How do we maintain healthy Kapha? I’ve been thinking a lot about life in terms of the elements lately. In Ayurveda, the three doshas are the biologically active manifestations of the five elements: Vata (space & air), Pitta (fire & water), and Kapha (earth & water). All three of them need balance with each other for resilient health.
Ayurveda heals through opposites. A dosha can get too “high” or aggravated, in which case the opposite quality is used as a remedy. For example, weight loss is sometimes framed in Ayurveda as a Kapha issue. We in this field talk about how to calm cool moist heavy Kapha with the opposite qualities of warm, dry, light foods and mobility (movement). Yet that’s not what I’m talking about here. This is not a beach-ready-body blog by a long shot. More like how to get comfortable in your own skin.
The doshas manifest in our environment and have seasonal rhythms. We are at the point in the rhythm of the seasons where Kapha dosha is at its all time low (see The Dance of the Doshas through the Seasons graph below from Easy Healing Drinks from the Wisdom of Ayurveda). Check out that green Kapha line. This blog is about Kapha being “low” in the environment, not high. My clients and loved ones are feeling it. They are talking dry…dry….hot….dry….hard to settle…feeling not grounded…windy…hot … dry. Not everybody of course, because we live in different climates. If you live somewhere cool, damp, humid, slow-paced, you may not be feeling this dirth of the biological energy known as Kapha so much. Here in the high mountain deserts of New Mexico, I’m feeling it, the lack of juicy earthy grounded Kapha.
When the doshas are out of balance, we actually can notice them most easily. Dosha literally means “fault” and the three doshas can get a bad rap that way, getting attention mostly when they’re giving us trouble. It is a way to begin to learn about the doshas. “Ah, I’m feeling heavy…that’s high Kapha.” “Hmm, hot…could be aggravated Pitta?” “Oh, dry…this is what Vata feels like.” It’s a direct way to learn Ayurveda, working with our bodies with awareness, noticing what qualities they’re manifesting.
Yet it is possible to talk about healthy balanced doshas as well, biological energies that are in balance and working well inside. What does that look like? Healthy Kapha is a basic sense of stable grounded moistness inside. A sense that life is moving slow enough to handle. That we can respond to changes in a steady grounded way. To continue the riff, healthy Vata dosha in balance is flexible, curious, and lively. Healthy in-balance Pitta dosha is warm, creative, assertive, and transformative.
In the midst of a time that offers generous amounts of shock, change, and uncertainty (translation: Vata shook to its core) it is beneficial to develop healthy Kapha. Yet we are in the time of year in which it is most difficult to access within the environment and season. What to do?
My clients and loved ones have been spontaneously exploring this in what we in Ayurveda would call the gunas or attributes of a given dosha. I give six areas of potential exploration to develop healthy Kapha in this moment, thanks to them.
HOW TO MAINTAIN HEALTHY KAPHA
To maintain healthy Kapha, one chooses attributes LIKE those of Kapha dosha itself, when they are needed..
- Cool (shita): Healthy Kapha is cool. One client in her forties living on the edge of the desert is walking, gardening, or doing yoga in the cool of the morning, 6 -7:30 am. She feels the stored up coolness carries her through the day. (Kapha time of day is 6 – 10 am and 6 – 10 pm, the times you can access this cool feeling most readily.)
Ordinary things we did in the past to maintain healthy Kapha included opening the windows to let cool air in during those cool Kapha times. Plunging into a cool river. Cooling drinks of course are part of this; you can find an abundance of them at www.EasyHealingDrinks.com.
- Moist, liquid (drava): Healthy Kapha is liquid. One urban yogi in her sixties has observed that baths are her way to access healing moisture, especially as windy Vata meets fiery Pitta. Her keen sense of the elements, doshas, and gunas help her sidestep extreme highs and lows.
Hormones produced by the body moisten and build, particularly estrogen and progesterone. Clients in menopause find the Sports Solution drink in Easy Healing Drinks helpful. Essential Rasa Tea is another liquid that counters some of the dryness that can come with menopausal hormone shifts. (NOTE: if you have LOW or normal blood pressure, the licorice in this formula is valuable for holding needed moisture in the body. It can help maintain healthy Kapha. If you are healing HIGH blood pressure, skip the licorice, it can increase hypertension and aggravate Kapha.)
A movement teacher in her twenties has found in past years that warm liquids help her gut in this season more than raw foods, despite their popularity.
- Stable (sthira): Healthy Kapha is steady and stable. In these times, I am grateful for my friends, who offer this quality to me so kindly, just as part of who they are, and who we are together. A relief, this kind of grounding trust. Also, the Earth, rocks, stones, the containment of a roof over one’s head when it feels welcome.
Regular meals are another example of sthira. Doing squats, getting closer to the ground increases stability. Find out how here.
- Slow (manda): Healthy Kapha is slow. This quality is also translated as “dull”. Slow and dull get tough press in modern times, yet they can be life savers. A Vata-Pitta client in his thirties was kind of shocked at how creative he got as he slowed down, in sharp contrast to his usual “push-push” style. (In PolyVagal Theory, this could be called resting in dorsal vagal mode.)
Those of us who’ve been able to shelter in place have experienced this quality. One client’s high Vata remarkably calmed, simply with a slower pace and less stimulation, despite the challenge of current realities.
