Managing Kapha Dosha: A Guide For Every Constitution
Kapha dosha is the energy comprised of water and earth. If your Ayurvedic constitution is predominately kapha, managing a healthy balance in both mind and body is perhaps easiest for you of the tri-dosha. (If you don’t know your dosha type, click here to find out). You are extremely well-grounded, which makes you a reliable family member, friend, and colleague, and people often come to you for nurturing, support, and compassion. You seek security and stability and enjoy your habits and routines. Kapha in a word? Solid. But in all your groundedness, you also have the tendency to become rigid and stagnant, an island. We like islands, but they are quite isolating places to live if we don’t actively seek ways to make life dynamic and get into the water from time to time.
Moving From Fixed To Fluid
Managing the subtle energy of kapha dosha is best understood by looking to its natural elements. Earth is solid, stable, and steady. Water flows smoothly in, around, over, and through, but can solidify like earth and freeze under the influence of a specific temperature. Similarly, earth tends to be slightly soft or extremely hard under certain environmental influences. Although these are natural, seasonal changes, a proper balance is necessary to ensure harmony. Through this lens of Ayurvedic wisdom, kapha tends to be overly rigid, averse to change, and stubborn when out of balance. Managing kapha means avoiding cold, damp temperatures that tend to aggravate your water element and making physical movement an essential part of your day to keep things flowing. It also means using your strength and courage to affect change when necessary, and helping others do the same.
This strong and stable energy governs the structure, lubrication, and growth of all seven dhatus (the body tissues). When we talk about the tri-dosha energies, it’s helpful to look to their manifest energy to understand its action within the body. Vata is the manifest air or wind responsible for movement. Pitta is agni, our digestive fire, which governs the transformation of the food we eat so the body can absorb it. Kapha is our biological water. Although one or more of the doshas may be dominant within you, each one of us has some degree of all three. Managing an appropriate balance of each dosha supports a healthy constitution and affects every area of life. We must consider the interaction of external and internal forces and their influence on our constitution. For example, kapha dosha is most apparent in the winter season, which exhibits the same qualities of heaviness, cold, stickiness, and cloudiness. This natural external force will impact the degree and quality of kapha within our constitution.
Our biological water is essentially the mucus that lubricates many different parts of the body. According to Ayurveda, any abnormalities or issues with bodily fluid is owed to an imbalance of the kapha dosha. Managing this stable energy in your constitution (even if it is not your dominant dosha) keeps the body well-lubricated, which also assists vata, the energy of movement.
Five Types of Kapha Mucus
In Ayurvedic medicine, the kapha dosha has five vital biological waters or mucus types that maintain certain functions throughout the body. But don’t let the obscure terms discourage you. They are simply the Sanskrit names to describe the location and function of this dosha in the body. An imbalance of one or more of these sub-doshas will manifest as an issue in its respective part of the body, so observing the activity of each of them is an essential part of managing your constitution.
Avalambaka Kapha is located in the chest and associated with the heart chakra. Its primary functions are to lubricate and nourish the body, which we can attribute to the water element, stabilize the major arteries necessary to support the heart in its cavity, and maintain the structural integrity of the lungs. As you can imagine by its role in securing the lungs and heart, it is also the main influencer of the other kapha types and is crucial for overall health. An imbalance may manifest as respiratory issues such as asthma.
Kledaka Kapha is located in the mucus lining of the gastrointestinal tract. It captures and softens hard foods by carrying the enzymes needed for digestion. Imbalances in this sub-dosha may lead to weight gain, diabetes, and gastritis.
Bodhaka Kapha resides on the tongue as saliva. It aids the initial stage of digestion and helps us distinguish between the six tastes. It is the biological water that supports perception as it lubricates all sensory openings in the head.
Tarpaka Kapha is located in the head and is the biological water that supports contentment and Ananda (bliss). Its manifest mucus is white matter and the cerebrospinal fluid that protects the brain and spinal cord and nourishes the sense organs. All memories and experiences associated with our astral body reside in tarpaka. The connection to yoga here is beautiful. The practice of yoga can increase this mental sub-dosha, affecting our overall contentment and bliss as we become closer to our higher self.
Shleshaka Kapha resides in the bone joints as a combination of lymph and synovial fluid. It lubricates and strengthens the joints, and follows the nervous system pathway and supports the functioning of nervous system functioning. It also keeps skin soft and supple. An imbalance of shleshaka will manifest as loose or painful joints and oily skin.
