Whole-child upbringing

Ayurveda: An ancient Indian medical system appeals to new parents looking for a way to nurture both the mind and the body.

January 31, 1999|By Ellen Creager | Ellen Creager,Knight Ridder/Tribune

DETROIT -- When Grant Seyburn was born at Sinai Hospital on Dec. 17, his mother looked at his face, his father looked at his hands and his grandmother looked at his dosha.

"All babies are kaphas, and then in about 10 days you can start to decide which body type they are," says Joyce Golden Seyburn.

A kapha-what?

Imagine that you and your wife are having your second child, and your mother in California has written a book on parenting, "The Seven Secrets to Raising a Happy and Healthy Child" (Berkley, $12). The secrets include not only identifying your baby's dosha -- a Sanskrit word describing mind-body type -- but also natural childbirth, meditation, yoga with your infant, massage and embracing the ancient Indian medical system called ayurveda (ah-yoor-VAY-da).

"I'm open-minded, but a lot of it is, 'OK, Mom,' " says Marc Seyburn, a tax attorney who lives in Commerce Township, Mich., with his wife, daughter and new son.

Still, this time he is willing to give it a try. He and his wife, Alisa, discuss Grant's dosha the way other parents might talk about colic.

Ayurveda, which means "the science of life," is more than 4,000 years old and is based on the idea that the mind and body are linked so strongly that an imbalance in one can cause disease in the other. Ayurvedic practitioners use an elaborate system of foods, tonics, massage, meditation and other methods to keep the body in balance. Its ancient premises have been modernized in India and the United States, but its mystical qualities have attracted many people who are dissatisfied with traditional Western medicine.

Seyburn says her holistic advice for new parents counterbalances a harsh, technical world.

"A lot of women are more comfortable behind a computer desk than with a baby," she says. "People want children but they don't know what to do."

Though her book rides the tide of public interest in holistic health care, Seyburn has been a metaphysical mom for nearly 30 years.

The former elementary school teacher raised two sons and a daughter in Michigan, but upon her divorce in 1987 she moved to Del Mar, Calif. There, she tried various careers and explored all things spiritual and metaphysical.

She found her stride as a volunteer at the Center for Mind/Body Medicine in San Diego, founded by charismatic doctor Deepak Chopra, who has written more than a dozen books based on ayurveda and has millions of followers.

For three years, Seyburn worked the phones to answer questions from desperately unhappy and ill callers from all over the world.

Along the way, she absorbed Chopra's popularized version of ayurveda and its central concept of a trio of mind-body types, called doshas -- vata, pitta and kapha. Ayurveda holds that each dosha has special nutritional and environmental needs.

Most Western doctors are unfamiliar with doshas or are skeptical.

"The majority of mainstream medical doctors do not think that the ... classification is valid," says Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld, author of "Dr. Rosenfeld's Guide to Alternative Medicine" (Fawcett, $13.95). Still, the Office of Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health is funding research on the topic.

When Seyburn's first grandchild, Shelby, was born in 1994, she looked for a book to send Marc and Alisa that described mind-body parenting. She found nothing. Even her idol Chopra had concentrated exclusively on adults. A book was needed.

"I thought, 'I can't write it, Deepak can write it.' But a friend said I should write it, and beat them to the scoop," says Seyburn. So she quit the center and started writing.

She credits meditation for allowing her book to flow; her writing background is limited. But her timing was good. And an ability to distill her experiences into practical, parent-friendly advice helped her beat her boss to the bookshelf.

To her own son, her advice comes as gentle support, not a mother-knows-best mandate.

"The way Mom has gone about it has never been intimidating," says Marc, 30.

Joyce Seyburn's one regret is that she didn't have her own book to read when her three children were little. She would have understood them more. She believes now that when parents and children don't get along, it's because their doshas are dissimilar.

Back in Del Mar, she has begun writing her next book. Called "Conscious Conception," its premise is "that the thoughts of the parents at the time of conception determine the soul that comes into the body," she says.

But that book idea's time has not quite come -- even in California. So she's writing it as a novel.

What parents can do

From "The Seven Secrets to Raising a Happy and Healthy Child" (Berkley, $12):

1. Both parents should live balanced lives before their child is born. Practice yoga, eat right and nurture yourself.

2. Use natural childbirth, employing relaxation techniques, massage and meditation. "Two births take place when a baby is born, that of the child and that of the individuals who are reborn as parents," author Joyce Golden Seyburn says.

3. Identify your baby's dosha, or mind-body type, after 10 days, so you can understand him or her better.

4. After the baby is born, use meditation, aromatherapy and relaxation techniques so you are calmer in caring for your baby.

5. When the baby is a couple of weeks old, start daily massage with oil.

6. Teach older children meditation, yoga and breathing techniques to help them stay balanced and regulate sleep, digestion and hunger.

7. Breast-feed your baby, eat right and feed your children properly.

Pub Date: 01/31/99

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