by Dr. Sairupa Krishnamurti, ND & Ayurveda Practitioner
With the intensity of the pandemic, discussions on the necessity of anti-racism in the face of racial violence, isolation away from friends, and summer break without activities: our homes and hearts are being activated! Children can feel their parents’ and caregivers’ stretched attention, heightened emotions, and generalized stress. How is the stress of these times impacting the nervous systems of our children?
Generously, Ayurveda provides many tools of support so that our parenting may be conscious and truly supportive of our children’s emotional resilience during challenged times. We don’t know what the long-term impacts of this intense period will have on our children’s future mental health, so taking steps now is imperative. Please seek out extra support from your healthcare circle for comprehensive Ayurvedic guidance for your child and your family.
Reservoir of Resilience in Ayurveda
In Ayurveda, Ojas is understood to be a subtle nourishing form of energy that influences our immunity and psychophysical health. Ojas is understood as a tremendous energetic reservoir—a well of strength that provides resilience when protected from depletion. In the classical texts, stress is known as Sahasa, which in excess, is known to cause a decrease in Ojas known as Ojaksaya. When Ojas decreases due to stress, a child may experience difficulty with sleep, depression, anxiety, and reduced adaptability in the face of change.
Below I’ll discuss some of the most helpful ways to nurture Ojas within a family’s and child’s life. One main point I want to emphasize is that it starts with us. As parents/caregivers, learning to protect and reinforce our personal Ojas will positively influence our children throughout the course of their lives. Ayurveda teaches us that the mind and body’s capacity to handle stress can be enhanced through lifestyle and psychospiritual practices, in conjunction with nutritional and herbal medicine.
Lifestyle & Routine Tips from Ayurveda
Sleeping, Eating and Transitions
Ayurveda encourages keeping a balanced and steady routine to help prevent physical and mental strain and keep our Ojas cultivated. Waking up, eating, and sleeping at the same times helps to improve and balance energy levels while simultaneously regulating our children’s nervous systems. Consistency and structure can be really helpful for kids that are anxious, as it benefits them to know what happens next. If you are a parent/caregiver to small children, one special tip is to allow for a routine rest period after lunch (even for kids that don’t nap anymore). Encourage children to relish in quiet time with books, soft blankets, pillows, and perhaps inviting them to close their eyes and engage in some conscious breathing. A small period (15-20 minutes) of rest can be restorative for both children and parents/caregivers alike. Include gentle transitions from one activity to the next, for example: “We’re going to clean up our painting now and move on to lunch. After we clean up, we’ll take three breaths and move into the kitchen.”
Summer During the Pandemic
This is a strange summer and many parents and caregivers are unsure of how to approach this time during the pandemic. In the province of Ontario, children’s camps and organized activities are cancelled, which leaves us confused as to what to do with our children! This is a difficult time, especially for parents that are balancing work and children at home. Remember to be gentle on yourself. Keeping routines is beneficial, as mentioned above. Engage your child in activities that are both stimulating and peaceful. Implement a daily routine that involves movement, creativity, and relaxation. Incorporate calming activities such as coconut oil head massages, walks under the full moon, making flower teas, and involving them with healthy food and drink preparation. Consider planning for safe social distance gatherings with friends: bike riding, outdoor dinners, and story times. An especially important point: get to know your child’s Ayurvedic Dosha (constitution), as this will help to understand what they need most. For example:
- Pitta Children: Engage in activities that are gentle but challenging. Involve them in the kitchen making a cooling lemonade, preparing ghee, or working on a new recipe. It’s also great for pitta children to challenge their body by doing yoga or climbing trees.
- Vata Children: Will benefit from a calming activity in the afternoon such as breathwork, gentle yoga, reading under a tree, or painting.
- Kapha Children: Need a little extra motivation and physical activities that help to get blood flowing. Bike rides, a game of tag, hide-and-go-seek and catch are great, especially in the morning.
We hear all the time about limiting screen time for our little ones. This has been perplexing to navigate with classroom calls and video meet ups. However, it’s no surprise that limiting screens is extremely helpful for regulating psychological wellbeing for children. Studies have found that children who spend more than one hour per day on screens have less curiosity, impaired focus, and decreased emotional stability. A helpful tip is to make transitions gentle after completing some screen time: have your child take a few deep breaths with their eyes relaxed, closed, or with hands cupped over the eyes, then slowly move on to the next activity.
Getting outside to play, get fresh air, enjoy the flowers, and feel the sunlight is so helpful for nourishing a child’s wellbeing and Ojas. It is great to set aside a routine time every day to get outdoors and build their relationship to the natural elements. Being rooted in this connection can provide a source of strength and confidence for children.
