Ayurveda teaches that one of the root causes of illness is forgetting our true nature. What does it mean to forget one's true nature? This question could be explored in a deeply philosophical context. And simply, it could mean a misunderstanding or lack of awareness in regards to one's constitution. Knowing your natural constitution (prakruti) and the ways in which you tend to go out of balance can go miles towards making decisions that keep you in balance. So, what is a Kapha imbalance? This article will explore just that—as well as what to do about it.
What Causes a Kapha Imbalance?
Given that Kapha dosha is cool, heavy, damp, and stable, foods, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors that exhibit these qualities will tend to increase Kapha dosha. Therefore, if you are experiencing a Kapha imbalance (read on for a description of what that looks like), examine your food choices and daily habits for factors that may be increasing Kapha. Here are some of the major causes of Kapha imbalance:
Eating Cold, Heavy, and Moist Foods
Diet and digestive wellness are foundational in Ayurveda. Ayurveda goes beyond considering macronutrients and micronutrients and takes into account the qualities of the food. What is the energetic profile? Foods that are cool, heavy, and moist will generally increase Kapha dosha, and if taken frequently by someone with a Kapha constitution, will likely cause an imbalance. Examples of cool, heavy, moist foods are ice cream, buttered wheat bread, oatmeal, root veggies, milk, and sweets. The sweet, sour, and salty tastes increase Kapha, so watch out for a predominance of those foods if you need to keep Kapha in check. Sour, heavy foods such as cheese increase Kapha as well. Also, adding excessive amounts of salt or sweeteners to foods may aggravage Kapha dosha.
Complacency and Attachment
Kapha types are naturally stable, patient, and nurturing. While these are wonderful qualities, these earth-water types need to watch out for becoming complacent, overly attached, and self-satisfied. A routine can be helpful if it supports peace of mind and the health of the body. However, cling too tightly to routine and creature comforts, and as Ayurvedic practitioner Robert Svoboda (2010) puts it, “sometimes stabilize themselves right out of mental acuity or agility” (1).
Many people are familiar with the dangers of too little sleep, but there's also risks with too getting too much shut-eye. Kapha types have a tendency to sleep deeply and for long hours, but indulging sleep too much can result in lethargy and fatigue.
Kapha Imbalance Symptoms
As mentioned earlier, self-understanding is key. If you suspect that you have a Kapha imbalance, here are some signs to look for. You don’t need to check every box to have a Kapha imbalance, but if a number of these symptoms ring true for you, Kapha dosha is likely the culprit.
- Colds and flus
- Weight gain
- Water retention
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Low appetite
- Sluggish digestion
- Congestion and excess mucus
- Respiratory disorders (coughs and asthma)
- Pale complexion
- Slow, smooth, full pulse
- Sleeping excessively
- Feeling heaviness
Mental & Emotional Symptoms
- Trouble getting motivated
- Brain fog
- Clinging to routines, relationships, or material objects
- Feeling overly sentimental or attached
- Emotional overeating
- Depression and melancholy
How To Guard Against Kapha ImbalanceIf knowing is half the battle, the other half is what to do about it. If you suspect that you have a Kapha constitution or Kapha imbalance, here are some ideas for staying vibrant. Remember, it’s always easier to deal with health issues early on. If you can address the small issues, then you may be able to avert the big issues. Yet, if you are experiencing a lack of harmony in your constitutional balance—be it great or small—consider these actions.
- Eat warm, light, dry and energizing dishes such as this Sweet Pepper and Baby Kale Quinoa meal.
- Add warming and invigorating spices to your food, such as ginger, black pepper, fenugreek, and cayenne.
- Try something new. This doesn’t mean tossing all routines out the door, but engaging in practices that wake up the mind and stimulate the senses is important for Kapha types.
- Practice dry brushing (garshana) several times a week, especially during Kapha season. Dry brushing is a great daily practice that stimulates circulation and lymphatic flow. Since Kapha types have naturally moist skin, they don’t require heavy oil massage like Vata types. Instead, dry brushing before bathing is a great choice.
- Do Jal Neti several times a week, especially during Kapha season Since Kapha dosha rules the respiratory tract and Kapha types are prone to excess mucus, nasal rinsing can be especially helpful for Kapha dosha.
- Stay physically active. Vata and Pitta types tend to be drawn to movement and sports, but Kapha types need it the most. Physical activity that induces perspiration is important for counteracting the damp, heavy qualities of Kapha dosha. Vigorous physical activity will do wonders towards keeping both body and mind feeling light and invigorated. If you are a Kapha type, consider dancing, cycling, running, hiking, warming yoga practices, and swimming.
- Arise early. Of the the three doshas, Kapha types need the least amount of sleep. They also especially benefit from waking up early—just before sunrise is a good aim. The early morning hours provide the perfect opportunity for meditation and yoga practices, as well as daily self-care and physical movement.
- Keep it light. Kapha types should be careful not to overload the agni with a heavy breakfast. A cup of Kapha tea and a small spoonful of Chyawanprash is a good way to start the day. This can be followed by a light or moderate Kapha breakfast, ideally eaten after any meditation practices and physical exercise.
Kapha Season Considerations
Time of year is always an important consideration when it comes to the doshas. Especially if you have a dual dosha predominance are are tridoshic, you may find that your body and mind need different foods, herbs, and practices depending on the season. Since late winter and spring is generally the time of year when Kapha dosha is strongest, pay special attention to any Kapha imbalances at this time of year. Even if you are a Vata or Pitta type, if you experience signs of a Kapha imbalance, you may need to adjust your diet and daily practices for a period of time. If you aren’t sure how to proceed, it always helps to seek out the guidance of an Ayurvedic practitioner. To recap, Kapha dosha is heavy, cool, and moist. So, if you need to reduce or balance out Kapha, keep it light, warm, and dry. You can apply this principle to foods, herbs, and daily practices. Think light, eat light, and be light to keep Kapha in check!
Greta Kent-Stoll is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA), as well as a writer, editor, and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher (CIYT). Her Ayurveda practice is based in Asheville, North Carolina and she is the co-owner of Iyengar Yoga Asheville.
References(1) Svoboda, R. 2010. Prakriti: Your ayurvedic constitution. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. (2) Lad, V. & Lad, U. (2009). Ayurvedic cooking for self-healing. Albuquerque, NM: The Ayurvedic Press.