UNDERSTANDING KAPHA: HOW TO BALANCE KAPHA DOSHA THROUGH DIET AND ROUTINES
We live in a Vata dominant time where we are more and more occupied with social media, easy access to travel the world, a fast-paced life in cities, a fully scheduled day with work and activities for oneself and the kids. After leaving Vata season, late autumn and winter, behind us we welcome spring season with it’s kapha energy that empowers us, and nurishes our psyche, energy system and physical body. The days get warmer and brighter and nature comes to life. Spring is a season to plant seeds, to look ahead, make new plans, take decisions and decide which direction to go for the rest of the year. This Kapha time has it’s challenges and supports us to grow and change. It is a time of change that can be experienced as a strain – emotionally, physically and nutritionally. It is still cold and wet outside, unlike the Vata season that is more dry. We try to keep our bodys warm and do not take off our winter clothes too soon. If Kapha dosha is in balance, you feel calm, patient and stable.
We try to get rid of any stiffness in body and mind. Ama, the body’s accumulated toxins, should be dissolved and transported away from the tissues during this season. This transition period between seasons is a good time for a spring cleanse or digestive reset and an ideal time for recovery, to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and move into stillness. Support from our love ones, family and friends can be really helpful.
KAPHA DOSHA’S PROPERTIES AND IMBALANCES
Kapha is dominated by the water and fire element and qualities are cold, moist, sluggish, stable and heavy. In Ayurveda the opposite qualities are added to create harmony and balance in a dosha. If we look at the circadian rhythm, kapha time is between 6 and 10 in the morning and evening. I learned during my ayurvedic training that if you feel heavy, tired and without enery that it is best to wake up just before that time and have breakfast and to do your workout routine in the morning. Kapha dosha dominates in nature and therefore it makes sense that you want to be more outdoors during springtime. It stimulates circulation, provides energy and supports the cleansing process of body and mind. You can move in any way you like. Enjoy nature and exercise regularly.
The downside of a humid and cold season is that you can get a runny nose, a cold and allergies that make you feel dull and heavy. Some people are especially tired and can’t get out of bed in the morning, others might feel depressed and lethargic. Should you experience such symptoms, it indicates an excess of Kapha. Additional symptoms of increased kapha in the body are a slow digestion, called manda agni, and a slow metabolism. To deal with the symptoms, you want to avoid increasing the characteristics of the dominant dosha and do things or eat foods that benefit the dosha.
WHAT TO EAT IF KAPHA IS OUT OF BALANCE?
All foods that are stimulating are beneficial, from coffee to spicy food to vigorous exercise. Breakfast should be light because Agni, your digestive fire, can still be weak in the morning. Some may even want to skip breakfast and if you are Kapha dominant, then this is the only time you can skip breakfast. Vata and Pitta dominant people should at least eat three times a day. Eat only if you are hungry and eat smaller portions. Kapha people enjoy food and the risk here is that they overeat. Give it at least 4 hours between meals so the previous meal can be digested properly. This is the natural way they body gets rid of “debris”. Intermittent fasting during spring is fine as long you feel good and not hungry. If you eat too much and too often, your stomach and intestines gets clogged and is not given the chance to rest. It is difficult for the body to digest heavy and oily foods and that can cause Ama. A kapha imbalance caused by too heavy and cold food weakens Agni and may cause indigestion. It increases the water element in the body. Ama can cause weight gain, constipation and body aches. The main meal should be eaten at lunch because Agni is strongest between 11 am and 2 pm. The evening meal should be eaten early, ie around 6 pm and it should be light and warm. A soup or kitchari with mung beans is perfect. Regarding the food and spices, you should think the opposite of kapha’s properties.
Use kapha-balancing food and spices that stimulate digestion and increase your Agni such as fresh or dried ginger, black pepper or pippali, cloves, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon. The food should be light, dry and hot. Easier for digestion are, for example, barley, millet and quinoa. Pungeant foods include onions, chili, mustard and radishes. Bitter flavors are found in spinach, rhubarb, fenugreek and coffee. Astringent flavors are found in chickpeas, green beans, sprouts, lettuce and olives. Reduce heavy, fried and fatty foods. Raw foods can be difficult to digest if Ama is present and nutrient uptake is poor. A well-trained Health Advisor or Ayurvedic doctor can help you to find out. Avoid cold drinks and meals as it takes unnecessary energy away from your digestion.