Children Hear Everything
Traditionally, ancient Ayurveda encourages avoiding perceived stressors. Avoiding situations that cause stress, anxiety, or overexertion is recommended as a way to protect one’s energy resources. We know this is not always realistic, but we can do the best we can to minimize stress exposure for our little ones. One important consideration is to be cautious of the sounds and stories that are on around children. Be mindful of the radio, news in the background, or conversations you have around your children. They do hear so much, and it’s important to be conscious of their immature capacity to understand and process traumatic information.
Ayurveda encourages the use of Abhayanga (oil massage) over the body, and this can be incredibly comforting and grounding for children. The word Snehana (oiling), comes from the root word Sneha, meaning love. This loving massage is helpful for building the security children need to support their emotional resilience. Aim to include a warm oil massage with cold pressed sesame seed oil for your child one or two times per week. Some kids enjoy massage and some kids don’t, so follow your child’s lead on what’s supportive for them from day to day.
Ayurvedic Psycho-Spiritual Care
Ayurveda never suggests bypassing or repressing emotions, but instead to allow them to surface, acknowledge them, and release when it’s appropriate. If your child is experiencing stress and anxiety, always encourage your child to name the feeling, where it sits in their body, and support them to express the emotion through safe and controlled expressions, such as art, dance, physical activity, or song. It may be helpful to speak aloud affirmations such as, “I am safe, I am loved, I am peace” before going to sleep at night.
Ayurvedic Heart Meditation
Ojas is believed to sit at one’s heart center. Ask your child to place their hands on their heart and take a few breaths together. Ask them to visualize a golden light glowing in this area, allowing the light to expand over the whole chest and torso. Take 5 to 10 breaths nightly before bed.
The humming bee breath is a joyful breath for many children to engage in. The symbolism of the honey bee as a source of sweet nectar can help promote energy replenishment to a small, tired body. Inhale, and on every exhale, create a humming sound. Allow the sound vibration to flow over the whole body. This particular breath helps the body to enter into the parasympathetic nervous system. Repeat five times nightly before bed.
Ayurvedic Nutrition & Herbal Medicine
Nutrition that is personalized for each Dosha type can be very helpful for stabilizing emotions. One major way that Ojas is produced is through well-absorbed and assimilated food. Ojas is considered the finest byproduct of good digestion. Herbs that help strengthen resilience and Ojas are known as Rasayanas. Below is a list of some Ojasic foods and herbs to consider adding into your child’s diet. Generally, foods that contain a naturally sweet Rasa (taste) are beloved for Ojas cultivation. Always speak to your Ayurvedic practitioner for specified guidelines on dietary modifications and herbs for your child.
- Soaked Almonds: Soak 5 almonds overnight, peel in the morning and enjoy.
- Fresh Almond Milk: Soak ½ cup of almonds overnight, peel the next day, blend with 1 cup of water, and strain through a fine mesh cloth. Drink warm with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, or saffron.
- Soaked Dates: Soak dates overnight. A child can enjoy 1 per day.
- Dates in Ghee: Soak a few dry dates in freshly made ghee. Store in a glass jar. Enjoy 1 or 2 dates each week.
- Organic Cow Dairy: When appropriate for the child, 1 cup boiled with spices, taken daily.
- Organic Ghee: Enjoy 1-2 tsp per day.
- Saffron: Simmer 1 strand in fresh almond milk or organic cow’s milk for consumption a few times per month.
- Amalaki: Indian Gooseberry is a beautiful rejuvenating fruit that supports Ojas production, immunity, and digestion. One-quarter teaspoon of the powdered herb may be mixed with a small amount of raw honey and given daily.
- Brahmi: Bacopa Monnieri is a revered Ayurvedic herb that supports focus, concentration, and relaxation. The powder may be mixed with ghee and applied to the forehead of a child who is experiencing stress or worry.
- Yasthi Madhu: Glyccyrhiza Glabra (licorice) is a rejuvenative herb that is sweet and palatable for younger tastes. It promotes immunity, restoration, and rejuvenation. One-quarter teaspoon with raw honey may be given daily.
- Chyavanprash: This is a traditional Ayurvedic Rasayana formula that consists of 50 nutrient-rich herbs and their extracts. As a Rasayana, it’s indicated to restore depleted life force (Ojas). Chyavanprash is often given to children and the taste is commonly enjoyed. A spoonful given on an empty stomach daily is helpful for immunity, especially during the winter months.
- Brahmi Gritham: This is a traditional formula that supports the central nervous system and cognitive focus. It contains Brahmi, Vaca, Kustha and Shankapusthi prepared in cow’s ghee. As a Rasayana, it helps to increase levels of serotonin. This particular formula maybe considered under the guidance of an Ayurvedic practitioner.
Lifelong Gifts of Ayurveda
Ayurveda offers us many supports to be better parents and caregivers—not perfect ones! It’s important to allow our children to witness us processing our own stressors and emotions, and also see us engaging in rituals of health and resilience. Offering this kind of care to our children will be a lifelong gift to help our children move through challenging times with fortitude, a secure relationship with themselves and their Ojas.