Kapha as it manifests in the body and the mind
Large physique, robust, round joints, tendency toward cool, oily skin, steady digestion, round facial features, thick skin, hair and nails, emotional, soft, compassionate, mental stamina, reliable, steady, and consistent. Enjoys eating few but large meals
Common kapha disorders
Obese, sluggish, fluid buildup in the joints, cold and damp digestion, growths on the body, overly emotional, wet constipation, stubbornness, fear of change, eating many large meals, tendency toward disorders slowing down the body (e.g., sluggish liver/gallbladder, hypothyroidism).
Kapha in Nature and the Physiology
Just as water binds, earth provides structure. Kapha is the thing, the wood that provides fuel for the fire to burn. It facilitates everything that happens around it. Pitta breaks down kapha, and vata moves kapha through nature or the body.
In the body, kapha represents the physiological structure. It is found in the bones, muscles, tissues, and tendons that make up the musculoskeletal system. It is the organs and the fluids that move between them. It is the lubrication of the mucus membranes, the binding factor, and the quality of unctuousness. Basically, it is the physical anatomy of the body.
Being the substance of the body, kapha relies on the other two doshas — transformation by pitta and movement by vata — to function properly. It also relies on having the proper digestive fire (agni) to break food down into nutrients. Agni plays a role in pitta and vata digestion as well, but it is particularly important to the kapha constitution. This is because kaphas tend to have slower digestion, so their bodies cannot properly digest food and eliminate it without strong agni.
The Kapha Body and Mind
The kapha body tends to be larger and more robust, with round joints, cool but oily skin, and thick hair and nails. They eat few but large meals, and rarely react emotionally when skipping a meal. Kapha digestion is sluggish, and it takes a long time to digest the previous meal, so they can practically go all day without eating.
Mentally, kaphas are emotional, soft, and compassionate, and they have a lot of mental stamina. They are also reliable, steady, and consistent. I have a kapha friend who visits his parents on Sundays, plays music with a group on Thursdays, and does his laundry every Saturday. You could set your calendar around his activities. Consistency is the key here.
Those with kapha predominance are often misinterpreted as lazy because they are comfortable being still, which leads them toward jobs or activities where they can sit to perform their duties. Kaphas also find it difficult to cross the threshold, so to speak. It takes more inertia for a kapha to move from one place to another, but once they do, they are committed. For example, kapha kids do not want to take a bath — until they are in the water, and it can be tough to get them out. Kaphas do not have the fire or air that pittas and vatas have, and it is the movement of those elements that motivates change. Some kaphas can reach inside themselves to harness their own vata or pitta, but most find it helpful to have an external force (like a goal or a coach) to create inertia.
Kaphas find self-realization through empathy and compassion. This does not mean the other constitutions lack an understanding of how others feel. Just as you don’t need to be a vata to think outside the box or be a pitta to ascertain knowledge, you needn’t be a kapha in order to feel and express empathy. These generalizations begin with our natural reactions to the world and how we find peace within ourselves. Kaphas are emotional and driven through relational experiences. They are visceral in their approach to the world, and they see themselves and through others’ experiences on an empathetic level.
Kapha at Work
Pure kaphas generally have a “chop wood, carry water” mentality at work. They stand in an assembly line, take satisfaction in doing the same task every day at the same time, and may fear change within their occupation. They enjoy jobs that others consider monotonous, appreciating the consistent routine. Jobs like farming are appealing to kaphas: Go into the field, do the work that needs to be done, come home.
I have a combination of both kapha and pitta within myself, so I love consistency within my job but I also want to learn and grow. Teaching is something I do in addition to seeing patients, helping the pitta side of me flourish, but you will never find me being too flexible with my schedule. The kapha in me is happier if I teach on specific days and see patients on specific days.
Kapha in Love
We all have past experiences and all of the three constitutions inside us, so the attributes below are offered simply as a baseline to help us understand ourselves and those around us.
While pittas are the most challenging to understand, kaphas are the easiest because they tend to be amicable and do not like to rock the boat. It is not advised that kaphas pair with other kaphas, as people of this constitution are comfortable following a routine, so the relationship runs the risk of going stale — nothing would change, and nothing new would ever happen. Kaphas get along well with the vata constitution, but kaphas can become irritated by the vata’s lack of consistency unless they accept their differences. Pittas and kaphas pair well because they are both stubborn and appreciate continuity. A pitta is generally more active than a kapha, but this can be beneficial because the pitta will encourage the kapha to step outside their comfort zone while the kapha helps the pitta to slow down and cool their hot heads.
If you are with someone who is kapha, remember that they need continuity and consistency in their life. Because they have difficulty with change, they will need a lot of compassion for being who they are. It is important to let kaphas work at their own pace and take the time they need to make decisions, as they do not respond well to pressure and can become depressed. It is best to take a “live and let live” philosophy with kaphas.
Kapha and Exercise
Kaphas are the one constitution that is perfectly happy with not exercising at all. They do not feel the pull to get off the couch without an external force, like a coach, to help them. Generally, though, when a kapha finds a sport they enjoy, they will get into a set routine. They thrive at weightlifting, wrestling, boxing, hatha yoga, and swimming. Although these sports can help kaphas stay active, they can also perpetuate kapha by building more muscle mass and creating a damp coolness in the body. To balance kapha, I often recommend creating flexibility in the body by running, dancing, and working on more of the intrinsic, smaller muscles through activities such as Pilates. Kaphas are good at building major muscles, but their smaller muscles are often weaker. I usually recommend they participate in vinyasa or hot yoga.
