In Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, the world consists of the five elements:
space/ether (Akasha), air (Vayu), fire (Agni), water (Jala) and earth (Prithivi). These forms of energy join together in pairs to create the characteristics of everything around us and within us. These combinations of elemental energy are known as 'doshas' or constitutions and are the foundations of all life. For example, you have Vata which is a combination of space and air, Pitta which is comprised of fire and water, and Kapha - earth and water.
As these energies are elemental, they are also environmental and will be influenced by things such as weather, time and age. Hence, we are exploring the Kapha dosha in the time of winter as this is when this energy is more prominent.
The Kapha dosha, being comprised of earth and water, is already a pretty heavy energy. That is a great asset as it contributes to a sense of stability, reliability, endurance and strength. If someone has a dominant Kapha dosha, they are very likely to be extremely dependable, grounded and resilient. Because of the heaviness, this energy can be a little slower in nature. Kapha people like to take their time with things, but they do that thing very very well. When Kapha is in balance, there is still ambition and drive, but it's more like a marathon, not a race. When a Kapha person isn't slowly walking their marathon, they do love stillness, hence, Kapha people generally tend to be very peaceful and calm.
As you can see, this sounds a lot like winter. The days feel 'heavier' as there is usually more moisture in the air, be it rain or snow or just heavy clouds. It's often the wettest time of the year, thanks to the dominant water element, and nature is slowing down. Unlike spring when everything is blooming and bursting forth with new growth and potential, winter is about shedding, nurturing and conserving energy. With the darker and colder nights, we too, generally speaking, feel a pull to slow down, to retreat indoors into our cosy and warm nests, and nourish ourselves well. Winter can be a beautifully healing and restoring time of the year.
But of course, with everything - there is a need for balance. Because of the heaviness of winter, if it becomes too excessive, it can lead to sluggishness, laziness, and dullness. The pull to stillness means that we may wish to 'hibernate' and sleep more than we are used to. All of this means our bodies are moving less. More sleep is great for our health, but being sedentary for too long is not. On top of that, when we are influenced by Kapha energy, we tend to eat more. Kapha people tend to put weight on easily due to the fact that one of their primary joys in life, is food! Not a problem, but if we are not moving much, and our digestion is also slow and sluggish, we can easily put on too much excess weight.
So, although the slower pace of winter is very welcome, even the extra sleep and nourishing rest, we also have to make sure we keep our metabolism strong, our blood circulating and our bodies moving. We are not bears, after all, we do not need to hibernate nor pile on the pounds to survive the winter nights. :)
One thing we talked a lot about this week in class, is the importance of avoiding stagnation. As our blood gets colder, as we move less, our circulation can suffer, and as we know, our circulation is life. In winter signs of blood stagnation become prominent as it is more difficult for nutrients and oxygen to move throughout the system and more potential for the build-up of toxins (ama). Your skin may appear puffy, inflamed or pale, dull and lifeless. You may feel tired and sluggish both physically and mentally. This stagnation also further reduces our immunity. ( Want to know more about Ayurveda and good blood, read this article) Cold blood is thick blood, it moves more slowly in the body taking longer to deliver oxygen and nutrients our cells need to survive and thrive. So, it is essential we keep the body and our blood warm. We can do this by making sure we dress warm, eat warming foods, take hot baths, regular massage or brushing of the skin and keep movement in our daily routine. Gentle movements are enough to keep circulation flowing, but adding a little bit of heat can be very helpful to defend from sluggishness and keep our energy up. And, when the body warms up, it also helps to get another thing moving and keep it clear - mucus and congestion.
Kapha energy concentrates itself in the chest and lungs, hence when Kapha is imbalanced, we tend to see a buildup of excessive mucus. When the body heats up, it also helps to thin the thickening mucus so that it can clear and pass through the body well. Overindulging, overstuffing and eating rich and fatty foods may also aggravate the mucus membrane. Do you ever notice a need to clear your throat after a large or rich meal?
Cold and flu are most prominent during the winter months, and although we may no longer agree that being cold makes you catch a cold, we do know that the cold can still affect our lungs. When the temperatures drop, our blood vessels narrow which restricts blood flow and reduces oxygen in the bloodstream. This restricted blood flow can also trigger those who already have weaker respiratory systems, so it is important to keep warm. If you are taking your movement outside, make sure to breathe in from the nose or through a scarf so that you are not taking freezing air directly into the lungs.
With all this mention of keeping warm, it's important to note that a little bit of cold is also great for your circulation and immunity. Just varying your water temp from hot to cold in the shower, or taking a cold plunge then making sure you warm up efficiently afterwards will have an incredible influence on boosting circulation. Wim Hof is a great one to follow for all your cold exposure fun. Excessive Kapha dosha can also lead to the blues and even depression, and exercise and cold exposure therapy have been shown to be very helpful for lifting our spirits.
All in all, as always, we seek to find balance and to find balance in the Kapha season of winter, we must seek to stay warm and keep some movement into our lifestyle.
Here are some great tips for keeping Kapah balanced in winter.
Go to bed and wake according to the season. The nights are longer, so we should make our evening routines shorter and get to bed a little earlier. In the morning, allow yourself to wake a little later if you can, but not too late. Ideally, we would rise just before the sun. Resist the temptation to oversleep too much. Take small naps when needed, but keep them short, or else you provoke even more lethargy.
In the morning, dry brush the skin, stroking upwards towards the heart and making circles around the joints. Don't have a dry brush? A dry facecloth or exfoliating glove work well too.
Play with taking hot and cold showers, ending on hot.
Eat a warm breakfast with a balance of protein, fats and carbs ( unless you're staying indoors all day in the warm, then a smoothie is fine.)
Dress warm, with lots of layers and warm socks.
Keep the atmosphere warm, candles and fairy lights.
Eat foods that are red to help with blood circulation, especially beetroot. Delicious in warm roasted veg salads.
Try not to overeat, but eat well.
Stay active and keep moving. Perhaps it's a gentle yoga class, or maybe a vigorous HIIT class, just keep moving.
Dr. Ajith Chakrapani, an Ayurveda specialist recommends using the following herbs to warm up the body in winter: "Holy basil steeped in a hot cup of water as tea is a perfect winter treat to warm up and restore healthy circulation. You'll feel warmed and nourished to the core. Cloves are another strong vasodilator and move blood by pushing it to the surface of the skin. Cloves have an earthy feel to them and an acrid taste. Acrid taste, a combination of pungent and bitter tastes, disperses the accumulation of moisture and activates vitality (prana). Foods with an acrid taste are generally warming. They get your blood flowing. Curcuma is renowned for being both warming and anti-inflammatory. It cleanses, invigorates and thins the blood, making it ideal for cold months. Cinnamon and dried ginger continue to be supportive for warming up the blood (rakta). If your lungs feel painful or cold due to breathing in cold air, protect your lungs with cinnamon or black pepper. Use honey and cardamom to destroy mucus, soothe your sore throat."
Here's a recipe for a warming tea Dr. Ajith Chakrapani recommends:
Spicy and warming winter tea:
Fennel seeds: 1tsp.
Cardamom: 2-3 pods.
Black pepper seeds: 3-4.
Whole clove: 1.
Star anise: 1 pod.
Cinnamon stick: ½.
grated fresh ginger: 1tsp.
For a more in-depth guide of what you should and shouldn't eat for the Kapha Dosha, see this blog here. Within it, you can find some delicious recipes too :)
That's it for now!
I hope you feel inspired to keep moving this winter and to look out for excess Kapha. Next time, we will talk about the other dosha that appears in winter, Vata.
See you next time :)