Have you ever wondered why each child is unique and what works for one may not help another? Being covered up and kept warm might soothe little Henry but only serves to aggravate Lucy and make her hot and irritable. Kenny started eating solid foods at 6mths while Alice still prefers breast milk at 8mths.
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, behavioral problems and most importantly ways to maintain their health and happiness.
Doshas 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.
Each of us has a different proportion of doshas called Prakriti. Prakriti refers to our basic nature. A predominance of Vata dosha brings a light build. By nature Vata types are quick, enthusiastic and creative. 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, get excited about new ideas but find it hard to stick to one thing and are notorious for changing their minds.
Babies with a predominance of Vata find it hard to gain weight. Their sleep and digestion are 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.
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. Their dynamic, passionate natures give them good organization skills and they make excellent managers. They are efficient, punctual and orderly but are sometimes lacking in patience.
Babies 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. Infants 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 babies are generally placid and happy. They are on the chubbier side and have big lustrous eyes. They tend to be more resilient than other babies but have a tendency towards excess mucous and congestion.
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 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 dry, 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
- a tendency to be fearful
To balance Vata
- a warm oil massage
- warm food and drinks
- avoid exposure to wind and cold
- regular sleep and eating routines
- 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.
Too much Pitta in a baby or toddler can create
- temper tantrums
- skin rashes
- feeling hungry all the time
To balance Pitta
- avoid spicy, sour or acidic foods
- favour sweet food such as fresh fruit or milk
- bathing (but be careful that the water is not too hot)
- keeping cool and being in nature
- regular meals
Kapha in excess can result in lethargy, depression and resistance to change. Congestion, coughs and 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 create
- excessive mucous
- excessive weight gain
- coughs and colds
To balance Kapha
- avoid excess sweet, heavy food
- give plenty of opportunities to play or crawl around
- avoid cold, wet environments
- favour stimulating activities, fresh air and rides in the pram
The basic nature of our child 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. As well as diet and lifestyle the seasons also create an influence 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 principal 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 our baby or 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 important in the early days of breast-feeding as the baby is relying solely on the mother for sustenance.
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 orientated as subtle imbalances can be felt before they manifest into disorders. Dietary and lifestyle advice tailored to the individuals needs is then given. Knowledge 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.