Yoga Practices for Children

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Vikasa School, Madurai, 4.2.82

The science of yoga is not new. In fact, it is one of the oldest sciences, which was discovered thousands of years ago. Today it has crossed the borders of India and has gone all over the world, it has been received very well by doctors, scientists, educators, social reformers, sportsmen and every sector of society, because the practice of yoga is so very important for the health and personality. If these practices are performed daily, the richest benefits are reaped.

Research on children

Ten years ago I conducted an experiment in yoga at a school in Paris, France. The French Education Department gave me a higher secondary school in which to conduct yoga experiments on children in relation to their daily activities and education. I started by giving them classes on yoga for one hour every day with the help of my teachers. These classes continued for over six months, at the end of which time the Inspector of Schools prepared a report.

After this initial six months of yoga training, the children were exposed to scientific investigations in the form of intelligence tests, physical examinations and behaviour studies. Their guardians too were interviewed during this period. The detailed report was submitted to the Ministry of Education and proved that yoga can definitely help children and students in their studies and in developing their brain, memory and other faculties, which they need to live a full life and to carry on their educational career.

After that, the Ministry of Education called a nation-wide conference of the teachers of primary and higher secondary schools. Teachers came in thousands and I addressed them on the values and importance of yoga in developing our brain and body.

Concentration of the mind

Now, what is yoga and what should it mean to the educators? The yoga that I want to speak about is the yoga of meditation. Meditation is one of the greatest gifts given to mankind. In Sanskrit it is called dhyana yoga. Meditation is a practice through which we try to educate and bring about the correct behaviour of the brain. The brain is a very important centre through which you know many things and through which you understand.

In order to improve the capacities of the brain and the process of intelligence, the practice of dhyana yoga is utilised. Concentration of the mind on one point, without allowing it to think of any other thought or object, is known as dharana or one-pointedness. Those who have a one-pointed mind, have a strong mind, while those whose minds are distracted or disturbed, do not. Their willpower is very weak.

In order to develop a strong mind and a strong discipline, you must practise concentration every day. This is best done in the early morning and at night, for a period of ten minutes. Sit straight, with your spine upright, in the posture known as padmasana (lotus posture), siddhasana (accomplished pose) or any comfortable posture.

During these ten minutes, do not move your body. Keep your eyes shut and fix for yourself a point, an object, or a symbol - whatever it may be. If you are religious, you can choose the cross or a picture of some saint. If not, just select any symbol like a candle flame or a blue or white lotus. Try to visualise this symbol mentally.

Every time the mind wanders away from this centre of concentration, bring it back - again and again. You will only be able to practise this for a short time in the beginning, about five minutes. If you have a mantra, then you can use it for concentration. Mantra means sound, and sound is important for concentration.

Developing intelligence through yantra

In Switzerland, certain educational experiments are in progress for the development of the intelligence of children. Educators are trying to find out the best way to influence the deeper areas of intelligence; not the external areas, but the deeper mind. This deeper mind can be influenced by a certain process and in recent years the process they have found is visualisation of yantra.

Yantras are not merely works of art; they are geometrical formations which have a powerful impact on the deeper levels of the consciousness. If you are exposed to a particular yantra and concentrate on it, that form is registered by your deeper mind and there it starts to work. As a result of this, the mental capacity of children, their faculties of memory and reproduction, and of intelligence in general often improve fantastically. You should try to learn more about the experiments which are going on in this area.

Whatever you present before the mind is registered there, and then it starts to work internally. You do not even know it is working because this process goes on at a subtle level. But eventually it influences the entire brain and all of its faculties and centres. So, if you want to practise concentration, it is best to choose a yantra.

Until now, yantras were only regarded as occult symbols, which most people did not understand. You had faith in them because they were part of your tradition. Your parents and society have used them, and every now and again some sort of yantra is placed at an altar of worship. However, what that has to do with the better quality or performance of your intelligence was not known to you. Now you know the powerful effect yantra has on your memory.

The breath and the brain

Finally, let us consider pranayama, usually known as breathing exercise. This pranayama, or breathing exercise is so effective that you only have to do about ten minutes of it every morning; not even ten, five will suffice. What you do is this: breathe in through the left nostril slowly; hold your breath for about two seconds, and then breathe out through the right nostril; breathe in through the right nostril; retain for two seconds, and then breathe out through the left nostril. This is done in one continuous flow and constitutes one round. In this way you can practise five rounds in the morning increasing the number as you desire up to ten or twenty rounds.

The brain is described as consisting of two parts or hemispheres. Now, when you breathe through the left nostril, you exercise the right hemisphere, and when you breathe through the right nostril, the left hemisphere is exercised. Just as you do physical exercises, as you move your biceps and triceps, in the same way, the brain also requires some form of exercise, and this is achieved by means of pranayama.

Relaxation and visualisation

I have spoken to you about four practices: asana, concentration, yantra and pranayama. There is a fifth; a very short practice called relaxation or yoga nidra.

What is yoga nidra? I'll give you a very simple example. Any time of the day, lie down flat. Keep quiet and close your eyes. Select ten, fifteen, or twenty symbols or objects. Repeat them mentally and visualise them in your 'mind's eye'. It will hardly take five or ten minutes. Say mentally for example: rose flower, guava fruit, temple bell, lotus flower, flowing river, a boat on the river, rising sun, full moon, shining stars. As you repeat them, see them one by one. If you will practise this for a long time, you will develop within you the power of inner vision.

When I was a student, I had a Photostat memory. That means that with my eyes closed, I could visualise exactly the writing of whole books I had read and, even now, I have it. This memory, which is in the form of vision, Photostat, can be developed through the practice of yoga nidra.

In the beginning, you can have about twenty symbols. Then increase to forty, sixty, eighty, one hundred, and so on. For half an hour, you can go on telling your mind the different objects, trying to visualise them as clearly as you see them outside. Definitely, if you can see the objects in your mind as clearly as outside, you are training your mind in seeing a thought! You know, a thought can be seen. You can see anything, even the numbers of your arithmetic, with your eyes closed.

These are some of the important yoga practices, and I request all of you to give some time to them, because yoga is definitely going to become the culture of the world. Your children should grow up in an atmosphere in which spiritual awareness is a spontaneous event in their lives. This is how a new psychic race will be born. If you are not able to practise yogasanas yourself, at least ask your children to do it. What we have lost, our children should gain.