Ayurvedic Care of Children
13 Nov 2021 HYN Himalayan Yoga Academy
Ayurveda considers that the proper care of the children is the foundation of health both for a person and for a culture. The best way to judge a person`s health is to see how they grew up as a child- the diet, exercise and way of life that they followed. The best way to judge the health of culture is to see the health of its children and how it raises children. By this standard modern culture is in trouble. Our children are raised on artificial food, mass media impressions that are often distorted, and have much time spent alone or without proper parental supervision.
One of classical Ayurveda`s eight main branches is pediatrics. Disease propensity in life is created by the lack of understanding and care for the unique constitution of the child. An ancient Vedic verse states, “The One God has entered into the mind, born at first, he plays within the child.” This Divine Child is worshipped in India as the infant Krishna. This was a way of bringing out both care and understanding in the parents. Krishna, though a Divine incarnation, was portrayed as a young boy stealing butter so that parents would recognize the divinity even behind childhood pranks and treat children with the proper care.
It is important to determine the Ayurvedic constitution of your child. An ayurvedic diet and life-style should be prescribed accordingly. The same diet is not good for all the children, anymore than the sane education is. Without understanding the unique nature of an individual- and that of the child may be different from that of the parent- we are likely to impose a restrictive or inappropriate pattern upon them. This makes it difficult for them to discover who they are and what their real needs may be. We can also examine childhood as a whole from the Ayurvedic perspective.
The Stage of Childhood
The stages or seasons of human life have their own particular nature and needs. The age of childhood, being the formative age, is the most important. It is more uniform in different people, races and cultures, as children are children wherever we find them.
Childhood is the stage of life in which kapha, the biological water humor, predominates. Water is the formative element, the origin of life and is responsible for growth and development. As children are producing new tissues, new water as it were, they will also produce more mucus as a by-product. More mucus indicates poor digestion, which allows phlegm to accumulate rather than new tissue to be built up. For this reason, children mainly have diseases of excess mucus and suffer most from disorders involving the lungs, ranging from the common cold to bronchitis and pneumonia. These are Kapha diseases in Ayurveda. Though children may be individually of any of the three doshas, the state of childhood will keep kapha at a higher concentration. Therefore, with all children, we must be careful to keep the level of mucus in the system from becoming too high.
DIETARY CONSIDERATIONS FOR CHILDREN
Generally, children should have an even diet, avoiding too many sweets, strong spices, overly sour food or too much salt. A diet of whole grains and complex carbohydrates promotes a calm and harmonious child. It is easy to pervert the taste of the child ad such as condition can take years to correct. If ever. Tasty foods, used as a substitute for parental love and care, warp the child`s sense of affection.
Yet, children need foods that are building and most of these increase kapha. We cannot simply treat children by putting them on a water-decreasing or mucus-reducing diet because this will not afford them adequate nutrition for growth. In this regard dairy products and sugar are good for children if taken in the right way. According to the sages of ancient India, milk is an ideal food for children when taken properly and balanced with the right spices.
Dairy Products and Children
For proper growth in children, strongly nourishing foods are needed, including adequate amounts of protein. After mother`s milk, the natural food of infants is cow`s milk, which can be taken as major food of most young children. The main exceptions are those whose culture has not used dairy; they may not genetically posses the enzymes to digest it.
For vegetarians it is helpful to add dairy products to the diet for improving nutrition. Dairy products are good meat substitutes and are equally as strengthening as meat without the negative effects and bad karma of taking an animal`s life.
However, dairy products are mucus forming. This is true not only of milk, but also of cheese and yogurt to an even greater degree. Though good foods for children`s growth, they are apt to aggravate children`s diseases. To counter potential side effects, they should be prepared properly and taken in the right food combinations.
Most dairy products, particularly milk, do not combine well with other foods. Milk combines poorly with bread, sour fruit, beans, nuts, fish or meat. It is usually best taken alone or as a meal in itself. It does combine well with whole grains, however, and sweet fruit like bananas. Yogurt does not combine well with milk, sour fruit or nuts, though it combines better with vegetables and can be taken with meals.
Pasteurized milk is a kind of precooked food. It is devitalized and therefore more mucus forming. The beats way to take milk is to use raw milk, heat it to the boiling point, which renders it more digestible, and then add mucus-decreasing spices. Such are cardamon, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Cardamom is perhaps the best. A pinch to a ¼ teaspoon of such spices per cup of warm milk, along with a little honey or raw sugar, not only taste good but also makes the milk more digestible. To take cold pasteurized milk along with a meal of breads or meats makes a toxic combination.
Warm milk is mild sedative to promote sleep. Its calming effect is increased by preparing it with little nutmeg, about ¼ teaspoon per cup. Milk is a mild laxative and good for constipation in children. However, it should be avoided in condition of diarrhea or loose stool.
The mucus forming properties of cheese can be reduced by taking it with spices like cumin, mustard or cayenne pepper. Cheese is the most mucus-forming of dairy products and should not be used in excess.
