Ayurvedic Wisdom: Self-Care for Kapha DoshaApr 01, 2023 06:00AM ● By Jaya Ramamurthy
In 2019, we kicked off this magazine’s deep dive into Ayurveda, the world’s oldest system of health enhancement and maintenance, with a three-part series. Then, in 2020 and 2021, we published a series of four articles providing Ayurvedic advice about staying healthy in the four seasons of the year. This article is the second in our latest three-part series by Ayurvedic clinical specialist Jaya Ramamurthy that takes a deeper look at Ayurveda’s three doshas—the three energies that comprise everyone’s physical, emotional and behavioral makeup. Here, we delve into the kapha dosha. [Go to bit.ly/naa-ayurveda-t to see all of our Ayurveda articles to date.—Ed.]
Originating several millennia ago in the Indian subcontinent, Ayurveda is much more than just a medical system for treating and preventing illness. It is a worldview—a way of looking at the universe and our place in it. Its simple but profound five element theory connects human beings to one another and the cosmos.
The Five Elements and the DoshasAyurveda’s foundational principle is drawn from Sankhya, a philosophical school of thought that teaches that the cosmos is made of the five primary elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. These elements have certain qualities. For example, earth, the densest element, is described as heavy, static, cold and dry—like a sandy beach at low tide at night. Water, on the other hand, is cold, heavy and wet with no inherent movement of its own. It moves with the wind or a gradient in the landscape. Air is light, cold and full of movement; in fact, air is the only element capable of movement. Fire is warm or hot and light as well as dry. Finally, ether is omnipresent space that holds all the elements.
To make up life, the five elements give rise to three doshas—kapha, pitta and vata—which can be thought of as forces that exist within the human body. The doshas make it possible to have an infinite number of combinations of the five elements, and that means no two people are exactly alike.
For example, earth and water combine to make a life form, such as a cell of the human body, and the combination is called the kapha dosha. The pitta dosha is the combination of water and fire, which, together, make cellular or metabolic processes. For example, on the most subtle level, digestive enzymes can be abstracted to be fire encapsulated by water. The combination of air and ether creates movement and is called the vata dosha. The three doshas can be thought of as forces that exist within the human body—they cannot be measured, but they can be observed.
Ayurveda’s principles are simple: when layered on, similar qualities will increase, and opposite qualities will balance each other. This becomes clear as we examine the kapha dosha.
The Kapha ProfileThe nature of kapha is static, cool, heavy, moist, soft, dense, flowing and cloudy.
Kapha people are loving, caring, compassionate, calm and mostly sanguine in nature. They might need some time to learn new concepts, but once learned, they usually have great retention. Kapha people are patient, loyal and reliable. They are great at maintaining relationships and valuing connection over anything else. Kapha types can be affected by silence and by a cloudy climate, and when they’re disturbed, they might withdraw and get quiet. Once they are angered, it might take them some time to forget and forgive.
When imbalanced, kapha types get stuck, unable to see a different approach or path. They can become overly attached or possessive and even lethargic.
Since water and earth are its predominant elements, a kapha body type is more substantial than all the other types; kapha people can be large and are often heavy. It is not easy to see their bone structure and predominant joints. The face tends to be round and facial features are prominent. For example, kapha eyes are large, and the nose and lips are pronounced. Palms and feet are thick with thick fingers and toes.
The kapha gait is steady; kapha skin tends to be moist, clear and smooth; and kapha hair tends to be thick and lustrous. Kapha people have a sweet voice and a thick, meaty tongue. As a rule, those with a kapha body type find it easy to gain body weight and difficult to lose it.
Kapha people have a steady, easygoing appetite. They are not easily discomfited by a missed meal, usually rolling with the change in routine. If they have digestive issues, they can be prone to nausea or fullness. Kapha people do not have trouble falling or staying asleep and tend to sleep in a lot. Their day is characterized by steady and stable energy, and they have a strong sex drive. Changes in outside temperatures do not usually bother them; however, they do not like high humidity because of the water element already present in their nature.
Health Challenges and Tips for Kapha
Kapha disorders tend to be those of stagnation and mucus or fluid retentive. Respiratory diseases, sinus problems, nausea, excess body weight and depression tend to plague the kapha individual.
The biggest challenge for kapha types is to make sure that robust activity is built into the day without large periods of rest or inactivity.
Kapha types must eat lightly and in accordance with their appetite, and they must lead active lives. Since moistness and heaviness are already predominant for them, easy-to-digest foods are key. Plenty of fresh vegetables and greens and light meals focused around plant-based proteins are very useful for this body type. This ensures easy digestion and no heaviness. Kapha types tend to get hungry only later in the day, usually when the sun peaks. A light breakfast, such as a piece of toast, is ideal for this type. Eating the heaviest meal when most hungry—around midday—and refraining from a heavy dinner keeps kaphas from gaining unwanted weight.
Kaphas don’t usually suffer the ill effects of caffeine or alcohol since they can withstand the stimulatory effects of these substances.
Kapha types benefit from dry brushing, or garshana, which helps keep the lymph moving and cleansed because it helps fight fat accumulation, i.e., cellulite, keeping the skin clear and smooth.
Kapha types ride out the seasonal changes well, but excess humidity, especially when combined with cold, can aggravate kapha disorders. To bring about balance, focus on the opposite qualities—warm, light, dry and mobile. It is especially valuable to do this during the kapha time of the day, which is 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and during the spring season, which is the kapha time of year. It is also especially beneficial for infants and children, for that is the kapha time of life.
Daily self-care routines like dry brushing in the mornings and evenings will nourish a kapha person at this time of year. Kaphas benefit from avoiding all heavy and cold foods, such as dairy, fried foods, heavy meats and cold beverages. Such foods can provoke excess water in the body, resulting in mucus, fullness and heaviness. It’s best for kaphas to focus on warm, light, fresh, nourishing meals made with spring’s seasonal produce; they naturally counteract kapha.
For example, spring’s fresh berries and bitter greens are very cleansing. Include a small portion of healthy fats, such as ghee, and avoid all oils and nuts. Foods that incorporate warming and clearing spices and herbs such as ginger, turmeric, black pepper and small amounts of cayenne pepper are seasonally appropriate. When roasted, powdered and used in preparing savory foods, cumin and coriander seeds regulate the appetite and ensure proper digestion.
For a personalized kapha balancing protocol, consult an Ayurvedic practitioner. Ayurveda encourages us to tune in and pay attention to the state of our body-mind intuitively. This subtle observation is valuable to help pivot and adjust to the season’s rhythms. An Ayurvedic lifestyle goes a long way to not only help us prevent disease but to thrive and flourish along life’s path, no matter where we find ourselves. ❧