Yoga for Children

“Children are essentially spiritual” – says Dr. Lisa Miller, Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University, Teachers College in her book Spiritual Child.

She elaborates “There are many peer-reviewed scientific articles that show spirituality is the key to wellness in the child’s life. Biologically, neurologically, and psychologically, spirituality is part of our nature and is foundational to thriving”.

She also opines “Spirituality is the central organizing principle of inner life in teenagers. It helps them to find meaning and purpose in life as they grow into adults. Awareness of spiritual development creates opportunities to prepare teens for their individuation, identity development, emotional resilience and healthy relationships”. We also have noted in our yoga circles that children who have grown up with some spiritual background and religious practices in the household are better at coping with difficulties in life;  better than children who have no religious background.

Dr. Miller further notes “Even a single powerful childhood experience of spiritual awareness can be a lasting source of guidance through adulthood”. For example, you may have recollected a dialogue or discussion with your grandma, your aunt or uncle, or even your parents during some difficult situations in your life. It may have helped you handle the situation better, or may have saved you from the trauma of misery. On the other hand, one of the family members or a teacher may have inspired you immensely in your childhood, which would remain as an unforgettable spiritual experience all your life.

Dr. Miller elaborates on the concept of Personal spirituality. She defines personal spirituality as  “your relationship with a transcendent reality or higher Self”. This spiritual companionship is essential for children. We know that children live the story of a Disney movie or Harry Potter in the West as they grow up watching or reading these stories. In a similar manner, a child’s personal spiritual friend could be Lord Krishna as a boy with all his mischiefs from the story of Mahabharata; or Dhruva, a little boy from Hindu mythology who meditated to get a seat on his father’s lap.  The child develops a personal spiritual relationship with characters like Krishna or Dhruva as they grow up listening to such stories. Personal spirituality becomes the inner life of the child, constantly guiding and lifting their spirit. Dr. Miller says “Personal spirituality  is the most potent form of protection against suffering in adolescence. It reduces the risk of depression, substance abuse, aggression, and high-risk behaviors, including physical risk taking and a sexuality devoid of emotional intimacy”.

Dr. Miller brings the importance of spiritual awakening as the child grows into an adolescent. “This developmental phenomenon is seen in every culture, and research shows clinical and genetic evidence for this adolescent surge of spiritual awakening. Parents and children share a parallel developmental arc in which a child’s need and yearning for spiritual exploration coincides with a similar ‘quest’ phase in adult life. For parent and child, meaning and connection often lead to spiritual self-discovery.”

What is Spirituality?

To quote Dr. Miller again: “ Spirituality is an inner sense of relationship to a higher power that is loving and guiding. The word we give to this higher power might be God, nature, spirit, the universe, the creator, or other words that represent a divine presence. But the important point is that spirituality encompasses our relationship and dialogue with this higher presence. Spirituality helps us to listen to the heartbeat of the living universe and to be in rhythm with the universe”.

Religion includes spirituality. Dr. Miller says, “It’s through the beliefs and practice of their own religion that they build and foster a relationship with God. Rigid adherence to creed without a sacred personal relationship is very different from natural spirituality”.

Spirituality brings optimism; teaches children to handle setbacks, gives them confidence. The lifestyle of spiritual contemplation gives them an eternal friend during social isolation. As per Dr. Lisa Miller, “Optimism has been shown to be teachable, not just inborn. For adolescents who develop a strong spiritual compass within a religious tradition or outside of it, spirituality manifests itself as an inner awareness or a sense of relationship with a higher power”

For generations, parents directly or indirectly conveyed some sense of spirituality to their children through their culture wherein God, or a transcendental entity was the central theme of every activity, celebrations, or ceremonies of grief. Today, we may not have the bandwidth or societal setup to build an elaborate spiritual theme in our life. But even simple daily rituals such as lighting a lamp or a prayer at the dinner table can go a long way in bringing spiritual awareness to children.

– Ashwini Surpur