According to Ayurveda, winter corresponds to the Vata and Kapha doshas. Vata rules as long as cold and dry weather prevails. Kapha becomes the dominant force when it becomes wetter and we advance into the spring season.
For many of us, Kapha season begins in February (although this can vary depending on where you live). During this transition, Ayurveda advises us to slowly let go of the routines established in Vata season and start embracing practices that help pacify Kapha. If we don’t properly adjust, we may be at risk of accumulating too much Kapha (especially Kapha types), causing a Kapha imbalance.
Physically, a Kapha imbalance can result in colds and flus as well as congestion, allergies, lethargy, weight gain, water retention, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Mentally, too much Kapha can manifest as depression, lethargy, stubbornness, greediness, and unwillingness to change, forgive or let go.
Fortunately, Ayurveda provides seasonal guidelines known as Ritucharya (“ritu” meaning “season”, and “charya” meaning “guidelines”). These guidelines help us navigate each season to achieve optimal health.
Firstly, it’s important to know the qualities of Kapha: cool, heavy, slow, smooth, soft, static, and oily. It is also dull, dense, cloudy and gross. In Ayurveda, like increase like and opposites balance so the qualities that balance Kapha include warm, light, fast, rough, hard, mobile, dry, sharp (and fiery), clear, and subtle.
Kapha Balancing Diet
One of the most powerful ways to balance Kapha during the transition to Spring is through our diet.
Enjoy Warm, Dry, Fiery & Light Meals
When the weather is cool, wet, and cloudy, it’s important to seek the opposite qualities in our foods: warm, dry, fiery, and light. A Kapha-pacifying diet should therefore include lots of lightly cooked and lightly oiled vegetables and fruit, like apples, beets, bitter greens, broccoli, cabbage, pears and pomegranates.
Incorporate Bitter, Astringent & Pungent Tastes
It’s also important to incorporate tastes that balance Kapha. Since Kapha’s tastes are sweet, salty, and sour, the tastes that help to pacify Kapha are bitter, astringent, and pungent. Luckily, nature provides! The foods available to us each season give us what we need to achieve balance and wellbeing. For example, spring greens like arugula, radicchio, mustard greens, sprouts, and dandelion leaves typically possess Kapha balancing tastes and qualities.
Kaphas also benefit greatly from spices (except salt) and should try to incorporate spices in every meal (e.g. black pepper, cardamom, cayenne, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, mustard seed, and turmeric). Consider these Kapha breakfast ideas or this Kapha balancing recipe.
Foods to avoid include cold, heavy, oily, and sweet foods like refined carbohydrates, red meat, rich dairy, and fried foods. Honey is the only beneficial sweetener for Kapha types.
Since our agni or digestive fire weakens from Vata to Kapha season, it’s beneficial to eat our biggest meal of the day at lunch, when our digestive fires are naturally at their peak, rather than at breakfast or dinner. That said, Kapha types can also benefit from fasting, especially at this time of year.
Don’t forget that what we drink also impacts our constitution! During Kapha season, sipping on spicy tea and warm beverages are best.
Kapha Balancing Routine
Practicing a daily routine is an essential part of an Ayurvedic lifestyle. To help pacify Kapha, consider incorporating these tips into your routine:
Wake at Sunrise
For Kapha types especially, it’s important to start your routine at or before sunrise. The Kapha dosha dominates between 6am – 10am, so when we sleep after sunrise, we can wake up feeling heavy and sluggish. This makes getting up more difficult and can result in a lack of motivation for the rest of the day. In addition, it’s important avoid napping during this time of year.
Get Vigorous Exercise
After rising, it’s important to incorporate daily activities that invigorate the body and mind. Exercise is one of the best ways to shake off sleepiness, heaviness, and lethargy while warming up the body. Try starting your day with Sun Salutations, a brisk walk, and/or Kapalabhati pranayama.
Garshana or dry brushing is another practice that invigorates the body, benefiting the Kapha dosha. Dry brushing is typically performed using raw silk gloves, a brush, sponge, or dry wash cloth.
Before showering, use long, sweeping strokes over the long bones and circular motions over round areas, like your joints and stomach. Dry brushing helps:
- Loosen ama and stagnant tissues
- Increase circulation
- Stimulate lymphatic drainage
- Build warmth and heat
Enjoy the Sunshine
During Kapha season, try to get sunshine whenever you can! The winter and spring months are often dominated by cold, cloudy, and wet weather which means warm, sunny, and dry weather is the remedy. Next time the sun is shining, step outside for at least 15-20 minutes to soak in the sun’s healing rays. It can also be helpful to run a dehumidifier as needed.
Wear Bright Colors
If you’re feeling the effects of too much Kapha, throw on some clothes or jewelry with bright and warm colors, like red, orange, gold, and yellow, to stimulate and increase energy.
Use Spicy Scents
During Kapha season, it can be beneficial to incorporate warm, invigorating, and spicy scents. Kapha pacifying essential oils include basil, bergamot, camphor, cardamom, cedar, cinnamon, clary sage, clove, eucalyptus, frankincense, jasmine, juniper, marjoram, orange, peppermint, roman chamomile, rosemary, tulsi, and ylang ylang.
Change it up!
Although Ayurveda stresses the importance of routines for maintaining balance, the Kapha dosha can actually benefit from switching it up every now and then. This is because the earth and water qualities of Kapha manifest as steady and static. Too much Kapha can result in stubbornness and resistance to change. If you’re feeling lethargic, try shaking up your routine. Learn a new hobby, visit a place you’ve never been before, or cook a new dish.
Kapha Spring Cleaning
Ayurveda recommends a little cleansing during the change of the seasons to restore balance and health, and ensure the free flow of energy. Cleaning can be both internal and external.
Internally, Panchakarma is the ultimate process for detoxification in Ayurveda. It is one of the most effective healing modalities in Ayurvedic medicine because it clears away ama (toxins) and restores wellbeing. It is often recommended at the start of the Spring season.
Externally, it can be therapeutic to give a deep cleaning to our living spaces. Spring is also a good time to take inventory of our material goods and let go of the things that no longer serve us.
In the transition to Kapha season, it’s common to start seeing an uptick in colds and coughs. Chyawanprash is particularly useful for preventing and healing illness. It helps build ojas and immunity, without aggravating Kapha.
As we move into Kapha season, it can be tricky to balance the Vata and Kapha doshas, especially if you are a Vata or Kapha type.
The best way to keep these doshas in check is to stay attentive to the weather and your body and mind. If the weather is cool, wet, cloudy, or heavy, and you find yourself feeling congested, sluggish, unmotivated, or depressed, engage in a more kapha-pacifying lifestyle. If the weather is cold, dry and windy, and you’re feeling anxious or scattered with dry skin, digestive disturbances (e.g. constipation, gas, bloating), insomnia, fatigue, or stiff joints, try switching to a more vata-pacifying lifestyle.
Cultivating awareness of our environment and current state is the first step towards achieving balance and stability in our bodies, minds, and spirits.
Reviewed by Dr. Jayant Lokhande, MD (Botanical Drugs), MBA (Biotechnology)