the effects of yoga on the brain and on man's consciousness and character. The time has come to decide how to implement this as a practical scheme. Now, it is up to the educators to think about this project.