Are you a kapha-type?
You are very loving, compassionate, stable and grounded. You are methodical and pragmatic, with an innate organising ability. Being a bit of a procrastinator, you may find it hard to start a new venture but, once you’ve made the initial effort, you are consistent in your commitment and demonstrate amazing endurance, strength and stamina.
Being of a rather heavy-set build with heavy bones and muscles, you are inclined to be slow and steady. You have thick, wavy hair, smooth skin and beautiful, big, attractive eyes. Your skin is thick, oily and smooth. You may not be very flexible but you are strong and have great stamina and endurance.
You have a strong appetite but a slow metabolism and could almost put on weight just by looking at food. In fact, you even have the capacity to put on weight with a water fast! You are attracted to sweet, salty and oily foods. Your sweet tooth and your tendency to turn to food for emotional support can lead to weight problems.
Although you have a tendency to be sleepy and lazy, with a bit of motivation you can be quite athletic. However, from time to time you may need to address your aversion to exercise and physical activity.
You tend to get diseases involving mucus, such as flu and sinus congestion. You may therefore experience respiratory problems due to congestion. Sluggishness, excess weight, diabetes, water retention, and headaches are not uncommon for you.
If the above description sounds a lot like you, it’s possible you have what Ayurveda — the ancient Indian science of health and wellbeing — refers to as a predominantly kapha-type constitution. A consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner will confirm this.
Symptoms and treatment of kapha imbalance
According to Ayurveda, the body is made up of three elements, or doshas: vata (air and ether), kapha (water and earth) and pitta (fire with a little water). Vata’s characteristic is the wind that promotes mobility; pitta’s is the heat that sustains life; and kapha’s is the phlegm that helps stability. Most people’s bodies are a combination of two of these elements and the predominant element can change from time to time. When the body and mind are not centred and balanced, there’s an imbalance in the doshas, and when the doshas are unbalanced, your health is adversely affected.
Too much water and earth in the body manifests as a kapha imbalance. The following conditions are indicative of excess kapha: oily skin; slow digestion; sinus congestion; nasal allergies; obesity or excess weight and cellulite; lethargy and dullness; water retention, swelling and puffiness. While balanced kapha is expressed as love, calmness and forgiveness, excess kapha can create attachment, greed, envy and possessiveness.
Since the attributes of kapha are oily, cold, heavy and stable, an excess of any of these qualities aggravates kapha. To reduce excess kapha, you need to increase your vata and pitta. Certain yoga poses, various Ayurvedic dietary guidelines and lifestyle habits are helpful in lessening kapha. Let’s look at what you can do to reduce the excess heaviness and bring lightness into your system.
Yoga for excess kapha
Kapha types need to be stimulated by their yoga practice and can benefit from the more vigorous and active asanas (poses or positions). Standing poses and sequences such as Salute to the Sun are very beneficial for getting kapha types moving. Preferable postures for kapha people focus on the chest, lungs and abdomen.
Practised on an empty stomach for 10 to 20 minutes, the following sequence of asanas is a good way to keep excess kapha at bay. You can either hold each pose in the suggested sequence, with up to five breaths per pose, or you can practise the asanas slowly as a sequence of movements (vinyasa), synchronising each asana with one breath.
Always begin your practice with a warm-up, loosening every joint in your body. Once you’re warmed up, you can close your eyes and, standing still, begin by taking your awareness to your breath. If you are breathing heavily, allow your breath to return to normal before beginning the asanas.
Remember, the state of your mind when practising these asanas is more important than being position-perfect. Mindfully practising the asanas with a sense of ease, steadiness and joy is much more beneficial than agonising about getting your body in the exact position.
- Breath awareness
- The ha-ha breath
- Breath of joy
- Salute to the Sun
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your hands praying in front of your heart. Take a deep breath in and out.
- Inhale as you raise your arms above your head, looking up. Stretch your body.
- Exhale as your bring your torso forward, taking your head towards your knees. Bend your knees if you need to or if you have too much tightness in your back. Place your hands flat on the ground on either side of your feet.
- Inhale as you step your right foot back as far as it will go. Look up. Keep your hips square-on to the ground. Do not twist them.
- Exhale as you step your left foot back. Keep your body in a straight line and look down at the ground.
- Hold the breath and lower your body down to the ground very slowly, placing your knees, chest and chin on the ground while keeping your hips and buttocks raised.
- Inhale as you lower your hips to the ground, moving your body into the cobra pose — face looking forwards, shoulders pulled down.
- Exhale, moving into the downward dog pose and keeping your knees slightly bent if you need to, head and neck relaxed.
- Inhale, stepping your right leg forward. Look up.
- Exhale, stepping your left leg forward, taking your head as close as you can towards your knees and relaxing your neck.
- Inhale, stretching upwards and backwards, arms raised above your head, hips slightly forwards.
- Exhale, relaxing your arms by your sides. Take a few breaths in and out, observing any changes in your body. (Refer to image 1 Breath awareness.)
- Corpse pose
- Stomach strengthener
- Spinal twist
- Relax in No.5 corpse pose.
Stand with your arms by your sides and close your eyes. Take your awareness to your breath and then take a few deep breaths in and out. Relax your shoulders and keep your arms loose.
Standing with your feet hip-width apart and keeping your body loose and relaxed, swing to the left, looking back over your left shoulder, and breathe in through your nose. Then as you swing to the right, look over your right shoulder (as far as you can) and exhale through your mouth, making a loud “ha” sound. Let the sound come from your abdominal region. Repeat this 10 times and then do the same in reverse. Once completed, stand with your eyes closed, relax and observe any changes in your body.
