An Ayurvedic Approach To Your Child’s Needs
Have you ever wondered why each child is unique and what works for one may not help another? Jamie has a light build and loves running about. He doesn’t show much interest in food unless it tastes sweet and finds it hard to get off to sleep at night, wanting just one more story. Lucy has fiery red hair and a temper to match. She is good at organizing everybody and has an excellent appetite. She gets hot easily and is prone to skin rashes. Kenny is a happy child who loves cuddles and being with people. He enjoys his food but is a slow eater and tends to get congested with dairy products.
Children have a unique constitutional type. According to the Ayurvedic theory of doshas everything in the universe is comprised of different proportions of space, air, fire, water and earth. The three doshas, Vata, Pitta and Kapha are governing principals found all throughout nature. Vata is expressed as space and air and is responsible for all movement in the universe. It has the light, dry, changeable, quick qualities associated with the wind.
Pitta dosha is expressed mainly as fire (with just a touch of water) and governs all metabolism and transformation. It has the qualities of the fire being hot, intense, sour, red, orange and yellow. Kapha, expressed as water and earth, is responsible for all cohesion and structure in the universe. It is almost opposite to Vata, being heavy, slow, steady, sweet and moist.
In our physiologies we also have a combination of these elements. Children with a predominance of Vata in their nature have a light build; they are quick, enthusiastic and changeable. Their digestion and sleep patterns are easily disturbed if they get anxious or too excited. They have active imaginations and tend to daydream. Pitta natured children have a regular build and strong digestive system. They are good eaters and get irritable if they miss a meal. They tend to have red or blond hair and fair or freckly skin. They are generally strong willed and active by nature. Children with more Kapha in their constitutions are chubbier and have thicker hair. They have big eyes and lustrous skin. By nature they are slower and more emotionally stable then their Vata or Pitta counterparts.
No one is purely one dosha but a combination of all three. We can be predominately one or two or even have amounts of all three equally. Our Prakriti or basic nature can give a clue as to which dosha is most likely to go out of balance however any type can experience too much Vata, Pitta or Kapha. Through lifestyle, diet and seasonal influences we can experience too much or too little of the doshas. This imbalance is called Vikriti.
Too much Vata can manifest in poor sleep and lack of concentration, anxiety, disinterest in food, problems with elimination, dry skin and poor circulation. Excess Pitta can cause hot tempers and frustration, skin rashes, diahorrea and the feeling of being hungry all the time. An excess of Kapha’s watery, earthy qualities can result in coughs, colds and excess mucous, weight gain and lethargy.
Imbalances in the doshas can be treated by changes in diet and lifestyle. Just as the qualities of Vata, Pitta and Kapha can be seen in our physiology they are also present in our food. Food that is light, dry and cold is Vata in nature such as lettuce or rice crackers. Spices and chili, sour yogurt and tomatoes express the fiery qualities of Pitta. Food that is heavy, unctuous and sweet like milk or cheese is Kaphic in nature.
Excessive doshas are balanced by bringing in the opposite quality. For example if you have too much of the heavy, mucous like qualities of Kapha it is best to avoid ice cream and dairy products and favour Vata predominant food like leafy green veggies or barley soup. Sweet juicy fruit soothes Pitta’s excess heat. While airy feelings associated with Vata can be balanced by a sweet, warm drink or a salty biscuit.
Each dosha is pacified by particular tastes. Vata is balanced by sweet, sour and salty foods. This explains why when people are feeling stressed or spaced out they crave junk food. In fact the fast food industry predominantly consists of Vata pacifying food. While hot chips and sugary donuts may be soothing when you have been rushing about or overworking, the airy feelings associated with Vata are also appeased by warm soups or fruit toast. Pitta is pacified by bitter, astringent and sweet tastes. A salad is a perfect Pitta pacifying meal as leafy greens contain both the bitter and astringent tastes. The astringent taste has a drying quality that draws moisture to it and is also found in lentils and honey. Kapha is balanced by bitter, astringent and pungent tastes. A spicy lentil curry offsets the sticky, cold, heavy characteristics of Kapha.
Understanding the influence of the doshas can help us to satisfy our children’s culinary desires while keeping them balanced and healthy. Instead of dismissing our child’s craving for sweet food and insisting they eat a salad, or giving in to their demands for lollies and chocolate, offer them sweet fruit, rice pudding or pancakes with fruit jam. If the desire for sweet is prompted by Vata being out of balanced, it may also be satisfied with salty or sour tastes. The qualities of a meal are also important. Heavy, oily, warm food pacifies Vata. Pitta is balanced by food that is heavy, oily and cold while Kapha pacifying food is light, dry and warm by nature.
The doshas are also balanced by our daily activities. The cold, light, dry, irregular qualities of Vata are balanced by having regular eating and sleeping routines, warm oil massages, gentle soothing music, warm food and drinks, getting plenty of rest and avoiding exposure to the wind and cold weather.
Pitta’s fiery, intense nature is balanced by regular meals, avoiding spicy, sour or acidic foods, baths and swimming, play, keeping cool and being in nature. The heavy, slow, cold qualities of Kapha are balanced by getting up early and having regular exercise, reducing sweet, heavy food, avoiding cold, wet environments and getting plenty of stimulation.
Our basic nature (Prakriti) and imbalance (Vikriti) is determined by pulse reading. The Ayurvedic practitioner determines what is occurring in the physiology by detecting impulses in the pulse. This diagnostic tool is both non intrusive and prevention orientated as subtle imbalances can be felt before they manifest into disorders. Dietary and lifestyle advice tailored to the individuals needs is then given. Usage of the doshas can provide a way of keeping your family happy and healthy simply by balancing the physiology with the environmental influences and adjusting dietary and lifestyle habits.
The Maharishi School in Melbourne incorporates knowledge of the doshas into their teaching practices. This enables the teachers to both understand that each child is unique and to be able to offer the most appropriate form of teaching in each case. Vata predominant children are quick to learn but also quick to forget. They like to embrace new activities and love creative pursuits. Students with more Pitta in their nature have inquisitive minds and like to know how things work. They ask lots of questions and enjoy being physically active. Children with a more Kaphic constitution may seem slower to take in new information but once they have learnt something they are excellent at remembering it. They are patient by nature and good at building things with their hands.
Knowledge of the doshas can facilitate a break through in so called behavioral issues. Behaviour that may have previously been viewed as negative can be understood as an imbalance and treated accordingly. Instead of disciplining a child for being distracted, aggressive or lazy, addressing diet and lifestyle factors can provide a more positive and long-term solution.