A few weeks ago, we visited our family in Connecticut who are part of our safety pod. My cousin, Dr. Prashant Sinha and owner of PS Dental in Glastonbury, Connecticut, cooked us a beautiful pre-Valentine’s Day brunch. When he is not seeing his patients, Prashant is a gourmet cook and can spend hours concocting recipes. There were homemade waffles, Gordon Ramsay eggs, and several other items on the brunch menu. One of the things that blew my mind was bagel with cream cheese (Prashant added his own veggies/ spices/herbs/condiments to the cream cheese) topped with chives and smoked salmon. Not your traditional lox or any kind of bagel sandwich I have ever eaten. It was delicious and satiating. However, soon after eating this beautiful meal, we all started to feel drowsy and sluggish. Yawns filled the room and some people got in a nap. Hello, kapha!
Have you been feeling sluggish, unmotivated, bloated, unenthusiastic, slow, dull, foggy-minded? Do you notice the pounds creeping up? Do you feel groggy after eating certain kinds of meals? And what is kapha?
It is one of the Ayurvedic doshas (constitutions). Kapha’s elemental make-up consists of water and earth. There is a kapha time of the day (6 a.m.-10 a.m. and 6 p.m.-10 p.m.), a kapha season (which we are in now, that is, late winter to early spring), a kapha stage of life (birth to puberty), kapha foods, a kapha body type… You get the picture. The qualities of kapha are heavy, slow, steady, solid, cold, soft, dense, cloudy, and oily.
Let’s go back to the brunch menu: bagel. It has earth and water elements. Bagel tastes delicious but you know as soon as you are a quarter way through … that it also feels heavy and dense. Like most items that contain gluten, bagel too is binding (flour + water). Plus, it had cream cheese smeared on it. Dairy aggravates kapha. The dish in itself tasted heavenly. Ayurveda says that contentment is one of the benefits that balanced kapha brings to our lives, but now you know why it made us feel simultaneously pleased and overstuffed.
The common translation of kapha is “that which binds things” or “that which holds things together.” According to Ayurveda, this is the dosha responsible for the stability, lubrication, substance, and support of our physical body. When balanced, kapha stabilizes the mind and body in the face of change. Kapha supports our emotional calm, our physical endurance, and mental peace. It allows us to feel deeply and to empathize. Kapha is all about love, patience, and compassion. Think of your 2 a.m. friend or the person in your family or friend circle who almost never judges anyone. They are non-fussy, appreciate good food, sleep well, and are kind-hearted. They are loving, reliable, caring, stable, patient, supportive, generous, and calm. Kapha’s ability to love and forgive is admirable. Think of the banyan tree that withstands every kind of storm. That’s kapha.
Let’s look at a kapha person. This is my 5-month-old niece, Parishka, who happens to be Prashant’s daughter. She is a classic kapha baby: happy, content, non-fussy, smiley, loving, gentle, quiet, and patient. She doesn’t make a noise unless she really needs something. She goes to everyone. One look at her, and you feel centered. She is predominantly kapha (I am keeping her second dosha a mystery :).
What happens when kapha is imbalanced? That’s when the lack of motivation starts to show. Not wanting to get out of bed, sleeping excessively, being unreasonably attached to people or incidents, feeling overly sentimental, hoarding, and shopping mindlessly are some other signs. When Kapha is imbalanced, the results are lethargy, congestion, mucous, depression, foggy mind, excessive napping, stagnation, sluggish bowel movements, slow digestion, greed, attachment issues, seasonal allergies, stubbornness, skin tags, wet cough, obesity, water retention, feeling heavy or drowsiness after eating, etc. Love of food can look like emotional overeating. Generosity can turn into debauchery and greed. Heaviness can morph into obesity and/or diabetes. Slowness and calm can turn into lethargy and depression. Less severe imbalances may simply give rise to respiratory problems like colds and bronchitis. Also, kapha is associated with water retention, other swellings, and tumors.
Winter and that too during the pandemic can feel challenging. Cold and dark days, remote working, minimal human interaction, and eating out of boredom can exacerbate the kapha imbalance problem physiologically as well as emotionally and mentally.
To pacify kapha, Ayurveda has the following suggestions:
- Wake up before 6 a.m.
- Exercise daily. It is a routine that involves intense and vigorous movement.
- Avoid stagnation.
- Keep the mind alive and interested.
- Eat lighter meals and smaller portions.
- Avoid sweet, sour, fried, and fatty foods.
- Fast at least once a week.
- Choose warm meals (not steamed) spiced adequately.
- Favor foods with a predominance of bitter (greens), astringent (beans), and pungent (chili, or cayenne pepper) tastes. Ayurveda considers these three tastes to be effective for stimulating digestion.
- Any food, however, can be improved for kaphas by roasting, baking, grilling, or cooking over an open fire rather than boiling, braising, or frying.
- Stay dry. Kaphas are particularly sensitive to cold, damp conditions, and you can benefit from heat.
- Kapalabhati (skull-shining) and Bhastrika (bellows breath) Pranayama can be particularly beneficial.
- Practice Surya Namaskars, not gentle yoga, to lower kapha.
- Drink only room temperature or warm drinks.
- Surround yourself with lively people, music, and smells.
“The great thing about Ayurveda is that its treatments always yield side benefits, not side effects.” ~ Shubhra Krishan
Interested in delving deeper in Ayurvedic remedies? Check out Ayurveda’s answer to healing from grief here.