The ha-ha breath is wonderful for expelling any stale energy from your lungs, energising your body and improving circulation.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in and out, then as you inhale take your arms back and gently tilt your head back as far as it will comfortably go. Feel your chest expanding as you fill your lungs with fresh air. On the exhalation, slowly bring your chin towards your chest and give yourself a hug, emptying your lungs as much as you can.
Breath of joy strengthens your back and your abdominal muscles and expands and strengthens your chest and lungs. By opening up your lungs and deepening the breath, you significantly increase your capacity to raise the prana (subtle life force) in every cell of your body, energising and rejuvenating your body while your mind simultaneously becomes calmer.
This sequence of 12 asanas is wonderful for kapha types as it energises the body. It’s best done with your eyes closed, synchronising each movement with the breath.
It’s recommended you learn this sequence under the guidance of a fully qualified teacher before practising it on your own at home. If you have high blood pressure you should take it easy. You may want to begin with one or two rounds at first, building up to five to 10 rounds over a period of weeks or months as your body becomes stronger and suppler.
Repeat the whole sequence, but this time take your left leg back at step 4 and bring your left leg forward at step 9.
Lie on your back. Spread your feet about 10 inches apart. Rest your arms about six inches from your sides, palms facing up, body straight. Close your eyes and relax. Keep your attention on the breath. Don’t try to alter it; just observe it. Relax here for up to 10 seconds.
Lying on your back with your arms by your sides, bend your knees and bring your feet close to your buttocks, feet flat on the ground hip-width apart. As you inhale, raise your arms above your head. As you exhale, raise your head from the ground, looking forward, keeping your arms parallel to the ground. Hold this position for up to five deep breaths and then relax your body back down to the ground as you exhale. Repeat up to five times.
Have your body in the same starting position as for the stomach strengthener (see image 6a) but with your feet slightly more than hip-width apart, arms by your sides, palms facing up. Take a deep breath in, then as you exhale, gently drop your legs to the right and turn your head to the left. Hold this position for five deep breaths. Inhale, bringing your legs back to the centre. Then exhale, taking your legs to the left and looking to the right. Again, hold for five deep breaths.
Food and drink
Food and drinks are an integral part of Ayurvedic healing. Foods can either reduce or induce kapha in the body. To reduce excess kapha, it may be beneficial to observe these guidelines:
- Before eating, stimulate your appetite by eating a pinch of freshly grated ginger.
- Either skip breakfast altogether or just have juice.
- Make sure your breakfasts and dinners are small and light.
- Eat only between 10am and 6pm.
- Eat warm or hot, lightly cooked, dry food that has been cooked without much water. Lightly cooked or raw vegetables and raw fruits are especially good.
- Avoid cold, heavy, sweet foods; for example, cold cereals, cold juices or milk, and sugary pastries.
- Use dry methods of cooking (baking and grilling) rather than moist (steaming and boiling).
- Minimise your butter, cheese, oil and sugar intake.
- Kapha types are attracted to sweet, salty and oily foods, but their constitutions are most balanced by bitter, astringent and pungent tastes. Decrease your intake of sweet, rich foods.
- Include spices like cumin, fenugreek, sesame seeds and turmeric in your cooking.
- Avoid deepfried foods, sleeping after meals and late-night kitchen raids.
- Drink and eat only when you are thirsty and hungry.
- Drink hot instead of iced water.
- If you wake in the morning feeling congested, drink warm water with honey, freshly squeezed lemon and freshly grated ginger mixed well.
- If you skip a meal, drink warm water with a spoonful of honey mixed into it.
Foods to avoid when kapha is high
Sweet and sour fruits such as avocado, bananas, coconut, fresh figs, grapefruit, grapes, lemons, melons, oranges, papaya, pineapple and plums; cucumber, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini; cooked oats, white and brown rice, wheat; all nuts; all seeds except sunflower and pumpkin seeds; all sweeteners except raw honey; all dairy except ghee and goat’s milk; all oils except almond oil and corn or sunflower oil in small amounts; heavy, fatty and oily foods; iced food and drinks.
Recommended foods when kapha is high
Apples, apricots, berries, cherries, cranberries, dry figs, mango, peaches, pears, pomegranate, prunes, raisins; pungent and bitter vegetables such as asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, garlic, leafy greens, lettuce, okra, peas, onions, parsley, peppers, white potatoes, radish, spinach, sprouts; barley, corn, millet, dry oats, small amounts of basmati rice, rye; all legumes except kidney beans, soy beans, black lentils and mung beans are recommended; all spices except salt are recommended.
Other helpful strategies
- Use pungent, slightly astringent, bitter, spicy, light, woody and warming essential oils such as eucalyptus, sage, cinnamon, pine, musk and myrrh.
- The best colours for you are rich and warming, such as red, purple, gold and yellow, while white and pale shades of blue, green and pink can be too sedating.
- The precious stones agate, lapis lazuli, ruby, white or colourless diamonds and beryl decrease kapha.
- When kapha is high, water fasting is ideal one day a week, stimulating a sluggish digestive system. Alternatively, apple, cranberry, cherry and pomegranate juices are useful for fasting.
- Stimulating massages with mustard oil are best, as well as shiatsu, lymphatic massage and vigorous Ayurvedic friction massage.
- Don’t oversleep, as sleep is kapha-producing and can lead to weight gain and mental heaviness.
- Avoid being still for long periods of time.
- Avoid monotony and repetition in your routine.
- Kapha can be aggravated during winter and as the moon gets full, so follow the dietary and lifestyle recommendations most closely during these times.
References available from the author on request. Balancing Act I (issue 102) looked at balancing vata. Balancing Act II (issue 103) looked at balancing pitta. Meggan Brummer is a teacher of Art of Living courses, E: email@example.com, W: www.artofliving.org.au.