Managing Your Constitution with Routine
Like the other doshas, managing an optimal balance of kapha is essential for health and harmony with your environment. If it becomes excessive, there are a variety of ways to reduce it, but ideally, you want to prevent it from accumulating and disrupting your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
In Ayurveda, routine is an important part of maintaining healthy habits. Our natural rhythms are inherently in sync with nature, but the external influences of work and social responsibilities tend to guide our sleeping and eating schedules. While sticking to a rigorous schedule has drawbacks, so too does inconsistent diet and rest from one day to the next. This is a particularly fine balance for kapha for whom routine tends to entrap and may do more harm than good. Routine without spontaneity can create stagnancy, boredom, and laziness, which can spell disaster for kapha types. However, the physiological functioning of our body thrives within a routine. Waking, eating meals, and heading for bed at the same time each day prevent an energy drain from having to continually adjust to a different schedule, and conserve it for other activities necessary for optimal physiological functioning and that contribute to our growth and expansion. Everything in nature is cyclical, including the human body, so honoring our inherent biological rhythm is one of the foremost ways to achieve health and wellness.
A Kapha-Balancing Diet
In Ayurveda, the principle of ‘like increases like’ is paramount to managing our diet and maintaining a healthy presence of each dosha. As a dominant kapha type, you know your kapha is too high when you reach for those potato chips more often than you know is good for you–and finish the bag in one go. While you don’t want a diet that is too restrictive, limiting foods that increase kapha’s attributes is imperative if you want to feel good and function at your best. And we all know this potato chip rule applies to every body type!
Kapha’s attributes are oily, cold, dense, heavy, stable, viscous, and smooth so reducing foods with these qualities during an excess of this dosha is wise. Breads, fried foods, thick smoothies, and dairy products will increase kapha and slow you and your digestive system down. Instead, opt for foods that have the opposite qualities: light, dry, textured, and warm, for example, and increase foods that are pungent, bitter, and astringent (you can find a list of bitter and astringent foods in our blog). Spices like cayenne pepper, cumin, and ginger, and heating foods like garlic can stimulate your agni (digestive fire) and improve the movement of food through your digestive system. Drinking a few cups of ginger tea each day can keep your digestive system and spirit ignited.
Check out this excellent video on Kapha Eating by Michelle Fondin, author of The Wheel of Healing with Ayurveda: An Easy Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle.
Eat moderate amounts at routine times.
If kapha is your dominant dosha, one of the most critical dietary adjustments you can make is to avoid overeating. A key way to accomplish this is to eat slowly. Enjoy the flavor of food and chew each bite thoroughly. This will aid digestion too. While routine is your nemesis and may cause you to become stagnant, eating is one aspect of life in which you want to establish a strict schedule. Emotional eating is an indication of a kapha imbalance, so observing and closely managing your emotions is as important as watching how much you eat because it is the basis for an addiction to food for comfort. Occasional fasting allows your digestive system a chance to rest and rejuvenate.
Say yes to spontaneity and socializing.
You know that if you spend too much time at home in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn (it’s no secret) every night of the week, getting out there and having fun starts to feel like a chore. Routine, isolation, and inactivity will slowly depress you if you overindulge. Don’t be that girl (or guy). You have great friends, so get out there and join them–and make some new ones. One of the best ways to expand yourself is to engage with new and different energies.
Move, however and wherever you want, just move.
Resisting the inclination to flake out or procrastinate when it comes to exercise is crucial to managing this dosha. Moving is one of the best ways to keep kapha balanced within your constitution and avoid accumulating excess weight. Anything that gets your heart pumping and the sweat flowing is ideal (and it doesn’t take much to get this dosha type sweating). Vigorous yoga, biking, circuit training, crossfit, jogging, and burpees (yes, BURPEES–a bad word in any language but an oh-so-effective, heart-pumping body boost) are ideal forms of movement for your constitution. Breaking out into spontaneous dance with new people is almost a health requirement for you, so choose your jam and go for it. You have great endurance once you get going, you just need to find something fun to activate it.
Finding Your Flow
Managing a predominantly kapha constitution basically involves three key aspects of life: food, movement, and social relationships. Ayurveda reminds us that what we put into the body we become, so managing this dosha and our overall constitution means introducing opposing qualities when there is an excess of this strong, stable energy. A kapha person is well-grounded and secure, but being too grounded can interfere with your ability to create excitement and spontaneity in your life. It can also prevent your spiritual evolution and expansion. Have fun, dance, socialize, and get out of your routine activities (except for sleep and diet). Rise early and get your heart pumping with invigorating music and movement. Eat lots of light, dry foods but continue to feature some of those kapha foods in your diet. As with any constitution, managing a dominant dosha is about maintaining an appropriate internal balance of each energy within you. Read about the Characteristics of Kapha to learn more about managing this strong dosha.