Ayurvedic Medicine Part IV: How to Get Healthy if You’re a “Kapha”

In Part I of this series on Ayurvedic Medicine, I described the different constitutional types: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.  In Parts II and III, I gave lifestyle recommendations for Vatas and Pittas.  So now, what should you do if you are a Kapha?

Here are my recommendations for balancing your Kapha constitution, thereby making you less prone to illness:

The Kapha dosha is heavy, slimy (or phlegmmy), slow and dense.  Kapha people need to avoid excessively sweet, sour and salty foods (the standard American diet) and eat more bitter, pungent (spicy) and astringent foods.

In general, eat less and exercise more.  Avoid greasy and fried food and shun dairy products (because it produces phlegm).  Kaphas need grain less than Vatas and Pittas.  The best grains for Kapha are roasted buckwheat and millet.  Wheat should be avoided.

All vegetables are good for Kapha except potatoes and tomatoes.  Aim for at least 50% of your diet to be comprised of vegetables.  Suggestions:  Steamed broccoli, cauliflower, kale, carrots and onions.  Chicken soup with lots of celery, parsley and other vegetables.  Baked winter squash with nutmeg.  Beans or fish in light curry sauce. 

Fresh and dried fruit should be eaten in small amounts only. 

Foods should be dry roasted or baked with minimal added fats.

Limit red meat, nuts and soy.

Spicy food is good for Kapha.  Learn to use spices in your cooking as a salt replacement.  Sweets in general should be avoided.  A small amount of raw honey, taken alone or in tea, is okay.

Eat your heaviest meal midday and avoid excessive eating at night.  Kapha can handle occasionally 1-3 day fasts and “cleanses” better than Vata and Pitta.

Kapha tolerates coffee and black tea better than Vata and Pitta.

Kaphas require vigorous daily exercise.

When I treat Kapha patients, I tend to perform invigorating treatments that promote circulation and resolve phlegm and systemic dampness.  I utilize Chinese herbs that are spicy (pungent) and bitter in order to stoke the metabolism and promote the discharge and elimination of waste.

Note: As I mentioned in Part I of this series on Ayurvedic Medicine, many people are more than one constitutional type or “dosha”.  For example, you might be a Vata-Pitta, Vata-Kapha or Pitta-Kapha.  If this is the case, you need to tailor your diet/lifestyle so that it balances the dosha that is dominant within you at a given point in time.  So, be aware of the symptoms you are having.  In general, Vata is dominant in fall and early winter when it is cold, dry and windy.  Pitta is dominant when it is hot outside.  And, Kapha is dominant in late winter through early spring when it is cold and wet. 

Ayurvedic Medicine – Part III: How to Get Healthy if You’re a “Pitta”

In Part I of this series on Ayurvedic Medicine, I described the different constitutional types: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.  In Part II, I gave lifestyle recommendations for Vatas.  So, what should you do if you are a Pitta?

Here are my recommendations for balancing your Pitta constitution, thereby making you less prone to illness:

The Pitta dosha is hot, penetrating, sour and oily.  To achieve balance eat foods that are slightly cooling and bland.  Don’t eat when you are angry, stressed, or rushed.

Avoid fried, greasy, and fatty foods.  Limit all nuts except coconut.  Seeds are okay in small quantities.  A lower fat, mostly vegetarian diet is best. If you tolerate dairy, stick to cottage cheese, butter, ghee and sweet milk.

Moderate amounts of raw foods are beneficial, as long as they aren’t coated with sour, astringent and oily dressings.  Note that a completely raw diet is not considered beneficial for any of the constitutional types (more on this topic in a future blog).  However, Pitta people benefit more from raw foods than the other constitutional types.

Avoid sour and fermented foods such as citrus fruits, cranberries, tomatoes, unripe fruits, yogurt, cheese, pickles and yeasted breads.  Lentils are considered a sour food and should be avoided.  All other legumes are fine, including soy.

Avoid hot and spicy food including garlic, peppers, mustard, ketchup, etc.  The only spices that are okay in small amounts are coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel and turmeric.

Naturally sweet foods like sweet fruits and sweet potatoes are beneficial.

Well cooked barley is a healing food for Pitta.  It is cooling and drying.  Brown rice is also good.

Competitive exercise is a good way to release pent up aggression.  Swimming is cooling and thus, beneficial.  Avoid getting overheated in the summertime.

The worst vices for Pitta are alcohol, salt and excess meat.