A good example of breaking the rules comes from a kaphic patient of mine who loved weightlifting. I would normally recommend weight training in moderation, as kaphas are naturally strong with a lot of muscle definition. However, this patient was very overweight and struggled with motivation and self-esteem. As part of her weight loss journey, she grew to love lifting heavy weights and was so proud about participating in CrossFit. When I asked her how these activities made her feel, she said they were not helping her lose weight — and at times they even made her feel heavier — but she was so glad to be exercising. She smiled from ear to ear when talking about it. We may have been building kapha in a kapha patient, but there was no way I was going to deny her something that brought her so much joy. This is where our compassion and understanding of the person behind the dosha comes into play. As a kapha, she would have difficulty with change, and removing her favorite exercises could lead to her to stop working out altogether. Instead, we focused on the dietary side of her situation and achieved her health goals without modifying her exercise routine.
Specific Dietary Principles for Kapha
When considering food for kapha constitutions, light meals (in both quantity and quality) are recommended. Fasting may be helpful, and many kaphas feel better when they limit themselves to two meals a day. High-fat diets should be avoided, as they can slow down an already slow digestion. Including plenty of fiber, spices, dark leafy greens, and bitter foods is best for balancing kapha.
Kapha imbalances can manifest in any of the doshas, and this is especially the case during the grieving process. Trauma can bring on vata imbalances, and once the shock of trauma is over, many experience grief. Kapha’s seat in the body is in the chest, so grief brings on a literal heavy heart when kapha increases. Traditional Asian Medicine also refers to the lungs and their role in grief. Whenever I meet a healthcare provider who smokes, I know they have great empathy for their patients — they are going through grief in their own life. I do not support smoking as a habit, but Ayurveda does not classify foods or lifestyle choices as good or bad. Instead, it looks at them in terms of homeostasis, and smoking brings the air (vata) into the lungs and helps to alleviate kapha.
Kaphas are naturally susceptible to kapha imbalances because they tend to be more sluggish by nature, experience weight gain, or suffer from fatigue or lethargy. But kapha imbalance can also increase in all constitutions when too much kapha food or lifestyle is brought into the body. Kapha-increasing foods contain fats, carbohydrates, and protein, and foods with high quantities of sour or salt can also increase kapha. You may observe bloating in the body after eating heavily salted food — a sign that the body is retaining water.
When imbalanced, kapha manifests its dull, wet qualities. The digestion becomes cold and damp, leading to sluggish bodies and minds, obese frames, or fluid buildup in the joints. Kaphas have difficulty with change, and this may manifest as a fear of change, to a certain degree. Imbalance can bring about both mental and physical stubbornness, and actions may take more energy to move than normal. You may notice an unevenness in upward movement (respiration) or downward movement (bowel movements) with kapha imbalance; the latter effects elimination and can lead to wet constipation (where watery stools escape around a constipated blockage).
Kaphas are prone toward disorders that slow down the body, such as hypothyroidism and sluggish gall bladders. For vatas, kapha imbalance tends to manifest as weight gain or blocks (growths in the body), as the vata constitution has narrow channels that do not allow bulk to move through the body quickly. Too much kapha can increase snoring in all three constitutions, but it is more likely in vatas because of those smaller channels. For pittas, an increase in kapha can create a covering that traps heat in the body, causing internal inflammation. Santa Claus is a great example of this. He is actually quite pitta by nature, making toys all year long and delivering them to kids in a flurry of activity on one night. However, he looks kapha because he has put on so much weight, his skin is red, and his movements are a little lethargic. His kapha imbalance manifests as inflammation on the skin and nose. For a pittas, food-related kapha imbalances also materialize as a spike in blood sugar because their strong digestion breaks down sugars and fats very quickly. This can lead to metabolic disorders such as diabetes.
Kapha imbalances can be addressed with high cardiovascular activities. Hot yoga or a yoga with more flow is good for balancing kapha, although most kaphas gravitate toward restorative yoga. (This is my favorite type of yoga, and yes, shavasana and child’s pose are my two favorite asanas!) It is important for kaphas to change their routine often and create variety. Kaphas also need to be aware of oversleeping. Although they are night owls, most kaphas like to sleep about nine hours a night. To avoid creating more lethargy, it is recommended not to get more than 10 hours of sleep.
The kapha mind needs to be active, so activities that require discernment and logic are ideal to bring balance to the mind. Chess is an excellent choice, and it was my favorite game growing up. However, over time I found that it was not healthy for me to engage in mental warfare (another name for chess) because it perpetuated sitting and inactivity of my kapha body. I learned through experience that my situation requires the opposite of chess — keeping the body active and the mind cool — so I participate in MMA instead.
When it comes to foods, look to those that are light in both quantity and quality. Dark, leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, beans, lentils, and stimulating spices are all good for balancing kapha. Mustard seed oil is the traditional choice for reducing kapha when doing abhyanga oil massage because it is hot, stimulating, and drying — all the things a kapha needs. Keep in mind: Self-oil massage can increase kapha, so abhyanga is contraindicated when kapha is already elevated in the body.