Managing Kapha Dosha
Updated: Sep 7, 2020
A few months ago, we started a series that unravels the mysteries of Ayurveda one entry at a time with a number of posts on this yogic science of (self-)healing. Following up on this, today we’d like to add one more post focused on the management of disturbances of the Kapha Dosha for anyone currently experiencing any of the typical ailments derived from this dosha’s imbalance.
For those of you needing to catch up on what’s already been said and written, feel free to check our earlier posts on the dosha-guna typologies, Ayurveda as a holistic medicinal system, or the management of Vata and Pitta misalignments to begin with.
Water, Earth and All Things Stable
Ayurveda refers to Kapha as the dosha that embodies the elements of earth and water, that is, two of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether) with more material consistency to them. Both earth and water grant our systems the ability to bind matter together in a grounding, yet somewhat fluid way, so it can be moved and excreted more efficiently and thoroughly. Earth and water, then, metaphorically speak of all those forces naturally present in our bodies helping to hold our constituent parts together. We're referring here to that vital sort of ‘glue’ or principle binding cells together and giving our entire being its characteristic coherent and synchronic structure; but also binding waste products of all kinds together so they can be more efficiently excreted.
In fact, Kapha means ‘biological water’ and, come to think of it, water is about one of the most essential elements for all life on this planet. Since all the elements characteristic of Ayurveda are there in order to stand for certain attributes and qualities, it’s no surprise that when we speak of Kapha’s earth- and water-like connotations, we think of things like ‘lubrication,’ ‘moisture,’ ‘support,’ ‘strength,’ ‘energy,’ and 'weight.' To the dosha of Kapha we owe, for example, such things as the lubrication of our joints and organs, the moisture in our skin, the support and stability provided by our bones, and pretty much any quality having to do with the need for adherence, cohesion, amalgamation, and even attachment.
Thus, if Vata is the energy of movement and Pitta the energy of transformation, we can say that Kapha is the energy of cohesion and stability. We need movement for change to happen and combustion for any transformation to occur; but we also need enough cohesion and stability for movement and transformation to have an actual medium where to take place to begin with. Kapha is that medium.
Hence, we can say that Pitta is needed to burn through what we ingest to both release energy and burn through impurities. Vata is necessary to mobilize all of that and help our circulatory and lymph systems transport any nutrients and waste products all through the body from the legs back into the torso, so exchange and excretion can happen. And Kapha is needed to overcome the tendency of our bodies’ secretions and waste products to settle and become stagnant 'at the bottom.' Like a heavy sedimentation process. Its lubrication is essential for such organs as the heart, the lungs, the brain or our sense organs (eyes, mouth, nose, ears, and skin) so they all can move, expand and contract and remain moist, mobile, and juicy.
Tendencies of the Kapha Type
Now, Ayurveda experts tell us that when the dosha of Kapha is well balanced, we enjoy a great deal of stability, strength, lubrication, as well as certain positive personality attributes such as greater capacity for love, patience, and kindness. But all coins have two sides, and so they also tell us that when deranged, Kapha “produces loss of digestive power (weakened Agni), accumulation of phlegm and mucus, exhaustion, feeling of heaviness, pallor, cold sensations, looseness of limbs, difficulty of breathing, coughing, and excessive desire for sleeping.” This is not hard to understand once we realize the areas Kapha is supposed to reside in; for kapha is said to dwell in "the chest, the throat, head, pancreas, ribs, stomach, plasma, fat, nose, and tongue” which are, all of them, areas where fluids of different sorts ––mucus, digestive fluids, saliva, synovial fluid–– help both mobilize nutrients and carry waste materials out of the body.
At the level of the body, Kapha types have a tendency to exhibit sturdier and bulkier constitutions that showcase well developed and prominent muscles and broader bone structures. Of great strength and endurance, Kapha individuals tend to be quite energetic even when their predisposition towards stability and cohesion also makes them prone to having a somewhat sluggish and slower type of metabolism. As a consequence of this, they have a tendency to shun movement and exercise despite their innate strength, which is one of the reasons why Kapha predominant types often have a natural tendency towards gaining weight ––as well as, oftentimes, a higher mass index.
We mentioned earlier that stability and groundedness were two of Kapha’s most characteristic attributes and this goes both in relation to its positive and not so positive sides. Thus, while a stable and grounded predisposition is an excellent quality to exhibit at all levels ––and particularly in situations of stress, sudden change, or unforeseen mishappenings–– it also comes side by side with a greater tendency towards stagnation, an inability to move or react in a timely manner when unexpected events come to happen, and a predisposition towards the repetition of attachment patterns and monotonous routines.
