Yama Niyama & the Red Pajama Mama — Part 1: The Yamas

Welcome to the July Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Philosophy

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared their parenting practices and how they fit in with their parenting purpose. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.



I’ve been spinning my gears on what to write for the topic of Parenting Philosophy for the Carnival of Natural Parenting this month. I asked myself, “Self, do I identify with Attachment Parenting? Gentle Discipline? Consensual Living? Natural Parenting? Can I narrow it down?”

My Self answered, “YES.”

“Well, that’s absolutely unhelpful. I’m trying to write here,” I thought back.

My Self replied, “Exactly, you’re trying to write something to fit into the neat little box that you think will fit in well for CarNatPar. That’s not how you define parenting. Remember Patanajali said…blah, blah, blah, ancient texts…blah.”

Me: “Hey, wait a minute. I remember this part about behavior and personal practices. The Yamas and Niyamas. I use these every day. Let’s blow the dust off these ancient words, shall we?”

Yes, the Yoga Sutras are ancient. They were also written by men for men. But, these men (except those who chose the ascetic path) had to live in the world, bumping against other people with their own ideas and will. The Yoga Sutras laid down for the ancient Yogis how to increase joy and enrich their own lives as well as those around them. I can’t think of a better philosophy of parenting than this one.

Living a Yogic lifestyle, as I do, means adhering to its central principles—for the most part. Like the asanas, or postures that you see in a yoga class, they promote flexibility and strength — in spirit and mind. These principles are a framework that can be integrated into an already existing spiritual or other belief system. They can be seen as spiritual, religious, or not. And as with all Yoga, one of the core concepts is be open to trying it all with a whole heart, discarding what doesn’t serve you and distilling the rest to be the most genuine version of yourself that you can be. Replace the Sanskrit words with whatever has meaning. Emphasize what has resonance. Use what meets the needs for increasing enjoyment and connection within a family.

This post is in two sections, Part 1: The Yamas is here at Natural Parents Network. It continues at TouchstoneZ with Part 2: The Niyamas, where you can find out how the Red Pajamas fit in to this practice.

The Yamas: The Yamas are practices of self-restraint and self-control

Ahimsa: Non-harming or Non-Violence

I hold ahimsa to be my overriding principle. A priori to everything else, I consider whether what I am saying or doing will cause harm. As long as I hold nonviolence in my heart, parenting comes from love and connection. I stay connected to and observe my needs and the needs of my children.

Ahimsa is intertwined with the concepts of the parenting styles I mentioned above: gentle discipline, attachment parenting, consensual living, natural family living, etc. We honor the needs of each individual in a family while simultaneously upholding the overall needs of the family as a unit. For example, co-sleeping meets the needs of my breastfeeding children and myself. But, trying to fit all 5 of us in the bed together at night has led to sleep deprivation for my husband and me as we’re crammed to the edges. So, we split up into separate beds. Usually my older boys sleep with my husband, while I am in bed with my youngest. This was a way to honor everyone’s individual needs peacefully and serve the overall family need of parents who get a good night’s sleep.

Ahimsa tattoo in English and Sanskrit

I believe in Ahimsa so fully that I have it tattooed in English and Sanskrit on my forearm as a constant, comforting reminder.

Explaining the concept of nonharming and nonviolence to children can be challenging. It’s easy for me to fall into the trap of making pronouncements, warning or lecturing. As with all parenting, modeling the behavior I wish to cultivate is the most effective tool I’ve found. I may let things go in the moment and look for a way to model the behavior later and draw attention to it. We also read books together, like Namaste, that reinforce the idea of caring for and not harming one another.

Satya: real, genuine and truthful

I speak my truth and try to be the most genuine parent I can be. In order to do this, I have to stay fully present and be in the moment. For example, it’s not truthful that my children are annoyingly dragging their feet to get to an appointment. It is true that they are acting age appropriately about transitions, especially transitions that take us outside of the house. They need patience and support as they move their focus through all of the tasks to leave the house. It is true that my needs for punctuality and peace are not being met. Finding this truth, I can then speak to our needs playfully and patiently.

