True, Mallika Chopra does have a famous father—mind-body expert Deepak Chopra, M.D. But she’s become an expert in her own right on practices from the ancient Indian tradition of Ayurveda that her parents taught her as she was growing up.
She’s written several self-help books for children and adults and is the CEO of a holistic healthcare company based on her father’s teachings that addresses the intersection of science and Spirit. Chopra also teaches workshops on meditation and holistic healing worldwide.
Here, she talks with Unity Magazine editor Katy Koontz about fighting overwhelm and achieving balance—for both ourselves and the children in our lives.
Katy Koontz: You’ve written many children’s books, most of them designed to help kids develop resiliency, among other qualities. What determines whether a child learns to be resilient or becomes increasingly fragile in the face of the world’s challenges?
Mallika Chopra: I think every generation feels they’re living in challenging times, but it does seem a bit more intense right now with all the economic hardship, environmental concerns, divisive politics, social justice issues, and so on. Our kids are growing up in a world where everything moves hyper-fast and where they’re hyper-connected through electronics.
I think resilience is the key word these days, but what I’ve tried to focus on for children is a sense of connection—first to their bodies, their feelings, their voice, and who they really are, and then to other people, the environment, the planet, and Spirit. When they are connected, they can build qualities like resilience because they’re able to make more intentional choices, to self-regulate more, to resist the natural fight-or-flight response.
KK: What keeps kids from feeling connected?
MC: We’re living in a world that’s overstimulated. Many of our kids, even at young ages, are constantly stimulated through games on a tablet and then, as they get older, through social media. So they are not really giving their brains and bodies the rest they need to just grow and develop. Also, they’re living in AI [artificial intelligence] worlds now in gaming, and that makes it really difficult for them to feel connected to themselves.
We need to help kids with tools that have lasted for thousands of years like meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, and movement. We also need to give them more free time to play, to be creative, because most kids today are constantly on a schedule.
I actually don’t think technology and everything that comes with it is negative. I think it’s just another tool, and the adults guiding our children must teach them the balance of how to use those tools appropriately, for the kids’ best health and development.
KK: What is your best advice for parents in raising children with consciousness?
MC: Don’t worry about your kids; worry about yourself, because our kids are always watching us. We’re role models for them. So don’t worry about your kids being on screens all the time if you’re on your phone constantly. I really do believe the key to good parenting is learning to be present, intentional, kind, loving, and considerate ourselves—and to model gratitude and service.
KK: You have two daughters, Tara and Leela, who are both young adults now. Do they meditate regularly?
MC: Yes, both of my daughters do meditate, but I wouldn’t say they’re regular meditators. I am a big believer in never forcing your children to meditate. My parents never forced my brother and me to meditate; we watched them in their practice and saw that it made them happier and healthier—and just more fun to be around. So that encouraged us in our practice as well.
My girls learned how to meditate from my father when they were around 5 years old. He gave them their mantras, a special sound. They’ve also watched me meditate regularly (well, on and off, I will admit), and I always give them the opportunity to meditate with me. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t, and that’s absolutely okay with me.
I believe that if we give kids tools, they’ll find what works for them. Sometimes they’ll discover those tools later on in life, or they’ll have a memory of an experience that will bring them back to the practice.
KK: I think that’s true for adults too. Discipline is not a bad thing, but when you force yourself to do something for the wrong reasons, it can have negative repercussions.
MC: I’ve been meditating for more than 40 years now, and I’ve gone through phases where I do it twice a day, once a day, and then there have been years where I haven’t done it at all. I keep very flexible and open about it.
KK: Those times when you didn’t meditate regularly, what kept you from it?
MC: It was always when things were too busy, when I was feeling overwhelmed. Especially when your kids are younger, it’s hard to find the time to meditate and to exercise and to do yoga and all the things you know are healthy for you. Life is messy. It gets in the way. I find that I get off track, and then there’s a meltdown moment where I’m not feeling well or I just realize I’m too stressed or I’ve eaten too much sugar. Then I think, Okay, I need to make a change. And then I get back into the practice.
KK: Is there a sweet spot for how many minutes to meditate?
MC: When we teach primordial sound meditation, the traditional Vedic mantra meditation, through Chopra Center, the recommendation is 20 to 30 minutes in the morning and 20 to 30 minutes in the afternoon. I will admit, I don’t think I’ve done that for 20 years. I try to find 20 minutes or so once a day for my practice. Habit and consistency definitely help. I’m at a stage in my life where I’m yearning for my meditation by the midafternoon, and if I miss it, then I feel like I haven’t brushed my teeth or something.
KK: Is it possible to meditate for shorter periods of time if you don’t have half an hour?
MC: It often takes five minutes for the body to just settle down, and so extending meditation to at least 10 or 15 minutes is best. That being said, different tools or practices make sense for different people. Sometimes it may be more helpful to just go for a quiet, mindful walk.
KK: You’ve said that your dad didn’t start meditating until you were about 9 years old, and then he taught your mom and then you and your younger brother to meditate. What was your reaction to that?
MC: Before he started meditating, my father was quite stressed. He was a doctor, and he was also moonlighting. But once he started meditating, there was this dramatic shift in our family life because he quit drinking and smoking and he was around more. He’d pay more attention to my brother and me. Then we noticed that our parents’ relationship was getting better. It was such a wonderful shift that it encouraged us to join our parents in their meditation practice. So it was a very positive family experience.
KK: Is your mother still a dedicated meditator?
