For some of us it might feel like hardly any time has passed – we can still remember our teenage years like they were yesterday, or maybe we have children there right now? At the same time, we look ahead at our mother’s and feel the wisdom of our years drawing together in a strength and calmness. Or maybe we are watching our parents suffer with degeneration. What is there in all of this for us to learn?
Just like there are three body types – vata, pitta and kapha – in the 5000-year-old Ayurvedic philosophy of healing and life, these energies also translate to the three stage of life that we all travel through.
The first stage is childhood, ruled predominantly by the kapha dosha (body type); then comes puberty to the age of 50, governed by pitta and finally there’s vata which is age 50 onwards.
While these changes don’t suddenly just happen overnight, rather they are a gradual transition over a period of time. It’s still helpful if you can be aware of the three different stages of life so you can appreciate both the strengths and vulnerabilities as we grow, age and mature. By being aware of these three stages, we can can strive to prevent some of the imbalances that are prone to arise in each period of time.
Childhood: kapha time of life (birth to around 16)
During a child’s first years they are growing and changing rapidly. In a physical sense, they are building new tissue, putting on weight, and changing every day as the body grows and develops. On average, a baby will double its birth weight in the first six months. During this time of rapid transformation, it’s a time of kapha energy.
Kapha regulates body fat, which is required in bucket loads during these early years. Naturally children will also want the foods that kapha body types crave – that’s sweet, grounding and anabolic foods, to support the growth phase. Although these are the children that I’m always treating because they have constant colds and flus if not eating the right foods.
Typically, kapha dosha is associated with the sensations of wet and heavy – and this is why so many children often have running noses, colds, congestion, excess mucus and even asthma.
The first thing I tell mum is that these children should avoid cheese, yoghurt, avocado, banana, cold milk, ice cream and yoghurt. They look at me and say what will I feed my child - but when these foods are taken out of the diet the childhood illnesses resolve quickly. That’s how it is when you make food your medicine.
Diet is really important during these years to set things right. Fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are great for balancing kapha. Even though toddlers are often given bottles after breastfeeding ends, according to Ayurveda it’s actually better to limit the amount of wheat, dairy and sweet foods during these formative years.
Getting kids outdoors and being physically active is critical at this stage of life. In our modern life, too often children lead stagnant, sedentary lifestyles – spending way too many hours watching TV or on technology. Even just getting kids outside and playing, is good for improving circulation and strengthening the body’s organs and tissues.
Pitta time: adulthood (16-50)
This is when we are digesting and assimilating our experiences, lessons, talents and desires. We are becoming ambitious, passionate, focused and work hard to achieve the goals and desires we set ourselves – it can also be a fiery and competitive time.
The things we need to be looking out for now are problems with indigestion, heartburn and ulcers – mostly caused by spending too much time working and not allowing enough time to care for ourselves. The main pharmaceuticals routinely given during this phase of life are those that reduce acid and heat.
These are also the years when we have the most on our plate – juggling work, home and looking after children. Life becomes so busy that we hardly have time to care for our physical and emotional needs, so our health often suffers. Feel like you can relate to this?
Good foods to help balance our bodies, and minds, during this stage are pitta-pacifying foods like zucchini, cucumbers, coriander, fennel, watermelon, celery, cabbage, pasta, mung beans, pasta, kale and apple which are cooling and relaxing. Even though it’s really tempting to reach for coffee when you need to pick up the pace, it’s best to keep this to a minimum – along with alcohol and spicy dishes as this isn’t what your body actually needs right now.
Now is the time to bring balance into daily routines. Relaxing and calming the mind is critical – a great place to start is with yoga, meditation and breathing exercises. In this stage I hear my patients often say they have too much to do that there is no time for yoga and meditation, or that it’s too slow. These are the people that need it more than anything.
Focus on whatever relaxes you, and takes your mind off work and constantly doing. Self-care is critical and often overlooked during these exciting, but trying years. Cultivating good, healthy habits now will help you through the next stage of life.
Vata time: maturation (50+)
At this point you will have mastered many of life’s lessons, know yourself – what drives you and makes you feel energetic and happy – and hopefully you are bringing plenty of this into your days now.
If you haven’t taken care of yourself during the earlier stages of life, it’s a good time to pay particular attention now as the body is less able to bounce back and rejuvenate.
The final stage of life is governed by vata – which is light, cold, dry, rough, mobile and subtle. The way this appears in the body is in dry skin; bone and muscle deterioration; arthritis and joint pain. Loss of memory and cognitive flexibility. There might also be more digestive issues like bloating and constipation as well as food sensitivities and intolerances.
Too much vata also impacts the ability to relax, sleep or just shut down and there will be loss of mental focus and ability.
During these years we want to be eating warming, grounding, lubricating and stabilising foods, to stay warm and slow down. You also don’t need to eat as much, as digestion is weaker in this time - eating twice a day is sufficient.
Abhyanga, or self-massage with warm oil, can be really beneficial now, as are meditation, breathing exercises, gentle exercise and creative and relaxing activities.
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