I learned about yogic ethics or values, also called Yama and Niyama, roughly 20 years ago when I started more formally on my spiritual path. I love these values and how they can be applied to current events and life in general. The ethics were created by spiritual people thousands of years ago. The five Yamas are ethical guidelines for interacting with others and the five Niyamas are spiritual guidelines relating to yourself. These values have been interpreted in different ways by different scholars and spiritualist people for thousands of years.
For me too the meaning of these values and their depth has changed over the last two decades depending on what is happening in my life. The more I grow as a person, and especially as a parent, I find these values to be so helpful, applicable, and sweet. Below, I have interpreted these ancient spiritual values and applied them to parenting in our world today. My goal for writing blogs is to support parents; these are tools to put in your toolbox if you are inspired to do so. I suggest starting with one thing at a time if it resonates with you.
The traditional definition of ahimsa is not to cause harm to others with thoughts, words, or actions. Ahimsa has been defined in many different ways; some have said that even breathing is going against ahimsa because you are breathing in and killing tiny microbes in the air. Other spiritual traditions translated this to mean passive resistance. According my spiritual philosophy, there are certain situations when it is alright to use force, for instance if someone is trying to harm you or your family.
When I think about how this applies to parenting, it seems obvious to say as parents we do not want to hurt our children. We do not want to put our children in situations where they will experience physical harm, but we also want to think about how our actions and thoughts might be inadvertently hurting them. What I’ve learned about this is in order to keep from hurting our children, we have to care for ourselves. Many humans carry around baggage that prevents them from being present and experiencing the moment. Oftentimes once we become parents, our stress increases and we may start to remember experiences from childhood that cause us discomfort.
These memories can cause us to lash out in unexpected ways. We often do not want to purposely cause harm, but we can inadvertently cause harm to others. A helpful way of preventing that is journeying into the world of personal self-healing to explore what triggers our anger, to explore that anger, and develop tools to express and process our emotions.
In order to keep our children from physical and mental harm, we have to keep ourselves from physical and mental harm. Our well-being is essential to our childrens’ well-being.
Satya (benevolent truthfulness)
Satya means not only truthfulness, but the right use of words in the spirit of supporting others’ well-being. There is a lot of room for interpretation here. Some may think satya means being 100% honest at all times while others may think satya means, “I can fudge the truth if I feel it will help someone else.” When I think of satya and parenting, two things come to mind. I think about authenticity, being truthful to who I am, what I’m feeling, and even my weaknesses. As a parent, I want my children to feel they can share with me honestly what they are feeling and what is going on in their worlds. In order to be that refuge for them, I also need to be authentic with them. I would rather appear as human to my children than perfect. When I think of satya, I also know I do not have to be 100% truthful and transparent all the time because that would not be in the spirit of well-being. If I am thinking, “I am going to pull my hair out if you keep screaming like that!” I can say: “I am feeling overwhelmed and I need some space to take some deep breaths.” With the second statement, I am still being honest and expressing my needs, but I am not hurting anyone else.
Asteya is defined as non-stealing. This can seem pretty straightforward: “Don’t steal from others, pay for what you use.” Many parents would not dream of stealing from their children and instead want to give their children objects and opportunities. When I see my child struggling or having an experience I think I can fix, I remember asteya and I take a moment before I intervene. It is in my nature to be a fixer, but asteya reminds me to not steal an opportunity for learning, confidence, or experience. Instead of fixing and solving, I think more about supporting and teaching my children. I ask myself, “Are they in danger or can I let them explore a solution on their own?” If I think I can be helpful, instead of jumping in and solving the problem for my child, I might ask if they would like support or advice before I offer it. If they want my help, I try to offer it in the form of questions, or I might share what I would do in the situation, but I still give them the opportunity to choose how to continue.
Brahmacharya (keep your mind focused on divine love)
Over the last several thousands of years, bramacharya has been interpreted in many ways, such as restraint and control, but I love the meaning that I learned when I was starting on my spiritual path. Brahma is a word to describe God, beloved, divine love, cosmic consciousness, energy, or whatever word feels best to you. The meaning I learned is to see everything as an expression of the divine. Easy, peesy, mountain breezy, right? I know as a parent sometimes I can barely remember my children’s names, nevermind seeing people, plants, animals, and experiences as an expression of the divine, but when I do, the result is pure magic.
The idea is to leave space for the possibility when it is available to you. In my parent coaching sessions, I explore this idea with parents. In this sense, I think of bramacarya as an intention, to hope for a wholehearted outcome, to leave space for our highest selves to emerge. If you are having a struggle with your child, you are about to set a boundary, or you are knocking on your teenager’s door to start a conversation, what would it feel like to pause and see yourself as your highest self, as an expression of divine love? From that perspective, what if you could extend that feeling to your child or the person you are struggling with? Can you see them and the whole situation as an expression of divine love? Could this be applied to doing the dishes, reading a book, playing with Legos, or any other experience in your day? What if the situation you are in is all an opportunity to be your higher self and another step to living wholeheartedly?
Aparigraha (living simply)
I think of aparigraha as not having more than you need, especially when others are in need. I like to think of it as balance. Needs change of course depending on where you are in the world and what stage of your life you are in. I remind children about aparigraha when they feel they need all the toys available and don’t want to share any with a friend. In parenthood, aparigraha reminds me that simplicity can be so beautiful. Sometimes our powerful love for our children, well thought out marketing, and a touch of worry and guilt can lead us to filling our children’s lives with toys, books, sports, lessons, experiences, and excitement. All of these things are wonderful and can enrich the lives of our children, especially when it is done with love, but oftentimes too much can lead to overwhelm, boredom, and anxiousness.