“Slow” also includes naps, siestas, slower breathing with long exhales, slow yoga, pauses to reflect, the attitude of NO RUSH. It takes some patience to apply “slow” to food at this time. As my Vata and Pitta have sped up with the season, I’ve had little patience for cooking. Yet cooked food can also maintain healthy Kapha. An alternative for us lazy summer cooks is soaking. You can soak sour cherries in coconut water to make Cherry Agua Fresca. It’s nice for summer sleep. Yet for best results, let the cherries soak for 24 hours. Just add a pinch of nutmeg and a splash of maple syrup to the strained liquid; you can use the cherries in another dish after they’ve soaked.
- Soft (mrudu): Healthy Kapha is soft. (The Sanskrit term for softness, mrudu is such a lovely word. I met a wonderful group of Ayurvedic women practitioners a couple of years ago in a pulse training at the Ayurvedic Institute. We all came together, attracted to and manifesting the guna mrudu. Such a healing experience.)
“Soft” can relate to pillows, stuffed animals, or – pets! I have watched one cherished friend in her fifties bond with her cat, a true companion animal. As she cuddles with him, slowly her high Vata anxiety has calmed, and healthy Kapha emerges, grounded, stable. (Of course, it depends what kind of pet you’ve got. A high charged Vata-Pitta canine is better for encouraging us to get out and exercise.) Gracie the boxer helps my friend Nancy in her nineties develop healthy Kapha. Nancy would be unlikely to describe Gracie’s fur as soft, yet there’s definitely a soft spot in her heart for Gracie as a companion.
- Unctuous (snigdha): Healthy Kapha is snigdha, another great Sanskrit word, less glamorously translated as “ oily”. Many of us connect with the healing and grounding quality of oil through abhyanga, oil massage. Often clients experience oiling the soles of their feet before bedtime as a kind of relief. This grounding action can deepen sleep. However, people with a good amount of Kapha in their constitution already may instinctively shy away from using much topical oil on their skin. It can feel too heavy or somehow repellant. Rightfully so. They’ve already got generous amounts of snigdhain their prakruti/birth constitution)
So when would you want to maintain healthy Kapha? When you are feeling dry, fried, crispy, wired, buzzy, restless, distracted. You can be any size or shape to experience aggravated Vata and Pitta in need of more healthy Kapha. It’s not unusual to gain excess weight as one attempts to calm high Vata anxiety through food. One can look big, yet really be working with an imbalance of Vata or Pitta.
If you maintain healthy Kapha, will it be grounding for Vata and Pitta? Yes.
In the past, traditional culture created or supported a lot of the conditions listed in these “six explores” for us. Things moved more slowly. Now it’s often the opposite. We can be jarred by the changes that come our way, rather than supported by them. There’s an insightful bestseller Lost Connections. In it author Johann Hari explores how key changes in culture have impacted our mental health and well being, and how we can reverse them.
MAINTAIN HEALTHY KAPHA WITH SONG
Songs can be cross-cultural unifying factors. Songs unite us. We may no longer speak the same language, yet if we remember the songs, we can come together. Ancient Ayurveda was taught in sutras and slokas; a physician would sing to himself or herself to remember the crucial healing instructions. The Gayatri mantra and the Tryambakham chant are other examples of unifying wisdom. We can sing a chant to ourselves as we hold a posture, yogic or otherwise.
Songs can be used to calm any dosha, depending on rhythm, pitch, and pace. The qualities useful to maintain healthy Kapha include the attributes listed in this blog. A slower, deeper song can build this dosha.
We’re talking a lot about timing here. Kapha dosha will rise again in late summer, as you can see from the Dance of the Doshas graph. Then we’ll be playing with a different step for healing balance. (For a preview on that, click here.)
There’s also a difference between healthy Kapha and ojas, our vital immunity that surrounds and protects us, which is also cool and moist. Ojas is subtle. It is supported by a healthy balance of the doshas and well-nourished essential tissues. Kapha can be blatantly physical, as in strong, grounded, immovable. Great qualities for these times. For more about ojas, nerves and immunity, read here.
THE VALUE OF MAINTAINING HEALTHY KAPHA IN INTERACTIONS
In closing, as I write this the dialogue around Black Lives Matters continues to spiral outward and deepen. For those of us who are white and keenly supportive of social and environmental justice, we need to continue to keep healthy dialogues happening. In the first week, many of my white clients spontaneously needed to talk about this, more than even pressing health conditions. As the weeks have passed, I’m seeing it rise in conversations with extended family members. In the midst of this, I much appreciated a Sun interview about listening, The Power of Story.
Being in close quarters with oneself, there’s lots to face in everyday interactions that can potentially translate to increasingly respectful interactions on a larger scale. Genuine equity for everyone would put us all in a much better position to face the climate and other changes that approach. We’re in the middle of a huge shift. May healing truly happen.
With appreciation to my hard-working clients and loved ones for their inspiration on this blog.
Dr. Vasant Lad, Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing, The Twenty Attributes (Gunas) and Their Actions
Sebastian Pole, Ayurvedic Medicine, The Gunas and their effects on the elements and doshas
Credits: Glad to have a roof over my head photo from Portraits on the shelf #2 by Angela Werneke
Please feel free to leave Comments here, they are welcome.
Amadea Morningstar, MA, RPE, RYT is an Ayurvedic educator. Her expertise is in Ayurveda and Polarity Therapy health care. Currently Amadea works at a distance from Santa Fe, NM with established clients in Western nutrition, Ayurvedic nutrition and herbalism, Marma therapy, and nature-based self-care. Right now she is not taking new clients; she’ll evaluate at the end of this year whether to open up again then.