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Safeguard Your Health This Winter
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Learn to Recognize Common Kapha Imbalances
As winter approaches and we move into the cold, damp, and cloudy season ahead, it’s important to be prepared for the fact that kapha can accumulate in the body more readily during the winter months. Ayurveda teaches us that like increases like, so the winter season – which shares a number of characteristics with kapha dosha – will tend to increase kapha, especially if it is a key player in your constitution. (If you don’t know your Ayurvedic body type, try this questionnaire to help you determine your constitution).
You can protect your health this winter by learning to recognize the common signs and symptoms of kapha imbalance. Mild signs and symptoms will typically occur in the early stages of kapha accumulation, may come and go for some time, and are relatively easy to correct. More severe imbalances are generally the result of long-standing kapha aggravation, are more established in the tissues, and are usually somewhat chronic in nature. This list of kapha imbalances references the tissues and systems most affected. Each section is separated into mild and more severe manifestations of imbalance. Keep in mind that the earlier you can address an imbalance, the easier it will be to remedy.
Signs & Symptoms of Kapha Imbalance
In the Mind
Changes in your mental state will often be one of the first indications that an imbalance is on the horizon. Signs that kapha is increasing in the mind include a generalized feeling of heaviness or lethargy, sluggishness, drowsiness, brain fog, and a tendency towards excessive sleep, laziness, melancholy, or depression.
More Severe Imbalances
If kapha accumulates in the mind unchecked, it can lead to severe kapha-type depression, withdrawal, or loss of consciousness, as occurs in a diabetic coma.
In The Digestive Tract
The digestive tract is one of the first places that aggravated kapha will make itself known. Early signs of kapha imbalance include a sense of heaviness, an uncomfortable feeling of fullness in the stomach, nausea, excess salivation, a poor appetite, a sweet taste in the mouth, indigestion, and a slow or suppressed metabolism. Excess kapha in the digestive tract can also cause the stools to be heavy, oily, pale or sticky. Kapha is also at the root of mucoid diarrhea and pre-diabetes.
More Severe Imbalances
Long-standing kapha in the digestive tract can cause diabetes, anorexia nervosa, hyperglycemia and blood or pus in the stools.
In the Respiratory System
Signs of kapha imbalance in the respiratory system include colds, coughs, excessive accumulation of mucus, a runny nose, excess nasal crust, and hay fever. Aggravated kapha can also cause congestion or a feeling of tightness in the sinuses, throat or chest.
More Severe Imbalances
Severe sinus congestion, chronic sinus infections, phlegm adhered to the throat, inflammation of the mucus membranes, and cystic fibrosis of the lungs are all signs of more severe kapha imbalance in the respiratory system.
In the Circulatory System, Skin, Muscles, and Adipose Tissue
Excess kapha in the circulatory system, skin, muscles and adipose tissue can be an indication that a kapha imbalance is starting to spread. This may cause lymphatic congestion, swollen lymph glands, mild (and intermittent) hypertension, hives, itching, pallor, cold sweats, reduced sweating, loss of strength, the formation of lipomas, and/or weight gain.
More Severe Imbalances
Long-standing kapha disturbance in the circulatory system can lead to varicose veins with thrombus, deep vein thrombosis, stagnation of the blood, hardening of the vessels, severely high cholesterol, profuse edema, solid edema, congestive heart failure, and leukemia. In the musculature, you will see severe hypertension, hypertrophy, or extreme hypotonia. In the adipose tissue, a long-standing kapha imbalance is often behind obesity and the formation of malignant fatty tumors such as liposarcomas.
Elsewhere in the Body
Excess kapha is also behind water retention, excess urination, low grade fevers, fungal infections, excess ear wax, dental tartar, excess hair growth, low libido, an exaggerated desire for sex, premature ejaculation (emotional), enlarged prostate, cold or heavy testicles, fibrocystic lumps, leucorrhea, and prolonged, slow menstrual cycles. Imbalanced kapha can also cause a foul smell, swelling and stiffness in the joints, a sense of heaviness in the eyes, and whiteness in the urine, eyes, or feces.