MC: Absolutely—she does her meditation twice a day. While I was growing up, she would very strategically do her afternoon meditation after we were home from school. Meditating with her became a constant for us. We loved it because it felt like such a safe, sweet space. And she’s also done that with her grandchildren, with my daughters and my nephew.
They always know that in the afternoon after her tea, she’s going to meditate, and she’ll ask them to meditate with her. While they’ll say no to me or to my sister-in-law, they’ll always meditate with their grandmother.
KK: You’ve written about suffering from burnout earlier in your career and how your father helped you with something you refer to as a balance wheel. What is that and how does it work?
MC: It’s an exercise I’ve included in my book Living with Intent [Harmony, 2015] based on the work of Dan Siegel, M.D. When I reached this burnout point, I turned to my dad, which is something I normally didn’t do. In my family, we usually went to my mom for advice, believe it or not, but this time I went to my dad. He walked me through Siegel’s work, and then we drew a balance wheel in which we looked at different aspects of life and asked questions about my personal health and wellness.
It began with me asking myself, Do I sleep enough? Do I feel rested? Am I eating healthy, nutritious foods? Am I moving my body enough? After considering the physical, I moved on to ask myself questions such as, Do I like what I do every day? Do I feel financially secure? Am I connected to my family and to my friends? Do I laugh enough? Do I have enough creative outlets in my life? Do I feel connected to Spirit?
Then I rated them, on a scale of 1 to 10, based on whether I was suffering, surviving, or thriving in these areas. And then I chose one area and set an intention for how I would address it. In the burnout state, it all felt overwhelming, and I didn’t even know where to start. But when I did the balance wheel exercise, I realized, Oh my God, I don’t have any creative outlets anymore, and I’m feeling disconnected from my friends.
Those were insights and also things I felt I could manage. So I started reading novels again and formed a book club with my friends so we could discuss them. That became one very simple thing I could do that actually addressed two insights, and it ended up having quite an impact on my overall well-being.
We need to help kids with tools that have lasted for thousands of years like meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, and movement.
KK: You’ve said that, for you, meditation has been a tool for self-discovery and exploration more than a tool for stress management, which I think so many people use it for. Can you comment on the difference?
MC: In the West, especially over the past 10 to 15 years with all the research on the benefits of meditation, we’ve started to approach meditation as if it’s a tool for self-regulation. But ultimately this practice comes from very rich wisdom traditions. The sages who were meditating in caves in the Himalayas or in Israel or the shamans in Native American traditions were not stressed but trying to discover more about themselves, the universe, and their connection to Spirit. So it’s always important to remember that these are spiritual practices.
For me it’s been very important to feel that connection to myself, to a larger consciousness, or to the universe because that gives me a feeling of security and real confidence. It makes me feel I’m a part of something bigger. When you experience that on a regular basis, it helps you to approach life from a more grounded perspective, both physically and spiritually.
KK: You are the CEO of Chopra Global, an integrative health company based on your father’s teachings. How do you think mind-body medicine can help address our current healthcare crisis?
MC: At Chopra Global, I’m supporting the pioneering work my dad has done for the past 30 years focusing on the mind-body connection. We provide tools for people to understand their unique body types, to know the food or exercise that suits them best, and to incorporate healthy habits, meditation, and yoga into their lives—basically supporting their holistic well-being.
Of course, whenever you’re in a medical crisis, Western medicine is always critical, but I think we can learn a lot from these wisdom traditions that teach us about different practices, different ingredients and foods, and different ways of moving that make us feel healthier, happier, and more connected.
KK: Do you think more people are becoming open to mind-body medicine or are we going the other way?
MC: I definitely think there’s been a major shift in understanding and accepting the connection between body and mind. Science is validating a lot of the benefits of the practices we teach. But there’s still a long way to go. When my dad started talking about meditation and the mind-body connection three decades ago, he was considered a “witch doctor.” But then the Western science research paradigm caught up. Now science sees the benefits of much of this information, even though people have been feeling the benefits for thousands of years. Frankly, that’s why the practices have lasted so long—because they work.
KK: One of the tools you teach is Ayurveda. Most people know that this ancient practice from India starts with figuring out your dosha, or body type, to discover what kinds of foods are best for you. But it’s much more complex than that. Can you comment?
MC: Each of the three doshas has a different natural body type. People with more lean bodies tend to be vata. Those whose body types are heavier are kapha, and those in-between tend to be pitta. Most people are actually a combination of two or three doshas. It’s important to remember that one body type isn’t necessarily better than another. It’s just different.
For example, kapha types need more stimulation in the morning to wake up, and vata types are always on the move so they need more of an anchoring tea in the evening to help them wind down so they can sleep.
But there’s more to it than that. I would say these are actual body-mind types. Your dosha is a kind of blueprint that describes your personality and your strengths and weaknesses. So, yes, it is very complex, but our goal is to keep it simple and practical.
Ayurveda is a holistic approach to life. More than just finding which foods best suit you, the tradition incorporates various practices like movement and meditation, and it addresses sleep time and creative outlets. It helps you find a holistic balance with a menu of ideas that can help you live better. So it’s very practical, but it’s based on thousands of years of science from India and other traditions.
Mallika Chopra is the CEO of Chopra Global, a media entrepreneur, a public speaker, and the author of several books on mindfulness, meditation, and self-reflection for children. Her newest children’s book is Buddha and the Rose (Running Press Kids, 2022). She also writes books for adults, including Living with Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace, and Joy(Harmony, 2015). Visit chopra.com.
This article appeared in Unity Magazine®.