Nothing says “It’s still winter!” like a big snowfall. Especially in the normally mild Salish Sea (Puget Sound) region. It may not be the polar vortex, but precipitation here this past week has been jaw-dropping. As we move from the dry and windy cold of early Winter to the damp cold of mid-late Winter/early Spring, we need to check in to see if we need to recalibrate our daily diet and habits. The sweet, sour and salty foods that helped increase bulk and moisture to balance the Vata of last season aren’t as beneficial if you have a predominant Kapha dosha or constitutional type.
What is a dosha?
(Note: The following three paragraphs were first seen, in their entirety, in an earlier post titled Vata Season. I’m including them here again for the reader’s edification, most certainly not because I was too lazy to write something completely new for this post. I’m sure I will be just as reader-considerate when I write a summer post on the Pitta season.)
Doshas are a foundational concept in the ancient Indian holistic healing system of Ayurveda. In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means “the science of life” (ayus=life, veda=knowledge/science). Ayurveda has been in existence for thousands of years and is regarded as the “mother of healing.” It is thought to be the first organized healing system, with its theories influencing traditional Tibetan, Chinese and even ancient Greco-Roman healing.
Doshas are a mix of the five primal elements, or “states of existence,” in Ayurveda: air, water, fire, earth, and ether (space). These five elements make up everything and describe all the possible interactions of matter and energy. Each element is associated with certain qualities. Ayurvedic practitioners believe when these elements manifest in the body, they are condensed into three metabolic forces, or doshas.
There are three doshas in Ayurveda: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Everyone is a mix of the three doshas, with one usually being predominant. Once you know your dosha, or where your tendencies are to go out of balance, then you can use diet, herbs and other remedies to bring you back to balance and good health.
The Kapha dosha
The Kapha dosha is a combination of the water and earth elements. Its qualities include cool, heavy, slow, dense, smooth, and stable. These qualities apply to physical and other attributes. For example, cool can relate to the weather, skin temperature, or an easy-going attitude. Heaviness may manifest as a large, grounded constitution (as opposed to the lightness of Vata) that can mean extra pounds if in excess, or mental sluggishness.
A person with a strong Kapha constitution has an endomorph body type, with a more stocky build, thick skin, solid musculature, large eyes, thick, soft hair and a tendency to be overweight. Mid- to late Winter and Spring also embody Kapha characteristics as evidenced by cold, wet weather. Damp cold personifies the cool, heavy, slow, and dense Kapha qualities.
Like increases like
One of the tenets of Ayurveda is “like increases like.” For example, if you have a Kapha dosha, or tend to feel cold and are a heavy sleeper, late Winter-early Spring can exacerbate those qualities in you. To counter an excess of Kapha, you’ll want to balance your system with food and practices that are warming, drying and stimulating.
Ways to balance the Kapha dosha
One of the simplest ways to balance Kapha is by eating astringent, bitter, and pungent herbs and foods.
Astringent foods dry Kapha and in the words of my teacher, Michael Tierra, “tighten and tone soggy tissues.” If your mouth has ever puckered from eating an unripe banana or spinach, you’re familiar with the astringent property and flavor. Other astringent foods include beans, acorns, cranberry, and pomegranate.
Bitter and pungent foods reduce and dry Kapha. Bitter foods purify the blood, and stimulate the secretion of bile from the liver and gall bladder as well as peristalsis. (How many people drink coffee (a bitter) because it “keeps them regular”?) As with anything, it’s possible to have too much bitters, but highly unlikely in the Western diet. Other bitter foods include artichokes, beets, dark greens like chard, collard, arugula, and dandelion leaves, grapefruit, molasses, bell pepper, olive oil, and parsnip.
Pungent food aids digestion, stimulates circulation, and helps expectoration by breaking up mucus in the gastrointestinal tract and in the lungs. Pungent foods include red pepper, black pepper, ginger, garlic (cooked and raw), mustard, leeks, red chili pepper, sesame seeds and sun-dried tomato. Pungent herbs include some of our favorite cooking herbs: basil, bay, cayenne, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, cardamom, clove and cinnamon. They not only taste good, they are superior for helping us digest our food.
Too much Kapha energy can lead to feeling lethargic, heavy, or dull. If you are a Kapha type, or have been indulging in a lot of Kapha energy (drinking hot toddies and Netflix-bingeing, perhaps?), exercising helps counter “slow and heavy” Kapha. Active sports like hiking or biking are best, but any type of movement is good (dance party for one!). Healthy fasting or a light diet helps reduce Kapha (try kicharee!). Hot baths are another popular Kapha-reduction therapy. They promote sweating, which can relieve Kapha-type colds and flu (those with lots of white mucus).