Ayurveda states that a person’s elemental constitution is determined at conception. This unique ratio of the three doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha) influences our physiology, physique, preferences, and other defining characteristics.
Despite the fact that our constitution remains the same throughout life, we are all prone to fall out of balance. This can happen as a result of environmental, social, familial, or lifestyle factors, which will lead to mental, emotional, or physical symptoms of varying degrees of severity.
It is therefore important that we understand all three doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha. This makes us aware of their vulnerabilities and also offers us a blueprint for managing our health and wellbeing.
Kapha dosha often gets a hard time. It’s sometimes seen as the least “popular” of the three doshas due to some of its less favourable symptoms of imbalance. However, I for one am a huge fan of kapha dosha, as its kindly, grounding stability makes this the fundamental dosha for living a peaceful and harmonious life.
Kapha dosha is comprised of earth and water. The physical combination of earth and water is mud. Mud is a helpful image to keep in mind for this dosha, as it is representative of many of the gunas (qualities) of kapha: heavy, stable, sticky, slow, cool, oily, and smooth.
Signs of healthy kapha:
- Thick, lustrous hair and strong nails
- A well-developed frame with sturdy joints and bones
- Strong musculature (will require quite a lot of exercise to maintain)
- A clear complexion
- Large, captivating, and compassionate eyes
- A healthy immune system
- A gentle, loving, and tolerant disposition
- A calm and steady mind
- A caring and sensitive nature
- Thick skin—you’re not easily ruffled or flustered
- An excellent memory
- Regular elimination and well-formed stools
Indications of kapha imbalance:
- Struggling with weight gain/difficulty losing weight
- Congestion of the chest and sinuses
- Mucus in the chest and head
- “Wet” coughs
- Lethargy, lack of motivation, depression
- Heaviness and inertia
- Profuse sweating upon exertion
- Cold and clammy hands and feet
- Sluggish digestion (which makes it easy to over-indulge)
- Cravings for sweet things
- Emotional eating
- Resistance to change
What causes kapha to go out of balance?
Like with all the doshas, there are usually multiple factors at play when kapha becomes aggravated. Kapha is closely related to our emotional body, so imbalance may arise as a response to grief or trauma. Kapha can also be thrown off balance by consuming excessive sweet, oily, or heavy foods and leading a sedentary lifestyle.
Kapha aggravation can also sometimes be a seasonal problem, as anyone who suffers from hayfever will tell you! Spring is the season associated with kapha. It shares many of the same characteristics, and so it is during this time that you may experience an increase in kapha-like qualities: high mucus production, cold and flu symptoms, chesty coughs, and congestion.
If your aim is to balance kapha, the best place to start is to look at your diet. For kapha dosha, the goal is to stabilize the cold, oily, heavy, dense, and slow qualities of kapha with foods that are heating, lightening, drying, and rough in texture. It is important to find a diet that is both satisfying and sustainable. However, kapha has a tendency towards over-indulgence, so this is something to keep in mind when making appropriate dietary choices.
- Pungent, bitter, and astringent foods are balancing for kapha due to their drying and lightening qualities
- Freshly-cooked foods that are served warm or hot
- Heating, drying and lightening spices, such as black pepper, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper (in moderation), mustard, and ginger
- A minimalistic diet with smaller meals
- Establish lunch as the main meal of the day (when the digestive fire is at its height) and keep dinners early and light
- An abundance of fresh fruits, and vegetables cooked lightly with spices
- Room temperature or hot beverages
- Sweet, sour, or salty foods increase kapha as they increase bulk and moisture in the body
- Foods of a heavy or dense quality, such as bread, pasta, pies, hard cheeses, and most flour-based foods
- Excessively oily foods
- Frozen or microwave meals
- Raw foods
- Iced or chilled beverages
- Pre-packaged or processed foods
- Excessive consumption of dairy products
- Snacking between meals
Bibhitaki is an Indian tree-growing fruit that is best known as one of the three fruits that make up Triphala. Bibhitaki is detoxifying and rejuvenating for kapha. It supports breathing and general lung health, and it also promotes the elimination of waste. This fruit is known for maintaining the proper function of the heart, liver and kidneys, while supporting healthy vision and hair growth.
