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By Kester Marshall
It feels a bit weird to be writing an article about children’s health when I’m not a parent... However, I have always lived with other people's kids and see many children of all ages in my private practice. If I was a parent, I imagine what I’d want more than anything is for my kids to be healthy and happy; for them to go through life as smoothly as possible and to grow with courage and confidence to their full potential. In my experience, this is what all parents essentially want. However, this of course, does not always happen; life inevitably has its difficulties. Every parent at some stage faces unexpected challenges with their children; whether it is health concerns like asthma, eczema, allergies or food intolerances; behavioral or learning issues such as ADHD or hyperactivity; or even a simple cold, fever or bout of gastro. It is inevitable. So, how do parents, give their children the best chance to prevent, deal with or overcome these challenges?
Ayurveda has a great focus on children and offers a beautifully simple, yet profound approach to giving our kids the best head start possible. One if it’s eight branches is known as Kaumara bhritya and deals expressly with paediatric health and childhood development. It teaches that in order to provide our children with a good foundation for a healthy body and mind we should begin right from the early stages of life.
According to Ayurveda, the laying of this foundation actually begins before we are even conceived. It is understood that whatever strengths and weaknesses we possess, mental as well as physical, have the potential to be passed on to our children. Making sure we are as healthy as possible before conception is therefore incredibly important. Once in place, this foundation not only holds a child in good stead as they grow and develop, but establishes the ground for their mental and physical health as adults.
During the early years of life the mind, body, tissues and immune system are still very sensitive and fragile and are therefore highly susceptible to change or trauma of any sort. How well they are nurtured and allowed to develop to maturity will determine to a large extent how well a child is able to flourish and withstand adversity throughout life.
With this in mind, pregnancy and the forty day period after childbirth are considered especially valuable times. During pregnancy a child eats, hears and feels everything that their mother does, so all food and impressions should be as loving and nourishing as possible. Warm milk, ghee, whole grains and sweet fruit juices between meals are recommended, as is plenty of rest and not working or stressing too much.
Traditionally, the forty days after birth (the ‘Sutika’ period) is like a retreat and is dedicated to rest, recovery, and the bonding of mother and child. Both mother and baby receive daily massage with medicated oils and again, should rest and not tax themselves in any way. Breast feeding, if possible, is highly recommended. During this time the mother’s health continues to be of great importance as any physiological imbalance she suffers from (even indigestion) will be passed on to the child through her milk. Ayurveda also has specific recommendations for weaning infants in order to optimize digestion, immune function and overall health.
In Traditional cultures the responsibilities of parenting were shared a lot more and family support was there in abundance, so to us the above may sound a little idyllic. In our culture, we tend to juggle work and parental responsibilities, race here and there to after school activities - life can get incredibly busy and overwhelming. This racing around is, in and of itself, far more detrimental than we might think. Especially when children are young, it can result in feelings of insecurity, anger or resentment and over-stimulation of their delicate minds and nervous systems. According to Ayurveda this is a direct cause of many of the behavioural problems that children develop.
In our busy Western society, it has become the norm to resort to time saving measures like processed or formula food, breakfast cereals and take-away meals. It seems we have become so busy that we have forgotten what our children actually need... and what do they need? Our time - time to prepare good food, time for love and attention, time for play, time for listening, time for family, home and community.
When we are able to slow down and find a more natural rhythm we can see, without any confusion, that children basically thrive on the same things that we all thrive on - simple, nourishing whole foods, love, affection and a supportive, warm environment. These provide the essentials for a growing digestive, nervous and immune system; the physical nourishment their little bodies require. At the same time it provides their minds with a steady stream of healthy mental impressions to feed their rapidly developing sense of self-identity. A safe environment that is nurturing and stable enables them to develop a view of the world that supports them, uplifts them and gives them confidence in themselves and others. And isn’t that exactly what we want?
Even though Ayurvedic recommendations aren’t always easy to implement, even a small movement in this direction is a good thing. Not only will it help us and our children to cultivate greater health and contentment, it will also encourage us to treasure and enjoy the time we have together. After all, before we know it, they will be grown up and adults themselves!
What Children Need More Of...
• Good quality oils such as ghee, sunflower or olive oil for nourishing their nervous systems
• Warm, cooked cows or goats milk that is unhomogenized
• Simple, cooked, unrefined whole grains
• Freshly harvested and cooked vegetables and fruit
• Use just a little spice to aid digestion (turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamom, fennel)... get them stared early with tiny amounts
• Structured mealtimes and a regular bedtime as soon as they are old enough
• Time in nature
What Children Need Less Of...
• Processed food (tins, jars, pre-packaged)
• Refined flours and sugar
• Deep fried food
• Tomato paste or sauce
• Highly salted or pickled food
• Peanut butter
• Plastic cheese
• Soft drinks
• Cold foods (iceblocks, ice cream, iced drinks)
• Packaged fruit juices (fresh is best)
• Packaged fruit
• Processed yoghurts
• Processed cold meats (metwurst, ham etc.)
• Irregular mealtimes & bedtimes
• Excess screen time, computer games and TV
If you are in any doubt about your health please be sure to consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner or your local health physician.
**Ayurvedic Cleansing & Rejuvenation Programs are now available at the Mudita Health Clinic in Mullumbimby. For more information email see our Cleanses page.**
Agni - the digestive fire.
Ama or Aama - undigested food waste, toxins.
Ojas- the foundation of our immune system and longevity.
Dhatus - the tissues of the body.
Srotas - the channels of the body.
Vata - the air/ether
intelligence in the body.
Pitta- the fire/water
intelligence in the body.
Kapha- the water/earth intelligence in the body.
Sattva- the quality of purity, intelligence, peace and love.
Rajas- the quality of
turbulence and activity.
Tamas- the quality of
dullness, darkness and inertia.
Rasa - the taste of a food (Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, Astringent)
Virya - second level of digestion (either Heating or Cooling)
Vipaka - third level of digestion, the deep taste of a food (can be Sweet, Sour or Pungent)
Prabhav - the 'special effect' of a food or herb/spice
Rasa - also the name for plasma tissue
Rakta - blood tissue
Mamsa - muscle tissue
Meda - fat tissue
Asthi - bone tissue
Majja - nerve & bone marrow tissue
Shukra - sexual reproductive tissue