Balancing by doshas is child’s play – an Ayurvedic approach to parenting.
Have you ever wondered why each of your children is so different and why what is good for one may not be of benefit to another?
Jasper never shows much interest in food unless of course it is sweet. He dislikes the wind and easily gets cold hands and feet. He loves stories and games of make believe. He finds it hard to get to sleep at night and wakes easily.
His brother Rory has a good appetite and eats most food. His fiery nature is reflected in his bright red hair. He doesn’t like to stay still for long preferring to play sport and action games. He sleeps well at night but only when he decides that he’s ready for bed.
Their sister Sophie is different again. She eats well but takes her time with her meals. Her skin is softer and more lustrous than her brothers. She is a happy child and likes to be around people. Her sleep is deep and long.
Like everyone, babies and 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. In our physiologies we also have a combination of these elements called doshas. Comprehension of the variations in doshas enables us to understand our children’s likes and dislikes, reactions to certain food, behavioural and sleep patterns and most importantly ways to maintain their health and happiness.
Doshas are governing principles 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 shares 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.
Each of us has a different proportion of doshas, called prakriti. Prakriti refers to our basic nature. A predominance of Vata doshas brings a slight build. Vata types are quick, enthusiastic and creative by nature. They have a tendency towards dry hair and skin and their sleep and appetite are often light and easily disturbed. They love change and travel, easily get enthusiastic about new ideas but find it hard to stick to one thing and are notorious for changing their minds.
Babies and children with a predominance of Vata dosha find it hard to gain weight. Their sleep is easily disturbed and they have a tendency towards wind and colic. They dislike the cold or being exposed to windy conditions. On the whole they have low, delicate appetites and love sweet, warm food. By nature they are daydreamers and enjoy watching trees blowing in the wind or clouds moving across the sky.
Someone with more Pitta in his or her prakriti has a medium build. They tend to have the colours of the fire in their hair and skin. Their skin is generally more sensitive and burns easily. Pitta predominates have good appetites and strong digestive systems. They love food and get irritable if they miss a meal. They are dynamic and passionate and make good managers. They are efficient, punctual and orderly but are often lacking in patience.
Infants displaying a lot of Pitta in their nature will be dynamic and active. They love to explore the environment around them and can get bored easily if left with nothing to do. Their skin is soft and sensitive and they have a tendency towards skin rashes. They tend to have red or blond hair and often have freckly skin. Children with a Pitta prakriti have strong digestive systems and tend to move on to solid foods earlier than other babies.
Someone with a lot of Kapha in his or her constitution has a large build. Their bones are bigger and they have large lustrous eyes and thick hair. Their skin is generally moist and soft. By nature they are slower than their Vata or Pitta counterparts, preferring to act in a steady, methodical way. Their digestion is also slower and they have a tendency to gain weight easily. They have good stamina and when balanced are sweet and emotionally stable. They like a regular lifestyle and a steady pace of life.
Kapha predominant kids are generally placid and happy. They are on the chubbier side and have big lustrous eyes. They tend to be more resilient than other children but have a tendency towards excess mucous and congestion. Being sociable is a common Kapha trait and Kaphic babies love entertaining people with smiles and chat.
No one is purely one dosha but a combination of all three. We can be predominately one or two or have amounts of all three equally. Our prakriti or basic nature can be obscured by imbalance. Through lifestyle, diet and seasonal influences we can experience too much or too little of the doshas. This imbalance is called vikriti.
Any prakriti can develop any vikriti. For example you may have a predominance of Kapha in your nature but, due to lack of sleep, irregular meals and cold, windy weather you can develop too much Vata. Your methodical, calm, easygoing nature is then obscured by feeling spaced out and indecisive. You may start to crave sweet food and find that it is taking you longer to fall asleep at night. You do not feel yourself because you are experiencing an imbalance.
When Vata is too strong we can feel anxious, indecisive and forgetful. Digestion and sleep can be erratic and we can feel fluctuations in our energy levels. Too much Vata can also cause dry skin and eczema as well as wind and bloating in the digestive system. Vata is increased by cold, dry, windy weather, lack of food and sleep, cold food and eating at irregular times. Vata is balanced by bringing in the qualities opposite to the airy, light characteristics of Vata.
Too much Vata in a baby or toddler can create colic and weak digestion, trouble settling and poor sleep, tendency towards constipation, dry or flaky skin and a tendency to be fearful. Excess Vata can be balanced by warm oil massages, warm food and drinks, avoiding exposure to wind and cold, regular sleep and eating routines, and gentle, soothing music.
Pitta out of balance can cause anger, irritability and impatience. Stomach ulcers and food being digested too quickly are due to the intensity of Pitta’s fire. Fevers, sweats, rashes and itchy irritable skin are also due to an excess of Pitta. Pitta is aggravated by spicy, acidic and sour food, hot weather, stimulants and missing meals. Pitta is pacified by cooling activities like swimming or being in nature, sweet taste in the diet and also sweet words, and regular meals times.
An increase in Pitta in a baby or toddler can cause temper tantrums, skin rashes, diarrhoea and feeling hungry all the time. Pitta is soothed by favouring sweet food such as fresh fruit or milk and avoiding spicy, sour or acidic foods, bathing, keeping cool and being in nature and regular meals.
Kapha in excess can result in lethargy, depression and resistance to change. Congestion, coughs, colds and sinus problems are all due to increased Kapha. Weight gain and slow digestion also displays too much of Kapha’s slow, heavy qualities. The heavy, stable, cold qualities of Kapha can be offset by warmth, stimulation and activity
Too much Kapha in a baby or toddler can manifest in excessive mucous, lethargy and frequent coughs and colds. Kapha is pacified by reducing sweet, heavy food, having plenty of opportunities to play or crawl around, avoiding cold, wet environments and enjoying stimulating activities, fresh air and rides in the pram.
The basic nature of your child can give a clue as to which dosha is most likely to go out of balance. However any type can experience excess Vata, Pitta or Kapha. Along with dietary and lifestyle influences the seasons also create an effect on our doshic balance.
Late autumn and winter display the changeable, dry, cold, windy qualities of Vata. Summer and early autumn have the warmer, intense qualities of Pitta. Deciduous trees take on the fiery colours of Pitta at the beginning of autumn. Spring brings the more stable, heavier qualities of Kapha and exhibits kapha’s governing principle of growth and structure evident in the blossoming flowers and ripening fruit.
We naturally balance the seasonal cycles by adjusting our diet and activities. For example, in winter, we favour warm soups and cover up against the dry, windy Vata weather. In summer we pacify the intense, hot qualities of Pitta by eating more salads and fresh fruit, taking holidays and swimming in cool water. In spring we offset the increase in heaviness by spring cleaning our house, going on a diet or starting an exercise program.
The health or temperament of a child is also influenced by that of the parents. Balancing a mother’s Vata can often soothe her child without any actually adjustment to the infant’s routine or diet. This is especially evident in the early days of breast-feeding as the baby is relying solely on the mother for sustenance.
At school, 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.
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.
Our basic nature (prakriti) and imbalance (vikriti) can be 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-oriented as subtle imbalances can be felt before they manifest into disorders. Understanding 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.
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