Book Review: Seven Secrets to Raising a Happy and Healthy Child

By Joyce Golden Seyburn (1998)

Berkely Publishing Group

Rs. 550 (Paperback), 244 pages

This review was first published in the magazine Life Positive, 2005

Baby Care through Ayurveda

With the birth of my son Achintya, my first-born, I felt I was the world’s first woman to experience motherhood and its challenges. While I had the good fortune of learning some home truths from my wonderful grandmother, much of child-raising was through instinct and trial and error. So when Ananjan, my second son, came along, I assumed I knew it all. But to my utter surprise, he was quite different from my first-born. While Achintya was a light sleeper as a baby, Ananjan would sleep through the night (it’s another matter that roles have reversed now!). While Achintya would demand frequent feeds, Ananjan was content with ‘three square meals.’

That is why when I read Joyce Seyburn’s Seven Secrets to Raising a Happy and Healthy Child, I felt that the book was a good guide for first-time parents. Seyburn is a trained kindergarten teacher, who later went on to volunteer at the Center for Mind/ Body medicine, Deepak Chopra’s first West Coast well-being centre. The book serves as a practical guide for parents to understand their child’s constitution (both mind and body). It emphasizes the Ayurvedic philosophy, which takes a holistic approach to healthcare. Depending on the dosha or characteristics (vata, pitta, kapha) present in the child, each child turns out to be a different individual. For instance, vata-dominant babies require less sleep, startle easily, and are extremely sensitive to diaper rash, and have sensitive skin. Kapha-dominant babies sleep through the night are reserved, and have regular bowel movements,

Ayurveda stresses on balanced mind and body as the first step towards a long, healthy and happy life. Hence, the book aims to dictate and direct steps to maintain and restore balance in children.

The first chapter highlights the need for a balanced mother, even as she courts creation. In an ideal situation, the mother should eat nutritionally, exercise moderately and get enough rest. It is a well-known fact that the embryo feels stress if the mother is under stress. Seyburn quotes Charaka, the ancient Ayurvedic physician, who says, ‘a baby is one part mother, one part father, one part the mother’s intake during pregnancy, and one part nature or consciousness.” The second chapter deals with the dosha characteristics and their imbalances. A questionnaire helps identify what body-mind type your baby might be.

Through the next few chapters, Seyburn explains the need for meditation for mothers during pregnancy and after delivery. She says, “Silence is the most basic way to centre yourself and your baby.” Rhythm/ music and aromatic oils are some other methods to centre babies and can be extremely useful to calm an excited baby. The importance and technique of massage (with illustrations) is explained in great detail, which is quite a help for mothers who live in nuclear families.

A whole chapter is devoted to conscious breathing or pranayama, and yoga. “Pranayama helps the mother’s ability to relax, increase the capacity of her lungs, and prepare for easy Lamaze breathing,” says Seyburn. What is interesting is the inclusion of a section called ‘pre-yoga’ for babies, which are gentle stretches for babies, something which Indian grandmothers and midwives have done since time immemorial. The last chapter deals with nutritional aspects, breastfeeding, and methods to combat post-partum problems.

Indeed, this is a uniquely informative book on the mind/body approach to pregnancy and parenting. However, when I bought it a decade ago it was just Rs.150/-. Indeed, inflation has now priced it at Rs. 550/- now.

Sangeeta Venkatesh

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