Mallika Chopra On Helping Kids Cope With Anxiety & The Power Of Silence

Photo: MaaHoo Studio

This week, we’re introducing (Mostly) Mindful Parenting, real talk with leading experts and parents on how they navigate the beautiful, messy work of raising a family. Follow along! 

An accomplished entrepreneur, author, and mother, Mallika Chopra has been educating friends, parents, and families about the importance of meditation since her own father, Deepak Chopra, taught her at the age of 9. I spoke to her about the power of silence, learning to slow down as a kid, setting intentions as a family, and her new book Just Breathe, which makes mindfulness fun and approachable for kids—and their parents.

You learned meditation at a pretty young age. What did it do for you then?

Meditation for us was a family discovery. My earliest memories of childhood are of my parents pretty stressed out. My dad, Deepak Chopra, used to work 24/7 and was going through his own midlife crisis: He drank a lot, smoked, and barely slept. When he discovered meditation when I was 9, it was transformational for him. Overnight he quit drinking, quit smoking, and shifted his lifestyle. My mom learned to meditate at that time as well, and they were happier. Our family life was much sweeter. My dad was more present. My brother and I learned at the same time, so it was this transformation as a family of connecting more—we became a happier and healthier family.

Meditation was the greatest gift my parents gave me—it allowed me to calm down and to find more quiet, but more importantly, it helped anchor me in who I was, despite all the craziness we go through at that age.

How did you learn? How can we get our own kids to discover meditation and mindfulness?

I'm a big believer that parents should discover their own practice and lead by example. If parents have their own practice, kids are watching and experiencing that as well.

That said, when I learned, I learned walking meditation first, then sitting meditation. It evolved, starting with five minutes, then adding one minute each year so it was very palatable. My parents never forced my brother and me to meditate. But when we came home from school each day, my mom had her meditation practice, so it was a really nice way to be with our mom and connect.

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What does meditation look like? Do you have to be in a chair with your eyes shut?

No. Mindfulness is also walking quietly, eating a meal and appreciating things, and gratitude exercises. It's practicing ways of being mindful, intentional, grateful.

What has a mindfulness practice done for your kids?

What I see in my kids is the power of exercises like pausing and breathing. Stop, take three breaths, observe what's happening in the body. It's the simple, practical exercises in the moment. One of my daughters has a lot of test anxiety, so we do an exercise about taking a deep breath and setting intention and confidence.

Why are mindfulness practices so important for kids these days?

I think kids are overstimulated, and we don't honor silence in our community that much in this modern-day world. If we're not able to rest and decompress, our body and brain gets used to that response being activated more. And it accelerates as social media becomes a part of their life, and they're constantly comparing themselves to the lives of their friends, which of course are manufactured as well. Over time there's a loss of a sense of who am I?

These techniques help them reconnect with themselves.

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How has your personal meditation practice evolved?

I'm 47 now, and I've been meditating for decades now. So I've been through many phases with it.

I've been an irregular meditator throughout my life, though. I was five months pregnant on 9/11, and that was a very pivotal time for me in thinking about how I wanted to serve as a mother. That began my journey of self-discovery, which came out of fear and anxiety and thoughts like, "Why am I bringing this beautiful soul into a world that has a lot of pain and suffering?" During pregnancy and early toddler-hood days, I wasn't teaching my kids meditation. It was a practice that I used just for myself. Then, as my kids grew older, I lost my personal meditation practice for several years and just about four to five years ago really recommitted to it, and it was transformational.

Now my practices are my anchors; without them, I think I'd go crazy.

Having been through my own phases, though, I want parents to know that at some stages, you just don't have the time. Let go of the guilt and find the practices that work for you. Sometimes as a parent, you just need to pause and take a deep breath at the end of those crazy days when your kids are throwing tantrums; that can create a shift. Or setting an intention as a parent about how you want to spend the day with your child can create an anchor for the day. But don't feel guilty if you can't sit quietly today—it's OK. The whole point of this is to lead a more peaceful and joyful life, so approach it with that attitude.

Why are intentions an important piece of mindfulness practices?

When we were young, my father would often ask us these questions after meditation practice:

Who am I?

What do I want?

How can I serve?

What am I grateful for?

A big part of that was to set the intention about who we aspire to be. Intentions come from our soul and are very different from goals, which come from the mind. So in my family and with my kids, we've always set intentions. Recently we set our intentions for the school year ahead.

What is the practice that, if you could, you would get every family doing every day?

A gratitude exercise, because it gives perspective on a very stressful world. When we can take a deep breath and be grateful for what we have today, it takes us away from personal drama to make you feel open and empathetic to the world.

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