Yogurt, according to the tradition of Indian use for thousands of years, is best taken with meals, mixed with fresh cucumber and spices like cumin, coriander, cilantro or cayenne pepper. It is heavy, hard to digest and somewhat constipating (making it good for treating diarrhea in children). Taken properly, is not a good food for weight reduction, as is advertised).
Buttermilk is the least mucus forming of dairy products. The natural forms of buttermilk, to which little salt has been added, are preferable.
Dairy products should be supplemented with whole grains, like wheat or brown rice, with nourishing fruit, like bananas or papayas, and with complex carbohydrates like potatoes, to afford adequate nutrients for growth.
Sugar and Children
We need a certain amount of sugar for adequate growth because sugars to build the body. White sugar, however, is not good, as it is a refined, a dead or tamasic food, and leaches the minerals out of the body. Jaggary (Gur) is the best form of cane sugar. It is made from the crude syrup and it is rich in vitamins and minerals. Other raw or barely malt and unrefined sugar.
Honey is very concentrated sugar. It is best used in small amounts as a sweetener or as a medicine. It is excellent with herbs, particularly tonics or expectorants, because it is good flavoring agent and enhances their effects. But as a food and in cooking (except when the baking temperature in not high), it is harder to digest than sugar and similarly can overstimulate the pancreas.
Sugar, even in the form of fruit juices, doesn`t combine well with most foods and causes gas and fermentation. Whenever gas or indigestion exists it is better to avoid sugar in any form until the problem is taken care of.
Ayurveda recommends a certain amount of raw sugars for children, particularly with whole grains or milk. Many such Ayurvedic herbal confections exist using sugar, honey, ghee, nuts and tonic herbs. These are good for the debilitated also.
Oils and Children
Proper oils in the diet, like ghee, sesame or olive, are important, as are nuts like almond, walnut and pecan for nourishing the brain and nerves. But as oily foods cause mucus, make sure not to give them if the child is suffering from congestion. According to Ayurveda, the best oils for the diet are ghee and sesame oil. Ghee can be taken as a cooking oil or used like butter. It is easier to digest than butter and less mucus forming.
Oils are also useful in massage (though this is tropic in itself). Giving a warm sesame oil massage to a child calms the nervous system, helps promotes sleep and nourishes the skin. Above all, it increases the child`s feeling of being nurtured and cared for.
Spices for Children
Many spices are good for children and help regulate their metabolism. Hot spices, however, such as cayenne, hot chilies and black pepper should be used with care. They are drying and can irritate the stomach. The stomach must gradually learn to produce more mucus secretions to deal with them. Warm, mildly sweet spices are preferable such as ginger, cinnamon, cardamom., coriander and fennel. Other mild but not sweet spices are turmeric, cumin and basil.
For keeping the system clear of mucus and for improving mental function and sensory activity, herbs and spices such as basil, thyme, sage, hyssop and mint are good. Spices for relieving colic, gas and distention are fennel, cardamom, cumin and dill. These help store griping, ease the flow of energy and regulate peristalsis in the colon.
Herbs for Children
Children can benefit from various herbal supplements. In Ayurveda, special tonics for children are prepared and different companies have their own proprietary medicines, these not only have good nutritive properties but also help regulate growth hormones. Equivalent-type remedies can be made with herbs available here. Foe improving growth of bone, teeth and hair, use comfrey, Solomon`s seal, marshmallow, American ginseng licorice and sesame seeds. They are best taken in warm milk, with approximately a teaspoon of the powder of the herb.
Good Ayurvedic tonic herbs for children include Ashwagandha, shatavari, amalaka and bala. Formulas include Ashwagandha compound and the Energy Tonic (no.2). For improving intelligence in children, calamus, is excellent taken in small amounts (½ teaspoon) in milk with honey. Gotu Kola improves the mind, cleanses the body, and calms the emotions. Gotu kola is particularly good for children who are hyperactive from excess sugar consumption and poor liver function. The medicated ghees of these two herbs are excellent.
Ayurvedic herbal jellies such as Chyavan prash or Brahma Rasayana are excellent growth foods for children. As such jellies are tasty it is easy to get children is that no strong therapies should be used. For example, cayenne, a very hot herb, and goldenseal, a very cold herb, should not be used frequently or in large quantities. Herbs that are very tonifying like ginseng, should be used with discretion. Dosage of herbs is less for children. Infants do well with small amounts, a pinch to a quarter teaspoon of herbs in teas or milk. Children ages five to ten can take a quarter to half the adult dosage.
Spiritual Therapies for Children
It is also important to teach yoga to children at an early age. Their bodies are suppler and postures learned while young can be easily retained throughout life. While meditation is difficult for children, we should at least encourage them to sit silently or to participate in chanting and rituals. We should open them to the world of nature with walks, hikes, or retreats, that meditation can be worked into. Myths, stories and animals forms of the Divine, such as Hanuman, the monkey god in the Ramayana, ar important for communicating to the subconscious mind of the child. The natural creative imagination power of the child should be allowed to flower and be attempted to the symbols of the cosmic mind.