With thick and resistant skin, oil-rich hair, and large eyes with thick lashes, Kapha types often have fair and cold skin, sweat moderately, and sleep heavily and for long periods at a time (often to an excess). They are naturally attracted towards sweet, oily, and salty flavors that are a testament to their also healthy, sweet, and contented nature. They tend to eat smaller portions than any of the two other doshic types, have regular appetites, and move slowlier, in a calmed and relaxed manner, which accounts also in part for their also slower bowel movements.
The Kapha-Type Mind
Calm, patient, and forgiving per nature, Kapha people have a naturally loving disposition, don’t like to quarrel, are great mediators, and make for stable and solid companions. They have excellent long-term memory but require greater time in order to assimilate and understand something; yet, once they do, their comprehension is definitive. Good at making a living for themselves and holding on to whatever material and personal possessions they garner, Kapha types are also prone to excessive attachment towards their belongings, to jealousy and envy of others, and to excessive possessiveness at all levels. They have a hard time letting go in general, and particularly of old memories and grudges, as well as of memorabilia, being sometimes too prone to staying anchored in the past.
Kapha and Health
Because the elements of earth and water are characteristic of this dosha, Kapha predominant types have a tendency to exhibit ailments that are also related to imbalances in any of these two elements and their qualities. What does this mean? That Kapha types are prone to diseases involving a weak Agni or digestive fire leading to poor combustion and thus to too much accumulation of the cold in them. This subsequently leads to excess retention of water and excessive moisture, thus, sluggishness and heaviness.
All of these ‘excesses’ tend to accumulate in both the stomach and the lungs ––the two predominant Kapha areas of accumulation–– leading to various gastrointestinal and respiratory conditions. For Kapha's main sites of accumulation are the sinuses, the head, the throat, the nose, the lungs, the joints, the mouth, the stomach, the lymph, and plasma.
Things like asthma (excessive water in the lungs), congestion, bronchitis, regular common colds and flus, lymphatic congestion, depression, sluggishness, excess weight, diabetes, edema (water retention) or generalized puffiness and swelling of a watery nature, heavy legs, or fat (which is usually as well an excess of water) and certain headaches are typical Kapha-derangement symptoms. To appease such conditions, Ayurveda tends to prescribe a combination of therapies normally aimed at reducing excess of heaviness and stagnation and, therefore, at warming and drying up the excessive ‘coldness' so characteristic of these conditions.
Things like fasting, light dieting, controlled Ayurvedic vomiting, or heating and drying therapies are normally the preferred course of treatment for many of the above-mentioned conditions, as well as amping up any stimulating activities with the potential to increase movement and flow. The idea is to enhance metabolic function and diuresis so that excess ama (Ayurvedic for waste) and water may be released through all their natural out-roads ––urination, excretion, and sweat.
Since Kapha types are naturally drawn towards sweet and salty flavors and heavy foods, when trying to stimulate their system and improve any condition, we would want to favour bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes and elements normally utilized to potentize and activate excretion. Astringent flavors, foods, and herbs are naturally drying; pungent ones are naturally hot; and bitter ones have a quality of lightness to them that helps counter excessive heaviness (water/earth).
When it comes to our day to day life, then, this means things as varied as trying to avoid eating too much of any sweet and sour fruits like avocados, tomatoes, bananas, coconuts, dates, pineapple, plums, or Rhubarb, vegetables like cucumber, olives, sweet potatoes and zucchini, as well as excessive dairy, meat, legumes such as kidney beans and soy beans, and condiments such as lime, mayonnaise, salt, or, of course, chocolate.
On the list of things to consume more of, one could increase delicious foods like apples, berries, prunes, and pomegranates, artichokes, asparagus, beets, and cauliflower, mushrooms, peas, peppers, and spinach, and grains such as buckwheat, couscous, oats or even seitan.
Spices work real wonders for Kaphas, as well as any teas with any activating composition. So, if you’re a Kapha type in search of a quick and easy fix of sorts, you can think of drinking teas that have more of the bitter, astringent, and pungent note to them. You’ll be looking to making infusions of things like ginger, cinnamon, fennel, jasmine, lavender, lemon, nettle, nutmeg, red clover, juniper, basil, anise, cayenne, mint, cardamom, neem, peppermint, cumin, turmeric, hibiscus, coriander, or thyme, to name just a few.
In general terms, we want to avoid any excessively static, stagnant, monotonous, lazy, repetitive and attachment-based tendencies in us and add more vitality to our lives and diets. We want to increase all the rhythmic, stimulating sides of our life, be it through what we eat, through our personal interactions, as well as through any psychological or intellectual endeavors. We want to have more variation, not at the cost of our stability, but as a way to spice things up.
We hope this entry is a good summary of existing literature on this dosha. But should you want to expand your knowledge of Ayurveda and the three doshas feel free to access any of the reference works by Dr. David Frawley, Dr. Vasant Lad, or Dr. Robert Sbovoda for starters. We'll keep you posted of any upcoming Ayurveda-infused morcels of wisdom in any upcoming entries.