To say this is a stressful time is an understatement. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a racial reckoning that’s both gut-wrenching and long overdue. Enter: Dr. Deepak Chopra, the Oprah-approved physician and wellness expert, and his daughter Mallika Chopra, a meditation expert who recently published the book, Just Feel: How to Be Stronger, Happier, Healthier and More. On a recent episode of the hit family podcast, Mom Brain, co-hosted by Hilaria Baldwin and Daphne Oz, the Chopras address why a meditation and mindfulness practice is essential during times like these. Here, they shed light on the value of this habit—and how to get your kids involved, too.
1. Mindfulness Is About Presence, Not Positivity
Hilaria Baldwin: How do we tell people where to begin with a mindfulness and gratitude practice?
Dr. Deepak Chopra: One concept people need to get rid of all together is that a positive mind is a healthy mind. A positive mind can be a very turbulent mind, if you’re constantly trying to be positive, then you’re a very stressed person. So, this whole idea that I have to be happy, happy, happy has caused a misconception about mindfulness and meditation and yoga. You don’t need a positive mind; you need a quiet mind. In that silent mind is all the creativity in the world. Creativity does not come from your mind; it comes from your soul. The mind can never be peaceful because the mind is not at peace. There’s no such thing as ‘peace of mind.’ As soon as you introduce the mind, you destroy peace.
Mallika Chopra: In my book, Just Feel, which is for eight-year-olds, but very helpful for parents as well, the idea I try to impress is that all feelings are normal and natural. We have fear, we have worry, we have anxiety. These days, we have a lot of sadness and loneliness and anger and grief. All of which is completely normal and natural and part of being human. Even as parents, it’s important for us to share with our kids that we, too, feel sad, angry and frustrated. You also should try not to stress to our kids that you always have to be happy. I do think one of the misconceptions is that we’re always trying to be happy and positive because if we repress that anger or that sadness or that fear, it will manifest in our body in other ways.
The second thing I hear all the time is: Oh, I’m new to this. I can’t meditate because my mind can’t empty itself of thoughts. Again, breaking it down for eight-year-olds, mindfulness is just being aware of your thoughts, your body and what’s happening around you. Meditation is a way to quiet your mind. Sometimes we do that through breath or a meditation practice and then we have things like yoga, which is moving our body and feeling more connected to our thoughts and our environment. It’s a way to introduce your kids to contemplation—and it may come in bits and pieces. Some days, they may, just like us, have a great experience in that one-minute meditation or mindful walk or deep breathing. Other days, they may feel frustrated and angry at not being able to settle down. But that’s the point. This isn’t a goal-oriented practice.
Let’s just do a really simple practice right now. It’s around the acronym STOP. So, S: Stop what you’re doing. T: Take three deep breaths. O: Observe what you’re feeling in your body after taking those breaths. Start with your feet, move up through your legs, your stomach, your heart, up through your neck, shoulders, up to the top of your head and the space above your head. And now, P: Proceed.
2. Mindfulness Is Crucial For Acceptance and Understanding
Daphne Oz: What makes mindfulness so important right now?
Dr. Chopra: I’m going to put this—the pandemic, the racism—in a broader context. I think what is going on in the world is grief. As a physician, and I’m sure any physician will tell you this, we see grief all the time. I used to work in an emergency room and sometimes I’d see a patient going through the entire process in one hour with a fatal heart attack. As soon as the patient knew that they were going to die, they would first feel victimized. Their first notion was always: Why me? Well, right now, it’s not just why me, it’s all of us. We’re all in the same existential crisis.
The second thing that would happen with patients is that they would get really angry and hostile. We’re seeing that right now. Anger and hostility is coming out because we’re grieving our way of living. That’s being threatened. The third stage will always be frustration. Then, people would feel helpless and then they would actually resign their helplessness to the imminence of death. But only one or two times would I see something different: Acceptance. This was not resignation, there was acceptance. As soon as there was acceptance, there was also peace.
3. How to Teach Meditation & Mindfulness to Your Kids
Oz: What are the ways that a practice of meditation could be useful in a time like this?
Dr. Chopra: Let’s look at pregnancy first. Somewhere after three months of pregnancy, but definitely by six months, babies start listening to your conversations. Maybe they don’t understand them, but the tone of your conversations is influencing the baby’s genetic and neural activity. If you are listening to music or reading poetry or dancing or laughing, then the baby will be having a good time. The genes that regulate homeostasis or self-regulation will be activated. On the other hand, if you are listening to an ambulance or siren or gunshots or anything that we’re watching on the news right now, the baby’s genes would be activated in the direction of inflammation or distress. Then, when the baby’s born, even without knowing why, the baby will hear those sounds—say, the ambulance—and start to feel anxiety and fear. The body responds with inflammation and a compromised immune system. So, the best thing you can do for your baby right now is to celebrate existence in every way that you can.
After the baby is born, for the first five years, please don’t try to say or lecture or give advice to your baby or even try to make them more mindful because the baby doesn’t listen to that. All the baby watches are the following things: Your eye movements, your facial expressions, the tone of your voice, your body language and your gestures. For example, are you truthful or not, are you comfortable or not, are you happy or not. It’s called mirroring of neurons. So, if you are stressed or if you are unhappy or you are fearful, it doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter how much you meditate or do yoga or deep breathing, the baby’s going to be fearful. All the baby needs up to five years is attention, which means deep listening, affection, caring, appreciation. It also means deep noticing of the baby’s strengths, qualities and beautiful natures and acceptance. Do not try to change their character because it’s unique.
After five years, you can tell your child: 'OK, let’s shut up for five minutes.’ And when she’s six, ‘let’s shut up for six minutes today.’ My daughter Mallika learned to meditate when she was nine without any pressure at all. It happens by itself because your children are yourself in disguise. They’re just wearing a different uniform. They’re mirrors of who you are. That’s the most important thing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. For more from Dr. Deepak Chopra and his daughter Mallika, listen to their recent appearance on our podcast, ‘Mom Brain,’ with Hilaria Baldwin and Daphne Oz and subscribe now.