You should focus on foods and spices with pungeant, bitter and astringent flavors. Pungeant flavors consist of air and fire element, that increase Agni and metabolism. Bitter flavors detoxify and promote the breakdown of toxins. They help to get rid of substances the body does not need. The air and ether elements are dominant. Astringent flavors are composed of the air and earth elements and promote the absorption of body fluids and are anti-inflammatory. (1)
In case of sluggish digestion and constipation, you can try herbs such as triphala, psyllium husk and even ghee. Every body is different and some herbs work on you others not. Trifala is laxative and strengthenig for the intestine. It is not possible to give a recommendation of dosage and length so please check with your Ayurvedic Health Advisor. It depends entirely on your symptoms and is determined during a consultation. Ghee lubricates the intestinal walls and makes them soft and smooth. Psyllium husk soaks up water in your gut and makes bowel movements much easier.
ROUTINES THAT CREATE BALANCE
Regular routines and meals are very important to keep all doshas in balance. A reasonable morning routine that promotes cleansing is, for example, tongue scraping, oil drawing and drinking a glass of lukewarm lemon water with a little honey and ginger 15 minutes before breakfast. Before lunch, I recommend a ginger appetizer or shot that stimulates the secretion of saliva and enzymes that promotes good digestion.
Regular moderate exercise is desirable, especially in the morning or around lunchtime. A short walk after lunch increases bowel movement. You should be a little sweaty and should be able to talk but not sing when you exercise. Sweating reduces the water element in the body and reduces excess Kapha. Move more often, but for a shorter time, especially when being burned out and extremely stressed. Remember not to overload your body and mind with extreme exercise. Avoid sleeping during the day, it makes you drowsy and tired. If you get sleepy during the day, take a quick walk and you will feel much more energized. I experience it that way, try it. Best to go to bed not later than 10 o’clock in the evening so you get enough sleep and wake up in time in the morning. It is generally recommended to get up just before sunrise. However, if you suffer from hypothyroidism or any other hormonal imbalance, burn-out and lack of sleep you can sleep a little longer and take it easy in the morning. Listen to your body.
KAPHA BALANCING YOGA AND BREATHING TECHNIQUES
Yoga exercises that support the body’s digestion and natural detox system are very beneficial. The yoga exercises should massage the spine and organs, ie back bends and rotations are perfect. Bhujangasana (cobra), Shalabhasana (grasshopper) and Vakrasana (seated rotation) are easy positions to perform at home as a regular yoga routine. Yin Yoga poses that stimulate the liver and gallbladder meridian can be very helpful, but be aware that liver and gallbladder are organs related to strong emotions like anger and frustration once released. Don’t be surprised when not feeling balanced and calm after stimulating these meridians (based on my own experience).
“Kapalabhati” is a breathing technique that strengthens Agni. It is a cleansing and fast breathing technique that helps oxygenate blood and brain and cleanses the nasal passages, lungs and the entire respiratory system. It massages the respiratory and digestive organs. It can be quite overwhealming if you try to do it by yourself. Is is best to learned from an experienced yoga teacher. Please do not do it when you have an inflammatory bowel disease, fewer or infection.
OTHER KAPHA BALANCING MEASURES
Nasal oil for dry mucous membranes. For dry and sensitive mucous membranes and headaches, a nasal oil can help moisturize and protect the mucous membranes. You can also use ghee or sesame oil. It strengthens the sense of smell as well.
Neti is a simple and effective method, where you rinse your nose clean with lukewarm salt water. It is used for various ailments in the nose and sinuses. It allows you to breathe better through the nose and can provide increased mental clarity. Nasal rinsing can prevent and relieve colds, sinusitis, asthma and respiratory allergies. You can read how to rinse your nose in my blog post about morning routines.
Garshan, skin dry-brushing, is a very beneficial massage during springtime to get more energized. It is an invigorating and good alternative to regular massage. Garshan increases lymphatic circulation in the body. The lymphatic system is the body’s natural drainage system. Other benefits are that it makes your skin smooth and soft. Garshan is usually given in combination with a relaxing oil massage such as Abhyanga, which provides deep relaxation in body and mind. Fasting for a few days with easily digestible foods can help with weight loss. Weight reduction, if overweight, reduces the earth element in the body and helps reduce fluid retention.
(1) Dr Vasant Lad, Dr David Frawley, The Yoga of Herbs, 2018