By John Peterson, M.D.
Keeping the little ones healthy, their immune systems strong and supporting children's overall health is easy with Maharishi Ayurveda.
As a family physician, I'm often asked about the basics. In Maharishi Ayurveda, the basics are easy but powerful methods of boosting the immune system and helping the body fend off the bugs that circulate in winter time.
The important thing to remember is that in following a more ayurvedic routine, you're swimming with the current of natural law, not against it. And when natural law is supporting us, lots of good things happen for our health.
Q: When does Vata season start?
A: You can tell children that Vata season starts when the cold wind comes to blow all the leaves off the trees. Vata comes from air and space and is cold, dry, quick, moving, rough and irregular.
Q: What's the most important thing for a parent to know about keeping kids healthy in Vata season?
A: Just what your mother told you when you were a kid — wrap up warm against the wind and the cold and get plenty of sleep. Kids nowadays often have too much going on — a lot more than I did when I was growing up. A regular daily routine with an early bedtime is especially important in the winter.
Q: Why do so many kids get sick this time of year?
A: Transitioning from the cold, windy and wet outdoors into a hot, dry inner environment is tough on all of us. The body produces extra mucus to counteract the drying up of the nasal passages. It's good to drink plenty of fluids — water and fruit juices, NOT sodas! It's good to keep indoor humidity around 40%. Sniffing sesame oil up into the sinuses helps keep the respiratory passages lubricated.
Q: Are there any other MAPI products that would be good for children in the winter?
A: Most kids love the sweet taste of Organic Vata Tea, which is especially soothing during this season. Sniffle Free Tea and Sniffle Free tablets are great to keep a respiratory issue from settling into the system. Bio-Immune and Cold Weather Defense provide good immune system support. For individual dose recommendations, check with a Maharishi Ayurveda expert (vaidya).
Q: What about dosage for children?
A: The teas are fine at any age. For younger children you can re-use your own tea bag to make a weaker tea for them. Tablets should be adjusted according to age and weight. You don't really want to give tablets to infants. Breast-feeding moms can use most MAPI products for themselves, which helps their babies stay healthy too. For Sniffle Free and Bio-Immune, ¼ tablet to pre-school kids and one half a tablet up until 5th grade or so. Once a child weighs over 80 pounds, a full tablet should be OK. Check with your ayurvedic physician if you have questions.
Q: What about diet during Vata season?
A: Of course that depends on the child's constitution and imbalances. In general, warm unctuous foods are good. Soups are wonderful comfort food in the winter — soothing and nourishing. It's good to include more olive oil and sesame oil in the diet.
Q: Even though it's Vata season, one of my children seems to continue to have Kapha symptoms.
A: I'm glad you brought that up. It's good to remember that childhood is Kapha time of life. The classic Kapha symptoms of a runny nose and frequent sinus and ear infections can often be eliminated simply by removing heavy foods from the diet — these include yogurt, cheese, ice cream, ice-cold foods, peanut butter, bananas, avocados, deep fried and heavily-processed foods. Milk should not be taken along with a regular meal. It can be taken by itself as a snack or with something sweet. Milk, rice, wheat and ghee are considered sweet. The old-fashioned after-school snack of cookies and milk still seems to be good.
Q: I've heard that children's asthma is on the rise. Why do you think that's happening?
A: Environmental and food impurities are a big factor. If at all possible, feed your children organic food. The respiratory and digestive systems go hand in hand — so if you can improve digestion and elimination, that can help asthma.
Q: What about insomnia in children?
A: insomnia is a Vata imbalance. Make sure they have a regular routine. You can massage their feet with warm sesame oil before they go to bed. (MAPI's Moisturizing Massage Oil is Vata-pacifying.)
Q: My children seemed stressed out. They don't like school.
A: The Transcendental Meditation® program is wonderful for children. In an ever-increasing number of schools, inner-city kids are learning TM®, supported by the David Lynch Foundation. These kids REALLY have stressful lives, and they all report that school feels safer and learning is more fun once they learn Transcendental Meditation. Also, make sure that their schools still have recess, music, gym and art classes. A kid's physiology just isn't suited to sitting at a desk all day.
Q: When my kids come home from school, they are so hungry. They don't like to eat in school, because the lunchroom is so noisy and they have just 15 minutes.
A: That was true for our children also — their after-school snack was the biggest meal of the day for them. I remember they liked to make pizzas on tostada shells in the toaster oven.
Q: What are other good snacks for kids?
A: Really, fresh fruit is an ideal snack — especially pomegranates, apples and grapes. They might like to learn how to use the juicer and make their own fresh, sweet fruit juices — made with just a bit of fresh ginger. Nuts can be good. Let them try the experiment of soaking almonds overnight. Challenge them to peel off the skin in one piece and hold it up to the light to see what it looks like. They can open the two halves and see if they can find the baby almond tree inside. Almonds are good for the mind.
Q: One of my kids is a worrier, and once school starts she really has a problem with constipation.
A: That's another classic Vata imbalance. Give her a handful of raisins, dates and figs at night. You can add some toasted sesame seeds to that. If she doesn't like that, try organic fig newtons. Also, you can make her special warm lemonade first thing in the morning — warm up pure water and add a squirt of fresh lemon or lime juice. Then stir in a spoonful of raw honey. If she drinks that all up, it will help stimulate a morning bowel movement.
Q: Once my kids started school, they just kept bringing home one cold after another. How can we improve their immunity?
A: The body is amazingly able to fend off illness when it's given the opportunity. One word: REST! The healthiest kids I see in my practice come from families that unplug the TV after supper and have a good routine for an early bedtime. The Transcendental Meditation technique has been proven to improve immunity and cut down health care costs.
Q: Do you have any ayurvedic suggestions for treating children's colds?
A: For children over three years old, add raw, unheated, unfiltered honey, produced with Vedic Organic Agriculture to their diet. Ginger and turmeric tea is great for sore throats — use ¼ teaspoon of a mixture of equal parts ginger and turmeric powders, and add to a cup of boiling water. Let it cool until safe to drink. After the child has enough tea, give her a spoonful of raw honey.
For older children with sinus infections, try ginger and turmeric inhalations. Add 2 teaspoons each of ginger and turmeric powder to 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, add 2 cups of cool water, cover the pot and put it on the kitchen table. Let the child hold a damp washcloth over her eyes. Drape a sheet over the child's head. Carefully open the lid a fraction of an inch to let the steam begin to rise. Let the child breathe the steam through the nose for 10 - 15 minutes. Stay with the child the whole time, moving the lid aside a bit more every couple of minutes as the steam cools down.
Q: At what age can children understand the concepts of ayurveda?
A: Ayurveda is just Nature. As soon as a child knows that there are cycles in Nature and can observe the changes that come with the seasons, they can understand the basic concepts of ayurveda. All three of our children gave presentations on Vata, Pitta and Kapha to their second or third grade classes. Their friends all understood the doshas. It's great to be able to understand why your Pitta math teacher gets grouchy just before lunch!
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