Bibhitaki is extremely astringent in taste and has a heating quality, making it very effective in combating the damp coolness of kapha.
Chitrak is a powerfully heating herb that is used in ayurveda for its ability to kindle agni (the digestive fire) and promote healthy metabolism. Due to these qualities, this herb supports healthy weight loss and weight management. It also removes naturally occurring toxins from the intestine and supports the proper absorption of nutrients.
Chitrak is excellent for reducing kapha. It supports the healthy functioning of the liver and the digestion of fats and sugars, and it naturally energises the body without causing dehydration.
Ayurveda uses many herbal remedies to support the healthy functioning of the doshas. However, it is very important that you take great care when incorporating a new herb into your diet. Therefore, it is always a good idea to consult a doctor or Ayurvedic practitioner beforehand, especially if you are dealing with any symptomology.
3. Active Movement Practices
Kapha really benefits from vigorous physical activity, particularly first thing in the morning. People with a predominance of kapha in the body should aim to raise the heart rate regularly by enjoying activities such as hiking, jogging, biking, or a more vigorous style of yoga, such as ashtanga vinyasa. Workouts should be challenging and stimulating. Kapha can struggle to find the motivation to exercise, so attending individual or group classes where you are accountable to the teacher can be helpful.
4. Cleansing and Moisturizing the Nasal Passages (Neti)
Ayurveda states that when the nasal passages and sinuses are clear, it promotes clarity of mind. Kapha has a tendency to sit heavily within this area of the body, and people experiencing aggravation of kapha may suffer from blocked sinuses, excessive mucus, a blocked nose, or hayfever-like symptoms.
Cleansing the nasal passage, a process known as neti, is a practice that has been found to significantly improve such symptoms. It is best done first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. This practice may seem unusual and even daunting for the beginner; however, rest assured that the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience.
The aim of neti is to pour warm salt water through the nasal cavities to remove mucus, dust, pollen, or debris that may be contributing to nasal congestion. You may find that your nose feels very dry afterwards. If this is the case, wait at least 20 minutes after cleansing and then simply apply a small amount of oil to your little finger and rub inside the nostrils. There are nasya oils you can purchase specifically for this purpose. However, plain sesame oil will work just as well.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, this practice can be used daily or as needed. The only contraindications to practicing neti are if you have an active sinus infection, if you are completely congested, or if you experience any irritation to the salt solution.
5. Kabalabhati: Breath of Fire/Skull Shining Breath
This pranayama technique is heating and stimulating practice used for internal cleansing. Not only does it stimulate the digestive system and improve circulation, but it also cleanses and strengthens the lungs, which can be an area of weakness for those with predominant kapha. It is best to practice kabalabhati on an empty stomach, first thing in the morning. If you experience any dizziness, then stop the practice and take several rounds of deep breath.
6. Try New Things
Kapha can be very resistant to change and even become stubborn and set in their ways. The best way to combat this is to push out of your comfort zone in some way every day. This can be as simple as taking a different route home from work, visiting a new place, or trying out a new recipe or a new activity.
7. Tongue Scraping
This simple hygiene practice is great for everyone, but particularly so for kapha. The tongue accumulates bacteria and toxins overnight, and some people dealing with kapha imbalance may notice a white layer of ama (toxin) on their tongue in the morning. Scraping the tongue not only removes stagnation, but it also stimulates the digestive tract, vital organs, and natural detoxification. Copper tongue scrapers can be found online or in a local Indian grocery or health food store.
8. Viparita Karani: Legs Resting Up the Wall
Lying with your legs up the wall for five or ten minutes in the evening encourages relaxation, relieves tension, and prepares the body for sleep. It encourages fluid drainage in the legs and stimulates circulation, combatting some of the damp heaviness of kapha dosha. This also eases any swelling or cramping that may have accumulated in the ankles.