raised on yoga

We are a strange breed of Generation Xers. Emerging out of the woodwork of everyday life, we are the children of the yogis. You may recognize us by remembering the friend whose house was always the one where you tried tofu or meditation for the first time, and where all friends were welcomed as family. Ours may have been the dinner table where you first chanted “om.”

In the eighties, when I was a kid, my friends used to call me “Shantytown” or “Shanti-girl” and later, when they learned the geography of South America, it became “Santiago.” I loved having nicknames, but I think the reason for my AKAs was that no one really knew what to do with a Shanti.

“My name means peace in Sanskrit.”

-Sand Crit?

“No, Sanskrit, it’s an old language from India.”

-Oh, ok…

These days, living in Berkeley, CA, I get a different response to my name.

-Oh wow, Shanti – peace – that’s nice. Did you give that name to yourself?

“Nope, but my mom is a yoga teacher.”

She used to have posters of Shiva and Kali in our house when I was a kid. I was afraid they would scare my Christian friends, and she let me take them down one year for my birthday party. Our home was definitely an oddity in our town.

In the inevitably blurry intersection between yoga households and alternative households, an entire generation of young neo-flower children were raised on yogic principles. Our parents were some of the original western yogis and yoginis, practicing on quilts in living rooms, on the beach, at the parks where we played, or even in the yards of our preschools.

It is hard to say where the line between a yoga household and an alternative household is drawn. I interviewed several other children of such homes and we all had unclear ideas about how far yoga’s influence extended. Since yoga spans so much more than the activities on the mat (or quilts, for those who were with practicing before the advent of the sticky mat), it seems that yoga permeated every aspect of our home with transformative power.

For example, in a culture ruled by Hi-C and Oreo cookies, the cuisine in our homes was in a category all its own. I will admit that after many a day on the lunch yard in first grade, I eventually realized that my seaweed and tempeh rolls were not accepted as viable trading tools for my peers’ white bread PB&Js. I interviewed Matt, a late twenties sustainable landscaper who also grew up with a yoga teacher mother. He said he has her to thank for his family’s conversion to vegetarianism in his high school years, a lifestyle that he continues to follow to this day.

I also interviewed Shoshanah, a Canadian woman whose father was an Ashtanga practitioner and teacher. She recounted a memory of being told to “breathe” during her fits of anger with her dad. She would protest, “I AM breathing! Otherwise I’d be dead!” I, too, remember being coached through my tantrums by way of pranayama, or yogic breathing, as a six-year-old. So infuriated by my parents’ attempts to calm me, I would continue crying just to prove that I was, in fact, too mad to let it pass through breath. Nevertheless, even in my fury, the sobs would wear down and I was aware that what I felt was just pride, an emotion I would soon learn to call my “ego.” None of the other third graders understood when I tried to talk about it in school. They also didn’t understand when I would yell “karma!” if they would steal my toy and then hurt themselves playing with it.

Yosefa, an Israeli whose American parents moved to Israel before she was born, tells me of her mother’s journey as a yogi-feminist in the late seventies and early eighties as she discovered Our Bodies, Ourselves and the paperback Integral Yoga Hatha guide by Sri Swami Satchidananda. She would take Yosefa to the Mickey Mouse park on the corner where the group of formerly reclusive home-moms would congregate for their weekly yoga session, as regular as their assertiveness training workshops. Yosefa especially liked it when the mothers would put the quilts on their living room floor. “How fun,” she thought, “Mommy is getting our blankets all dirty.”

Asanas, or poses, were constant opportunities to engage our parents in our down-on-the-ground play. I have fond memories of turning my mother’s plank pose into an opportunity to sit on her back (for her own benefit, of course), of making forts from her yoga props, and of willing my body to stand up straight and tall and still like a tree. As young kids, we are so often the epitome of good yogis: strong and flexible, living in the moment, open-hearted and always up for a challenge. However, few children of yogis seem to have taken class with our yoga teacher parents until we were much older.

I was 16 or 17 years old when I regularly started attending yoga classes outside of the home. The first twenty yoga instructors I took classes from were subjected to my judgments and standards based on how I was first taught as a child. As a teenager, to remain humble enough to attend one’s own mother’s class and open enough to being corrected by her was a challenge. I found that only by starting to take other teachers’ classes outside of the home could I truly appreciate what my mother had to offer me. When I did, yoga became a rite of passage that was unparalleled by any other in my life. It became a bridge between the vast new field of spirituality and the familiar physical plane, both of which were becoming more noticeable to me as I began to approach adulthood.

The most transformative and useful teachings of yoga imparted to me by my yogini mother are spiritual principles based in nature: loving kindness, humility, peacefulness (this one was destiny with a name like mine) and non-attachment. These teachings helped my parents to raise me, and now they help me raise myself. Like all of the children of yogis I have talked to, I have a deep sense of interconnectedness in the world, a basis for spirituality, and a sense of being a part of a natural whole.

I dedicate this article to my mother, a yoga practitioner and a woman who truly understands the meaning of seva, selfless service.