Also, I do my best to model truthfulness for my kids. I acknowledge when I make mistakes, such as when I yell instead of using kind words when we’re heading out. I always make sure that telling the truth is not met with punishment, lecturing or criticism. We can discuss behavior at a later time when it can be neutral and loving. They know they are loved unconditionally no matter what. We read books together, such as Mama, Do You Love Me? and they enjoy acting out this book, including telling the truth about outrageous antics, and asking if I still love them.

Asteya: Non-stealing or non-misappropriating

This is a big one with toddlers, isn’t it? We can talk about sharing and taking turns, but it really doesn’t make any sense developmentally until they’re preschoolers or often older. Taking someone else’s toy that you want can be more rewarding than waiting for it. Sharing doesn’t feel fair. And having an adult make you share certainly does nothing to encourage intrinsic motivation to share. My kids and I talk about sharing and turn taking. We read books like this one that engender more discussion and show various situations. I model sharing and taking turns for them. And I assist my children to work together for a solution. Even my toddler comes up with creative solutions that I never would have thought of. Sometimes, I do intervene if another child’s boundaries are being stomped on even with these strategies, but I explain what I am doing and give empathy the entire time.

Most of all, I give patience and compassion. And I acknowledge their generosity whenever they give it freely, which is more often than not when an adult isn’t intervening all the time to enforce sharing.

Bramacharya: continence or moderation of physical passions, respect for the body

I model a positive outlook for my body and others. I don’t diminish what I would like to change (truthfulness, remember?), but I don’t dwell on those areas. I also speak to my children about respect for their bodies and the bodies of others. They know there is no shame associated with any body part, but that certain areas of the body are shown only in private. We talk about appropriate touch. They understand that they have the right to give or withhold permission when it comes to another person touching them. And, of course that they can tell us the truth about anyone who asks to touch them.

We have used this anatomically correct puzzle as a talking point for respect for the body and this series of books for moderating behavior in a gentle manner. We talk about, prepare, and eat healthy “growing” food. We talk about and practice exercising and getting enough sleep. And we discuss what it means to have joy in the body. To move. To dance. To laugh.

Aparigrahah: without material possessions, non-hoarding

This is one that we are often working on these days. My husband and I tend to accumulate. We both leave clutter wherever we are. While we attempt to live mindfully, this is a pattern we struggle with. Currently, I am doing personal work to uncover the reasons why I clutter and why I have such resistance to getting rid of things. I wouldn’t call this one a parenting fail, but it is definitely a work in progress to model simple living for the kids.

Another interpretation for Aparigrahah is understanding and valuing how to care for the earth. For this, I think I am doing well as a parent. My sons and I read a lot of books about the environment and what we can do to care for the earth. Since they are also into Pirates, they enjoy this series. The kids are active in raising our own food and understanding where the food we buy comes from and where our waste goes when we are finished with it.

Please visit TouchstoneZ to read the rest of my parenting philosophy in Part 2: the Niyamas and find out about how I work my Red Pajamas.

Resources that inspired this parenting philosophy post:


Websites and Blogs:


