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Archive for the ‘Kapha’ Category

In a previous Foundations post, I described the main qualities of Kapha dosha (the energy of Earth and Water): heavy, slow, cool, oily, liquid, slippery/smooth, dense, soft, and stable.

In human beings, Kapha’s primary responsibility is creating structure, stability and lubrication. When Kapha is in balance (i.e., when it is maintained at the original baseline level set at an individual’s birth), then that person enjoys a sense of groundedness, stamina and compassion.

A two-toed sloth at the San Diego Zoo.

When Kapha dosha gets elevated, however, then excess mass or liquid can start to cause problems. Imbalances connected to the element of Water such as congestion, excess mucus, edema, and weight gain can occur, as can Earth element issues like cysts, tumors, gallstones, diabetes, and kidney stones.

In the mind and heart, excess Kapha can make a person feel lethargy, fatigue, “stuck in a rut,” a lack of clarity, or overly attached, greedy and possessive.

What causes Kapha dosha to elevate? Exposure to Kapha’s qualities (in the immediate environment around you, in foods consumed, or in the environment of the mind) will cause Kapha to rise in accordance with the law of “like increases like.”

Kapha-increasing foods are heavy, oily and sweet, like dairy, fried foods, meat, cake and ice cream. Cold and moist climates, iced drinks, sedentary lifestyles, napping during the day and sleeping in a soft bed can all increase Kapha.

Kapha is most present in the early years of childhood when our bodies are responsible for growth and building. Kapha is also high in the damp, wet season of Spring, when allergies often unleash a torrent of Kapha phlegm.

The best “medicine” for Kapha contains its opposite qualities: light, sharp, fast, warm, dry, rough, and mobile. It is of the utmost importance for Kapha types to engage in plenty of exercise and movement, avoid cold and heavy food, cook with ginger, chilis and black pepper, and cultivate devotion through chanting and yoga.

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Join me for a free webinar “Deepen Your Yoga with Ayurveda” on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 7pm CDT (8pm EDT, 5pm PDT). Register and get more information here: http://ivyingram.com/free-webinars/

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Earlier this week, I discovered I had a groupon that was about to expire for the restaurant Texas French Bread. It was late, and I was tired – but I was also hungry, so I hopped in the car. I generally eat dinner around 6, but due to a late meeting it was now 8:30 and I was becoming ravenous.

Upon entering the restaurant, I fell into a seat and exhaled. It had been a long and somewhat nerve-jangling day. After ordering, I turned my attention to the people nearby enjoying their food. I love watching people. Especially when I am eating out alone, I tend not to bring anything to read or do, and simply watch instead. There was a generous familiarity among the other diners that made it feel like I had walked in to a dinner party – people from different tables seemed to know each other, talking with each other in passing. The friendliness of the room was contagious.

I enjoyed a lovely meal, right down to the butterscotch pudding with salted caramel. It was a rare meal out for me which lent a celebratory feel to the evening that encouraged a sweet indulgence – and with the rapid pace I had been keeping up all day, I figured a little dose of heavy Kapha would be good for me.  (And it was!)

As I swallowed my last bites, I watched a portly man rise from a nearby table and sprinkle something from a zip-loc baggie around the floor in the middle of the dinning room. The complete lack of furtiveness in his movements seemed odd given that he was, in fact, sprinkling something around a public restaurant.

Then another man rose and took a seat at the (previously un-noticed by me) grand piano in the corner, and suddenly a vociferous stream of tango music catapulted across the room. Two couples rose smoothly from different tables and slid onto what I suddenly realized was a dance floor cleared in the middle of the room. My jaw hung slack as I looked around, feeling caught unaware in a musical or a Bollywood movie.

I watched the two couples slide across the floor with their controlled turns and fluid movements, each couple moving as one. The movements were slow and steady, smooth as if sliding on ice, and absolutely graceful. A low-profile version of tango, these dancers conveyed more elegance than drama, the portly sprinkler chief among them. As I admired their gravity and grace, I thought, “What a perfect expression of balanced Kapha.”

The occasional quick turn of a leg or foot prevented any dullness from settling in, yet the overriding impression was of calmness, stateliness. Each dancer seemed absorbed into their partner, a perfect illustration of the cleaving quality of oil (in contrast to water’s tendency to disperse). Their quiet grace was lovely and captivating.

So often, Kapha gets the short end of the stick in our culture. We tend to focus on its negative expressions, or the qualities of excess Kapha – lethargy, obesity, stuckness. The elegant dance of tango reminded me that every dosha has value and strengths to offer us, and from which we can benefit.

Those of us with a lot of Vata or Pitta in our baseline constitutions can particularly benefit from a Kapha-cultivating practice. Similar to tango, a slow, graceful practice like Quigong or Taichi also cultivates the qualities of Kapha in a balanced, life-affirming way. Stamina, fluidity and compassion are ample rewards.

Watching the couples spin and settle back into their velvety smoothness, I was sold. I wanted in, regardless of the fact that I don’t really know how to tango. I happily leapt up when one of the original dancers approached me, woman dining alone that I was, and invited me to dance.

Settling into the crook of his arm, letting him steer me through the swooping glides and firm stops, something in me turned and slid into place with a satisfied “click.” The conviviality of the crowd, the swirling smoothness of the dance, the sweetness of the meal – a perfect Kapha night.

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In the last few posts, we’ve been learning about Pitta Dosha, the energy of Fire (and a little Water). Today, we’ll celebrate the endurance and compassion of Kapha Dosha.

In Sanskrit, the term Kapha comes from “ka” meaning water, and “pha” meaning to flourish – that which is flourished by water. Kapha is made up of the energy of Water and Earth. It creates stability, moisture, and the power to reduce friction.

