In her opening keynote at the American Booksellers Association’s ABC Children’s Institute in New Orleans, Mallika Chopra — author, mother, media entrepreneur, and public speaker on wellness — emphasized the importance of giving children the tools they need to practice mindfulness and meditation on their own.
Her forthcoming children’s book, Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement, and More, illustrated by Brenna Vaughan (Running Press Kids, August 28), is an accessible and fun meditation and mindfulness how-to book filled with full-color illustrations for kids ages eight to 12. The text is also accompanied by a foreword from her father, New Age author, transcendental meditation expert, and alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra.
In her keynote on Wednesday, June 20, Mallika Chopra explained her book’s premise to the indie booksellers in the audience, whom she praised for bringing magic and wonder into the lives of families and kids.
“I feel like this book is a tool you can give to your kids but you can also read yourself, and then you can kind of make that journey together,” she told booksellers. “My goal is to make it really simple because I think people get overwhelmed by the idea of just breathing, and it’s not that complicated.”
Mallika Chopra was nine years old when her father, Deepak Chopra, walked into a meditation center and, for the first time, experienced a sense of “peace and quiet and lightness.” The change in her father changed her family’s life, she said, as she saw him go from a stressed-out, first-generation immigrant working around the clock and drinking just to sleep, to someone happier and more present in the lives of his wife and children. Deepak Chopra went on to spread the practice of transcendental meditation to his family, the Indian community in Boston, and, eventually, to the world. As children, Chopra said, she and her brother learned from their father how to live with a sense of intention.
“We were taught as kids to ask for the qualities in our life that would make us happier, healthier, more connected, and with purpose,” she said. “We were asked to think about, Who am I? What do I want, and how can I get it? I’m really grateful I grew up in that type of environment, and that sense of intention stayed with me through my life. So we need to remind [kids] that it’s really taking responsibility and it’s empowerment for creating what you want in your life and the qualities you want in your life. If we can share that with children, I think that’s a very valuable tool.”
Chopra went on to recount her “somewhat messy” journey to mindfulness and to living a life that aligned with her values; that journey featured different jobs, experiences, and plenty of “What am I doing?” moments, including helping bring MTV to India and a 9/11 scare involving her brother. But her life really changed for the better when she started teaching meditation and working with kids, she said, and when she had her own daughters, now 16 and 13 years old.
“For me, in becoming a mother, I found a new voice in sharing my story and trying to really honor the idea that every soul we bring to this planet has immense potential to serve,” she said.
Chopra’s most recent book for adults is Living With Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace and Joy (Harmony, 2015); her books 100 Promises to My Baby (Lotus Press) and 100 Questions From My Child (Rodale Books) have been published in dozens of countries. She is also the founder of the online wellness platform Intent, has taught meditations to thousands, and has spoken to audiences around the world, including at women’s conferences, corporate events, and TEDx talks.
A few years ago, Chopra suffered a panic attack during a talk onstage, which caused her to realize she was not truly living the lifestyle she was teaching. After, she began thinking more and more about what it means to incorporate mindfulness and meditation practice into one’s daily life; the result, she said, was this book.
“I’m someone who grew up with all of these techniques but what I would like to share with people, and especially with children, is that life is a journey and so we need to have certain tools that can help us get through the everyday, but also the more difficult times,” said Chopra.
Just Breathe contains exercises to help children deal with day-to-day challenges, including breathing techniques and guided meditations for dealing with stress, getting to sleep, building confidence, focusing in school, and managing anxiety. To demonstrate, Chopra directed booksellers in the audience in a meditation exercise similar to ones in the book to help them calm racing thoughts and set their intention for the next few days of the conference.
“My goal with this book and just generally what I try to do in my life — my intent — is to share some of the lessons I have learned in my life and make it accessible and easy for others,” she told booksellers. “That’s what the goal of the book is, to give [these lessons] directly to kids. [To present] this idea of intention and being empowered, of finding the qualities in their lives that will make them feel happier, healthier, and more connected to their purpose.”
Chopra ended her speech with an anecdote about interviewing spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle for a new book. The responsibility to live your intent, to serve others, and to fulfill your purpose can be a lot of pressure, she told him, especially for someone who feels like she is living the life of a soccer mom.
In answer to this, Tolle gave her some personally invaluable advice she passed along to booksellers: “Never forget that it’s the everyday people who do extraordinary things, who are raising the frequency of this planet…Whatever you do, do it with a sense of love, do it with a sense of gratitude, and do it with a sense of purpose.”