Zoie is a hippy mama to three boys on earth and one girl who soars. She waggles her toes near the San Francisco Bay and wiggles her fingers at TouchstoneZ: Gentle Parenting and Mindful Living off the Mat. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Between Love and Fear: On Raising our Children Sensibly — Mamma Earthly at Give an Earthly discusses the fear factor in parenting and how she overcame it, despite societal pressures.
  • really, when do i get my cape? — Sarah at small bird on fire is a working city mama trying to learn how to set aside her expectations of perfection and embrace the reality of modern parenting.
  • Baby, Infant, and Toddler Wearing — Child wearing is part of Sarah at Nourished and Nurtured‘s parenting philosophy. In this post, Sarah describes benefits of child-wearing and gives tips for wearing babies, infants, and toddlers (even while pregnant).
  • First Year Reflections — As her daughter’s first birthday approaches, Holly at First Year Reflections reflects on how she and her husband settled into attachment parenting after initially doing what they thought everyone else did.
  • Making an allowance — Lauren at Hobo Mama welcomes a guest post from Sam about the unexpected lessons giving a four-year-old an allowance teaches the child — and the parent.
  • How to be a Lazy Parent and Still Raise Great Kids — Lisa at Granola Catholic talks about how being a Lazy Parent has helped her to raise Great Kids.
  • Philosophy in Practice — Laura at A Pug in the Kitchen shares how her heart shaped the parenting philosophy in her home.
  • What is Attachment Parenting Anyway? — Gaby at Tmuffin describes the challenges of putting a label on her parenting philosophy.
  • Of Parenting Styles — Jenny at Chronicles of a Nursing Mom talks about how she and her husband tailored various parenting styles to fit their own preferred parenting philosophy.
  • Moment by Moment Parenting — Amy at Peace 4 Parents encourages those who care for children (including herself) to explore and appreciate parenting moment-by-moment with clarity, intention, trust, and action.
  • Maintaining Spirituality in the Midst of Everyday Parenting, Marriage, and Life — Sarah at Nourished and Nurtured shares her perspective on finding opportunities for spiritual growth in every day life.
  • Parenting Philosophy — Lily, aka Witch Mom’s parenting philosophy is to raise child(ren) to be compassionate, loving, inquisitive, and questioning adults who can be trusted to make decisions for themselves in a way that avoids harming others.
  • Long Term — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis thinks about who she would like to see her daughter become — and what she can do now to lay a strong foundation for those hopes.
  • Connection, Communication, Compassion — She’s come a long way, baby! After dropping her career in favour of motherhood, Patti at Jazzy Mama discovered that building solid relationships was going to be her only parenting priority.
  • My Parenting Inspirations – Part 4 — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at her biggest parenting inspiration and how that translates into her long-term parenting philosophy.
  • A Parenting Philosophy in One Word: Respect — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction summarizes her parenting and relationship philosophy in one word: respect.
  • Knowledge and Instinct — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment believes that knowledge and instinct are super important … as are love, encouragement and respect. It’s the ideal combo needed to raise happy and healthy children and in turn create meaningful relationships with them.
  • THRIVE!The Sparkle Mama wants to set a tone of confidence, abundance, and happiness in her home that will be the foundation for the rest of her daughter’s life.
  • On Children — “Your children are not your children,” say Kahlil Gibran and Hannah at Wild Parenting.
  • This One Life Together — Ariadne aka Mudpiemama shares her philosophy of parenting: living fully in the here and now and building the foundation for a happy and healthy life.
  • Enjoying life and planning for a bright future — Olivia at Write About Birth shares her most important parenting dilemmas and pours out her heart about past trauma and how healing made her a better parent.
  • My Parenting Philosophy: Unconditional and Natural Love — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about her parenting philosophy from a year of following her instincts as a mama.
  • An open letter to my children — Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine writes an open letter to her children.
  • My Starter Kit for Unconditional Parenting — Sylvia at MaMammalia discusses her wish to raise a good person and summarizes some of the nontraditional practices she’s using with her toddler son in order to fulfill that wish.
  • Responsiveness — Sheila at A Gift Universe has many philosophies and goals, but what it all boils down to is responsiveness: listening to what her son wants and providing what he needs.
  • Tools for Creating Your Parenting Philosophy — Have you ever really thought about your parenting purpose? Knowing your long-term goals can help you parent with more intent in your daily interactions. Dionna at Code Name: Mama offers exercises and ideas to help you create your own parenting philosophy.
  • Be a Daisy — Becky at Old New Legacy philosophizes about individuality and how she thinks it’s important for her daughter’s growth.
  • What’s a Mama to Do? — Amyables at Toddler in Tow hopes that her dedication to compassionate parenting will keep her children from becoming too self-critical as adults.
  • grown-up anxieties. — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life explains her lone worry concerning her babies growing up.
  • Why I Used Montessori Principles in My Parenting Philosophy — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells why she chose Montessori principles to help her now-adult children develop qualities she wanted to see in them as children and adults.
  • Parenting Philosophies & Planning for the FutureMomma Jorje considers that the future is maybe just a fringe benefit of doing what feels right now.
  • Not Just Getting Through — Rachael at The Variegated Life asks what truths she hopes to express even in the most commonplace interactions with her son.
  • Parenting Philosophy? Eh… — Ana at Pandamoly shares the philosophy (or lack thereof) being employed to (hopefully) raise a respectful, loving, and responsible child.
  • Parenting Philosophy: Being Present — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses the changes her family has made to accommodate their parenting philosophy and to reflect their ideals as working parents.
  • Who They Will Be — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro shares a short list of some qualities she hopes she is instilling in her children at this very moment.
  • Short Term vs. Long Term — Sheryl at Little Snowflakes recounts how long term parenting goals often get lost in the details of everyday life with two kids.
  • Parenting Philosophy: Practicing and Nurturing Peace — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle sets personal goals for developing greater peace.
  • Yama Niyama & the Red Pajama Mama — Part 1: The Yamas — In part 1 of a set of posts by Zoie at TouchstoneZ, Zoie guest posts at Natural Parents Network about how the Yoga Sutras provide a framework for her parenting philosophy.
  • Yama Niyama & the Red Pajama Mama — Part 2: The Niyamas — In part 2 of a set of posts by Zoie at TouchstoneZ, Zoie explores how the Niyamas (one of the eight limbs in traditional Yoga) help her maintain her parenting and life focus.
  • Our Sample Parenting Plan — Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey shares hopes of who her children will become and parenting strategies she employs to get them there.
  • Philosophical Parenting: Letting Go — Jona at Life, Intertwined ponders the notion that there’s no right answer when it comes to parenting.
  • Unphilosophizing? — jessica at instead of institutions wonders about the usefulness of navel gazing.
  • Parenting Sensitively — Amy at Anktangle uses her sensitivity to mother her child in ways that both nurture and affirm.
  • how to nurture your relationships — Mrs Green at Little Green Blog believes that sometimes all kids need is a jolly good listening to …
  • Philosophy Of An Unnatural Parent — Dr. Sarah at Good Enough Mum sees parenting as a process of guiding her children to develop the skills they’ll need.
  • Life with a Challenging Kid: Hidden Blessings — Wendy at High Needs Attachment shares the challenges and joys of raising a high needs child.
  • Flying by the Seat of My Pants — Heather at Very Nearly Hippy has realized that she has no idea what she’s doing.