Kapha in the body governs lubrication, structure and support, a dosha relatively underdeveloped in our culture, especially in comparison to the overly celebrated multitasking of Vata and intense drive of Pitta. Another very important function of Kapha is the responsibility for recording and retaining all experiences. A balanced Kapha person has the memory of an elephant and will never forget.

Here are some expressions of the qualities of Kapha:

Heavy – strong muscles, big bones, large frame

Slow – sluggish metabolism, slow speech

Cool – clammy skin

Oily – oily skin, well-lubricated joints

Liquid – secretion of saliva and mucus, eyes deep like an ocean

Slimy/Smooth – protective mucus in the gastrointestinal tract

Dense – luxurious thick hair, firm mind

Soft – smooth soft skin, voluptuous body

Static – stable and sedentary behavior

Kapha’s functions in the body include lubrication of mucus membranes, maintaining electrolyte balance, wound healing, cellular wall structure, sleep, nourishment, taste and smell.

Kapha is the archetypal Earth Mama who represents motherhood, fertility, and embodies the bounty of the Earth. These individuals are gentle and slow. Kapha people love to hug and are full of grace and compassion. They can also be described as a “tortoise” type.

Kapha-dominant people like to keep a schedule; they enjoy routine and can be thrown by a change in plans. Kaphas have a great capacity for forgiveness and are capable of a deep sense of inner peace, typically expressed through acts devotion. Their reliability, stamina and loyalty are often noted by the people closest to them.

Stay tuned to learn what happens when Kapha dosha becomes imbalanced.

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A pivotal concept in Ayurveda is the theory of the tridosha. This theory explains how and why energy moves in nature in certain ways.

Since humans are part of nature, this system also describes us. For example, it gives a rationale for why some people always get heartburn after eating tomato sauce, while others don’t.

The word dosha refers to an organizing principle or pattern. The ancient teachers noticed that certain qualities show up in nature together like a constellation and move in predictable ways.

They observed three primary organizing patterns in the world, and they correspond to the major elements. Since there is no equivalent concept in the English language, we use the Sanskrit terms for these three forces: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Vata dosha is made of the elements Air and Space (or Ether). Vata is the most mobile dosha (like air), and it is involved whenever there is movement – when wind blows the trees, when a rabbit’s leg muscles contract and he leaps, or when someone sneezes a piece of dust out of their nose.

Pitta is made primarily of Fire (although there is a little Water in there, too). In any instance of heat or transformation, Pitta is at work – when the sun heats the desert floor, when an apple core decomposes in your compost, or when your face flushes as you step up to the karaoke mic.

Kapha includes the qualities of Water and Earth. The heaviest dosha, Kapha is present wherever there is stability and structure – in the form of a boulder, or the stillness of sleep. Kapha also governs lubrication, both the moisture in the atmosphere and the moisture in the body.

The three doshas interact and influence each other in nature to maintain an overall equilibrium, balancing out each others’ qualities. At times, one dosha will be dominant, and then naturally give way to another dosha, creating a dynamic yet balanced whole. It is a beautifully comprehensive and complex system, which becomes clearer the more you learn about it and look for it (I promise!).

In subsequent posts, I will dive deeper into each dosha and explore how they govern the activities of our bodies and minds. Until then, let me know if you have any questions in the comment section below. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Over the past few weeks here in Austin, we have been treated to the ostentatious grape scent of new mountain laurel blossoms and the slow-motion explosion of red bud trees. There is no mistaking that winter is over and rasa, the life-nurturing juice, is emerging in the earth again. While the return of moisture is certainly a relief for our gardens and our parched spirits here in drought-ridden central Texas, it also heralds a shift in the earth’s energy towards Kapha dosha. According to Ayurveda, spring is known to be the Kapha season: a marked difference from the dry, cold, Vata-aggravation typical of winter. The heaviness and moisture prevalent during spring can easily upset our body’s equilibrium.

With the surge of moisture evident in plants that are budding and leafing out again, many of us begin to experience symptoms related to an excess of these Kapha energies – increased phlegm in the sinuses and lungs, heaviness in the head, a sense of lethargy or stagnation, or mood swings towards depression. I found myself fighting a nasal-y head cold for the past few weeks and noticed sniffles and coughs around me everywhere I went.

The solution to these challenges, according to Ayurveda, is to seek influences opposite in quality from Kapha dosha, which is heavy, dull, oily and cool. Therefore, lightness, sharpness, dryness and warmth help to restore balance. One of the most powerful strategies to combat Kapha’s heaviness and phlegm is to eat foods that reduce Kapha. For a time, avoid heavy foods like cheese, yogurt, red meat, fried food, wheat and oats, as well as cold foods like ice cream – and really all sweets – or iced drinks.

Instead, choose warm and spicy foods to help liquefy Kapha that may be clogging the channels as mucus. Bitter greens and vibrant, energy-infused sprouts are the earth’s perfectly timed gifts at this time of year. Drink warm water with your meals, and keep active to prevent stagnation.

And when the clouds part, get outside! Soak up the sun’s vibrancy and breathe deeply – spring is the perfect time for movement. Kick your yoga practice up a notch or take a brisk walk through nature. Get your body moving, and your spirit will thank you. I am feeling called to get outside into Austin’s beautiful green belt of undeveloped land, this amazing strip of green that cuts by my future home (which, yes, is still in progress…).

For those of you who live nearby, mark your calendars for a free lecture I’m giving on March 30 titled, “Applying the Principles of Ayurveda in Daily Life,” at 7:00pm at the Yoga Yoga 360 Wellness Spa. Call 381-6464 to save your seat now – we had over 100 people register for the last talk I gave! I hope to see you there.

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