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Posts Tagged ‘Beginners Guide’

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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Goodness, how times flies in the summer! I just returned home after ten days in Portland, Oregon, enjoying the July 4th festivities as well as the wedding of some dear friends, Chris and Suji. It was blissful for this Pitta gal to wake up to temperatures in the 60’s!

While traveling, I was honored to be included in a survey of Ayurveda experts on the hot topic of juicing by fellow blogger Nadya Andreeva. There is a lot to say on the subject – and perhaps the best advice is that, as in all things viewed through the lens of Ayurveda, the wise choice depends on one’s constitution, the climate, one’s current state of balance and digestive strength. Our responses to her questions were included on two different blog posts: SpinachandYoga.com, and  MindBodyGreen.com. Thanks, Nadya, for the opportunity to share my two cents.

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And now, back to Ayurveda summer school! In my last Foundations post, I described the main qualities of Pitta dosha (the energy of Fire and Water): oily, sharp, hot, light, smelly, spreading, and liquid.

In human beings, Pitta’s primary responsibility is to coordinate digestion and healthy temperature. When Pitta is in balance (i.e., when it is maintained at the original baseline level set at an individual’s birth), then that person’s digestion and ability to manage internal heat are normal.

When Pitta dosha gets elevated, however, then signs of excess heat begin to show up. Fever, inflammation, irritation, hot flashes, diarrhea, ulcers, burning sensations, and skin rashes are all common signs of aggravated Pitta.

In the mind and heart, high Pitta can lead to anger, irritation, annoyance, jealousy, competitiveness, or simply a shorter fuse than usual.

What causes Pitta dosha to go up? As previously discussed, exposure to Pitta’s qualities (in the immediate environment, in foods consumed, or in the mind) will cause Pitta to rise in accordance with the law of “like increases like.” Watch out for greasy, acidic, and pungent-spicy foods, alcohol, hot temperatures, competitive activities, exposure to bright sunlight and overworking, which can all cause Pitta to rise.

During the particularly hot season of summer, Pitta tends to become elevated naturally. There is also a natural surge of Pitta during our mid-adult years when we are responsible for establishing our careers and making our mark on the world. With the emphasis on accomplishment and rational thinking in our culture, Pitta elevation can easily occur anytime.

The best “medicine” for Pitta contains or expresses its opposite qualities: dry, dull, cool, heavy, stable, and dense. Given that it’s mid-summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, now is a good time to drink cooling coconut water, hibiscus tea, pomegranate juice, and organic milk, to schedule in periods of rest (and actually follow through on it!), and to find a shady spot by a pool of cool water.

The trickiest part of managing Pitta is to keep our inner heat under control without putting out our digestive fire, or agni. Drinking ice cold beverages while eating a meal, for example, or piling on the ice cream after a meal, will disrupt digestion entirely. Extremes of cold cause constriction of vessels internally, which is why we ice an injury – to reduce inflammation. When we are trying to digest, however, it is helpful to keep vessels dilated with foods and liquids that are warm.

In the next post, we will begin to explore Kapha dosha, the energy of Earth and Water.

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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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Summer is here – and have I got some steamy summer reading for you!

Some of you may already have a deep and abiding interest in Ayurveda, while others may have just been introduced to this “Science of life.” Perhaps you came across an article on Ayurveda in a magazine, or there was a reference to the three doshas in your yoga class, but it kinda went over your head. For those of you who are just entering the shallow end of this vast and beautiful ocean of wisdom, I’m pulling out the floaties: a step-by-step introduction to the basics.

For the month of June, I will be starting from square one, covering the foundational concepts of Ayurveda and building from the ground up. In the first week, we’ll dive into the three doshas Vata, Pitta and Kapha, starting with what the heck a dosha actually REALLY is.

If you haven’t already, use the “Subscribe” box on the right sidebar to get these posts delivered to your inbox so you don’t miss one. Each post will build on the previous post’s content, so you’ll want to read them all.

Life may get busy once summer hits full stride. With these bite-sized snippets, Ayurveda will slip its way into your heart with hardly any effort at all.

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