More Severe Imbalances
Long-standing kapha disturbance can cause impacted wisdom teeth, tumors, goiter, an enlarged spleen, an enlarged liver, glaucoma, protruded eyes, gangrene, fibroid tumors, gall stones, calcifications, bone spurs, osteoma, scoliosis, kyphosis, lordosis, hydrocephalus, neurofibomas, prostatic calculi, endometriosis, and cystic ovaries.
Promoting Balance During Kapha Season
Adopting a seasonally appropriate kapha-pacifying diet and lifestyle can help you to prevent kapha imbalances from arising in the first place and can help you return to balance, if kapha has already started to accumulate. These tips are very useful during the winter season, when kapha is more likely to become aggravated.
The Basics of a Kapha-Pacifying Diet
You can reduce the amount of kapha in your system by favoring the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes, eating lots of fresh vegetables, indulging your taste buds with a variety of herbs and spices, and limiting your intake of heavy, oily foods, meats, dairy products, and sweets. Large quantities of grains and breads are also best avoided. In general, you’ll want to eat foods that are warm, light, and dry in nature. Portion control is also essential to balancing kapha. Make sure that the stomach is never quite full. Ideally, at the end of a meal, the stomach contains one third food, one third liquid, and remains one third empty. Eat a light breakfast, snack as little as possible, and eat a healthy lunch and dinner that includes lots of vegetables, adequate complex carbohydrates and fiber, and a low-fat source of protein, like legumes. It’s also helpful to drink room-temperature, warm, or hot beverages, and to avoid iced drinks. Boost your agni (digestive fire) and stimulate your appetite with some fresh ginger tea with a little honey between meals.
The Basics of a Kapha-Pacifying Winter Lifestyle
One of the most important things you can do to balance kapha is to get plenty of exercise. Kapha tends to stagnate easily and one of the best ways to get it moving again is to engage in physical activity, increase circulation, warm the tissues and break a sweat. In other words, get a good work-out every day. For the best results, start your day by or before 7 am. Brush your teeth with a stimulating toothpaste such as cinnamon, clove, or haritaki powder.1 Then, hold sesame oil in your mouth and swish it around for 1-3 minutes, followed by a finger massage to the gums. Before you bathe, massage your skin with warm organic sesame oil to awaken the tissues, increase circulation, and to keep the joints lubricated and comfortable. Let any excess oil rinse off in a hot shower. Drink a cup of warm water to cleanse the system, activate digestion, and encourage elimination. If you practice yoga, you could start your day with some warming and cleansing pranayama, like kapalabhati or bhastrika. Then, a vigorous asana practice will help shake off any lingering morning sluggishness. Push yourself with several rounds of fast-paced sun salutations and include back bands, forward bends, chest openers, and flows in your routine. Close with a short shavasana. If you prefer other forms of exercise, cycling, hiking, and jogging are good winter choices, and early morning is a great time to get out there. After your pranayama, yoga, or work-out, administer a few drops of nasya oil to the nasal passages to bring lightness and clarity to the mind while keeping the nasal passages clean and clear. This way, before 10am, your day is already off to an active and stimulating start. You can further the benefits of this routine by inviting newness and change into your life on a regular basis – resisting the temptation to occupy a well-established rut.
- Pole, Sebastian. Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice. Churchill Livingston Elsevier, 2006. 54-56.
- Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Three Rivers Press, 1998. 68-70.
- Lad, Vasant. Textbook of Ayurveda, Volume 2: A Complete Guide to Clinical Assessment. The Ayurvedic Press, 2006. 30, 235, 242-279. 4. Morningstar, Amadea. The Ayurvedic Cookbook. Lotus Press, 1990. 17-19.