Throughout my time as a parent, educator, and counselor, I have found less really is more. Children find great enjoyment in sticks, rocks, mud, cardboard, and sheets. Creativity is sometimes born out of boredom. When we leave unscheduled time in our lives, we tend to see projects emerge that ignite all the senses. Practicing aparigraha could mean playing sports or having toys, but taking into account how many are needed and beneficial, and paying attention to when it’s too much or out of balance.
People don’t always think of cleanliness when they are discussing parenthood, and I usually suggest parents embrace the messiness of parenting in all realms, but there is a lot shaoca can teach us about parenting. The value of shaoca includes cleanliness of our external space, but it also means what and who we invite into our mental environment. A part of shaoca is becoming aware of how our mental environment is affected by stimuli.
Even before I had children, cleanliness was not one of my strongest values but I love to organize. I do not expect any parents to have a clean house, and I don’t think anyone should have to apologize for a messy house, but I do see benefits to having some organization. As parents, we do not need any extra challenges. Spending precious time looking for keys or shoes can be aggravating. Taking time to set up spaces or baskets for things to go can be helpful. A hook for keys, bin for shoes, even giving everyone a bin to put their things in can alleviate clutter around the house. I invite parents to see how what they put into their life affects them and their family.
Do you notice a difference in behavior after your child eats certain foods? Does having time for quiet connection in the morning lead to calm and stress-free mornings? How does your adolescent feel after they watch an hour of YouTube? Does certain music change the mood in the house? When we are getting curious about the effects of organization, food, music, and visual content, I think it is also important to look at our relationships and commitments. I know I personally spent years of my life passive-aggressive, stressed out, overwhelmed, and angry because I did not realize that creating boundaries was one of the most important acts of self-care, especially for a parent. I unintentionally created an environment where I took on too many responsibilities, and created toxic relationships, all because I was trying to help. Realistic boundaries can be a wonderful tool for parents.
A deep state of satisfaction and happiness is very helpful in parenthood. I have learned to plan, use my skills of organization, and try to create an easeful flow for our life, but life is life and the unexpected can happen. This is where I feel santosha the strongest. We can strive for the evolution of our soul, mental health, the betterment of our family, and smooth flow in life. We can hope, visualize, work hard, and manifest, and even with all of that, our life and events may not unfold the way we imagined — but they may unfold the way they are meant to. As much as I love self-transformation and expansion, I think there is a sweetness in looking at your family and saying, “This is us, in all of our glory and all or our quirkiness.” Throughout parenthood there will be tears of joy, tears of despair. There will be losses and gains and in all of it is santosha.
Tapah (to offer service, even if it is challenging)
I am going to be careful with my words here because I think as parents we can be naturally inclined to serve others, especially our children. I am a huge believer in boundaries and self-care for parents; being a martyr is not healthy for parents or children. We have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. It is also great modeling for our children to see a parent taking care of themselves. Sometimes we embody tapah in unhealthy ways. Tapah means to serve others, and in serving others sometimes creating inconvenience to ourselves. Serving others can be easy sometimes. If you are wealthy and you give $20 to an organization, that is wonderful and the organization will hopefully use it in fantastic ways, but that $20 is not really even missed. I believe the idea behind tapah is growth. Growth can be uncomfortable, and usually happens when we go outside of our comfort zone.
I remember experiencing tapah when I was serving food to the unhoused in the Skid Row area of LA. I was out of my comfort zone and in that place I had one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Parenting has brought me to a place of uncharted territory. I am making decisions for another human I love with all of my heart. I think parenthood is one of the most glorious and true expressions of tapah.
Svadhyaya was created thousands of years ago to highlight the importance of studying spiritual scriptures. I love the interpretation from spiritual teacher Shrii Shrii Anandamurti who said, “Svadhyaya means not only to read or hear a subject, but also to understand its significance, the underlying idea.” As parents we may try to diversify our understanding of ourselves, our family, our society, and spirituality in a number of ways including books, podcasts, coaching, therapy, and spiritual or religious gatherings. I think it’s not only about how much you are inviting into your life, but what you are taking time to feel the meaning of.
We live in a world with so many ways to take in information. As parents, we are often made to feel we are not good enough unless we are doing all the things. For me, I take a breath, slow down, and choose what I want to study or take into my life. I do it with meaning, intention, understanding, and love.
Iishvara pranidhana (connection)
I like to think of iishvara pranidhana as true connection. Connection with a capital C. To me it is believing in magic and finding the magic in our everyday lives. In the spiritual sense, iishvara pranidhana means to take shelter in God or divine love, cosmic energy. This is something that cannot be faked. It’s a deep personal connection with something that is greater than yourself, a true knowing. Iishvara pranidhana is not having the right crystal, candle, going through the motions, or singing half-heartedly; it’s true connection, awareness, and knowing.
There is a theory that the answers are out there and we just need to connect to the frequency or wavelength where they exist. As a parent, have you ever known something deep in your heart, in your gut, and every cell of your body? There may have been a time when everyone was giving you opinions, but you were able to look deep into your child’s eyes and just know. I believe we are all capable of this deep knowing. Sometimes it takes quieting down, connecting, believing, and trusting. I believe this trust in the knowing is iishvara pranidhana.
Parenting is deep and endless and the interpretations of these ancient, beautiful spiritual values called Yama and Niyama are also deep and endless. I hope you enjoyed my modern interpretation of them and how I think they can be applied to parenting. If you have any comments, questions, or if you would ever like to explore parent coaching, please reach out to me.
Rachel Maietta is a mom, certified parent coach, preschool teacher, and founder of Wholehearted Parent Coaching. She has worked with children of all ages, and loves to support parents. If you are interested in coaching and would like to start a 10-week parenting journey, you can receive a free consultation. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram for blogs, ideas, and parenting information, or use the form below to contact her directly.