Yoga For Children

Paramahamsa Satyananda, from 'Yoga Education for Children'

At what age should children start yoga classes?

At the age of eight teach them Surya Namaskar, mantra and pranayama. These three practices should he continued for several years until the signs of puberty appear. Then change the practices and give them more asanas and pranayama. If the child starts these three practices at the age of eight, puberty will naturally be delayed for two or three years. Usually puberty takes place between twelve and fourteen, and is established between fourteen and sixteen, but if the child practises yoga, puberty will start at fourteen and be established at eighteen. When the signs of puberty appear, the child can take up all major asanas.

Meditation techniques should be taught after the age of twenty-one. This applies to those children who have been practising yoga from the age of right Up to the age of twenty-one they should use simple methods of meditation, such as kirtan, chanting and visualisation.

Can yoga help juvenile delinquents?

Why do children start behaving anti-socially and committing all sorts of criminal acts? There are many reasons given by different people but I have my own theory. At the age of seven or eight years, the pineal gland begins to decay, to calcify, and with that a major controlling lock upon the functioning of the pituitary gland is released. When this control is released the pituitary hormones begin to form and enter the bloodstream. Aggressive, anti-social and delinquent behaviour, which signals the onset of puberty and sexual activity, can arise at any time after the pineal gland has begun this process of decay. However, so long as the pineal gland is kept healthy and not allowed to decay, this dawning of sexual consciousness which follows the release of pituitary hormones will be delayed.

Nowadays, as children grow up, their pineal gland begins to decay and their pituitary gland begins to develop automatically. As a result they have high levels of disturbing hormones in their blood, which influence the different glands and the nervous system ultimately affecting their behaviour. This causes an imbalance between their mental and vital fields. 'Vital' means prana, the bio-energy and 'mental' means mind. The pranic and mental fields are unable to coordinate with each other and glands such as the thyroid and adrenals do not work in absolute coordination with each other.

The sexual secretions usually start after a certain point of physical maturity. Nowadays they start earlier, before the child possesses the mental and emotional stability to cope with such powerful hormonal drives. In these cases children start developing different types of ideas which do not find any control or counterbalance to act in opposition.

Every individual has a controlling factor within. If you want to murder someone, you think about it, but after some time another thought comes which opposes the previous one. There is always a conflict there, and this is called a control. It is a measure of maturity. If you want to drink poison in order to commit suicide, at the same time you think 'no', then 'yes', and 'no' again, this does not happen with some of these children who get a single idea and hang on to it indiscriminately. They ignore the shakti of viveka. There is no power of discrimination because physical, hormonal and mental maturity are yet to be developed.

The adrenal glands are very important and have a wide range of influence on the human body. The thyroid gland is a significant gland which plays an important role in the emotions of human life, like fear and love. If there is an imbalance in these glands then the children's behaviour is affected. So in yoga, the pineal gland must be kept healthy for as long as possible, and then the sexual glands will remain under control. There will not be a toxic effect in the body, because the sex glands produce those secretions which are toxic in nature. They can create physical diseases and even insanity. That is why there is a system of marriage, because through that system you are able to remove the toxic secretions harmlessly, and we are all products of these toxins.

If the secretions are developed at a tender age, before intellectual, emotional and physical maturity have developed, what will happen to the mental balance? There will be no coordination or balance between the physical, mental and emotional factors during the tender years when the pineal gland is destroyed. Children become juvenile delinquents.

In order to avoid this problem, in ancient India children were initiated into three practices at the age of seven or eight. One practice was Surya Namaskar and the other two were pranayama and Gayatri mantra. These are the yogic practices which should be taught to children at the age when the pineal gland starts to deteriorate so that they can keep balance with their developing bodies.

Are mantras and music helpful for children?

Relaxing the brain through mantra is one of the methods of increasing perception, but yantra is a more direct method because it is not a process of relaxation as mantra is. It is a process of awakening. Some systems use music to help children relax. This is not bad, but it creates a certain amount of inactivity. Most music makes the mind inactive, although some types of music make it expressive, and other types are very awakening for children.

Visualisation of yantra is, however, a totally dynamic, activating method. 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 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 of the child. Every practice we teach 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 practised correctly, it stimulates its own archetypes in the brain. It can create a gradual awakening in the structure of the brain, 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.

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. Parents worry so much about their children that the children go wrong.

How should parents encourage good habits and discourage bad ones?

You must set an example, and the 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 deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecules.

How should we bring children up so that they do not become egotistic and aggressive?

Children should not be suppressed. The personality must grow, the ego must develop, but you can create a way for their spiritual advancement. You can do that either by living a spiritual life yourself or else by letting them follow their own nature without any obstruction from your side. We should not try to force or to build the children into our own patterns or to modify their personalities. They must follow their own nature.

Along what lines should the educational system 'be reoriented?

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 inner power and thereby inspiring discipline in others. This is more effective and lasting.