8 Responses to Yama Niyama & the Red Pajama Mama — Part 1: The Yamas

  1. Kelly  

    As always, feeling so blessed to be able to learn from your wisdom Zoie!

    I really appreciate all the explanations you’ve given here – I don’t know much about what it means to have a Yogic lifestyle so it’s really helpful to have it laid out so clearly – and I can very much see the value in these practices.

    As I’ve been reading more from you over the months the idea of non-harming has been something I’ve been thinking about a lot – it comes through in so much of what you write, and I would like to be in that place (or at least making more effort to move towards it) myself – of course, you’ve given me so much more to think about here!

    Thanks for the resource share as well – my list of books to buy is getting bigger every day, but I love the recommendations. 🙂

  2. Dionna  

    Excellent points about being truthful about children and their age appropriate behavior vs. how we sometimes see that behavior. The way you’ve connected it to your needs is so in tune with Nonviolent Communication principles! (I’m re-reading NVC now to prepare for a book discussion.)

  3. Jenn @ Monkey Butt Junction  

    Beautiful, inspiring post. I love your insight on why children things like drag their feet – we have to remember to step into their shoes now and again and that example is a wonderful reminder of why we need to be present in the moment with them.

  4. Amy R.

    Thank you for this beautiful post, Zoie! I love that you have ahmisa tattooed on your arm; it is probably the most important principle I follow in my life, too. Reading this is inspiring me to (once again) be more intentional about my yoga/meditation practice. =)

  5. Wendy

    Very insightful and inspiring, especially after a difficult morning with my preschooler.

  6. Jona  

    What a fascinating translation of these principles to parenting – and I love the book suggestions, too. I’m feeling inspired now, both in a mindful parenting sort of way, and in a get-back-to-yoga kind of way. (off to read the rest now!)

  7. Carrie

    What a captivating and beautiful post you’ve shared. What I think is especially powerful is that you are modeling these principles to your children as you are living them. I especially enjoyed the links to the resources that you find helpful, including the children’s books. Thank you!

  8. isis8star  

    This blog is just wonderful. I am not a parent but I am a teacher and am thinking up creative ways to teach children yoga and specifically the philosophy via the yams and niyams and you have worded everything so honestly and thoughtfully… What a thought-provoking blog; I shall return again and again! Namaste sistar!