When I treat Pitta patients, I tend to focus on releasing stuck Liver qi, subduing excess Yang qi, and clearing heat and inflammation.  Cupping is often useful.  I emphasize Chinese herbs that are sweet, bland, and bitter.

Ayurvedic Medicine – Part II: How to Get Healthy if You’re a “Vata”

In Part I of this series on Ayurvedic Medicine, How Knowing Your Constitutional Type Can Help You Heal, I described the different constitutional types, known as doshas, according to Ayurvedic medicineSo, what should you do if you’ve determined you are a Vata? 

Here are my recommendations for balancing your Vata constitution, thereby making you less prone to illness:

The Vata body type is dry, cold, and irregular/erratic like wind.  To achieve balance, be consistent and regular in your routines.  Try to eat and sleep on schedule.  Stop eating before you are full.  Stop exercising and working before you are exhausted.  Exercise restraint and moderation in all things.

Emphasize warm, moist grounding foods like soups, stews and cooked cereals and whole grains. 

Avoid extremes (i.e. raw foodism, overeating/undereating).  Eat smaller, more frequent meals.  Avoid dry food (dried fruit, leathery meat, crackers, toasty bread, popcorn, etc.)  Avoid carbonated beverages and yeasty foods.  Be moderate with cruciferous (cabbage family) veggies–make sure to cook them well.  The idea is to avoid foods that produce coldness (i.e. too much raw), air (gassy foods) and dryness. 

Heavy food like meat and nuts is good in small amounts, because it’s grounding.  Overdoing will lead to digestive distress, so be careful.  Dairy is okay if you’re not allergic or lactose intolerant.

Because Vata is dry, make sure to include good fats in your diet, such as sesame butter, flax oil, olive oil, fish oil, and ghee.  All spices are fine.

Smooth flowing exercises like yoga, swimming and weight lifting at a moderate pace with good form are good for Vata.  Erratic jumpy exercises like sprinting and high impact aerobics aggravate Vata.

The worst vices for Vata are caffeine and sugar.

When I am treating a patient with a Vata constitution, I tend to focus on treatments that are strengthening, warming (moxa and heat lamps), and calming for the nervous system.  And, I emphasize sweet and spicy (pungent) herbs when prescribing herbal medicine.

Ayurvedic Medicine Part I: How Knowing Your Constitutional Type Can Help You Heal

Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of India, which originated around 2,000 years ago.  Like Traditional Chinese Medicine, which originated around the same time, Ayurveda emphasizes re-establishing balance in the body through diet, exercise, herbal medicine, and physical medicine.

The central premise of Ayurvedic medicine is that good health exists when there is a balance between the three “doshas” called Vata, Pitta and Kapha.  The doshas are bodily substance or humours.

Vata (wind) relates to the nervous system.  Its chief quality is dryness.

Pitta (bile) relates to digestion, metabolism and circulation.  Its chief quality is heat.

Kapha (phlegm) relates to the body fluids, mucous, and lubrication.  It is damp and heavy.

Your constitutional type, or dosha is determined by which of these humours or substances predominate.  Do you recognize yourself in one of these descriptions?

Vata: Thin and narrow in the shoulders and hips.  Dry skin and hair.  Sensitive to cold.  Poor circulation.  Loves warmth and sunshine.  Irregular and erratic diet and lifestyle.  Overeats then undereats.  Engages in a whirlwind of frenzied activity, then collapses from exhaustion.  Anxious with an overactive nervous system.  Creative, but has difficulty sticking to a routine and completing projects.  Light sleeper.  Tends towards constipation, bloating or irritable bowel.

Pitta:-Medium weight, build and endurance.  Irritable, impatient, competitive, and domineering.  Mentally sharp.  Able to focus intensely, set goals and complete whatever projects they start.  Sweats and/or flushes easily.  Bothered by heat.  Prone to inflammation, excessive bleeding/menstruation, hyperacidity and burning diarrhea.  Strong appetite, thirst and sex drive.  “Type A” personality.

Kapha: Broad, heavyset individuals.  Natural athletes, they have good endurance when exercising properly, but gain weight easily, especially when neglecting exercise.  Physical hunger isn’t as keenly felt as it is for Vatas and Pittas.  But, emotionally attached to food as comfort. Sleep soundly.  Tend toward complacency.  Averse to change.  Slow to react with an even temperament, but stubborn. Generally healthy as long as long as weight is kept in check.

Vata-Pitta: Slender to medium build. Limited tolerance of both heat and cold. Pitta makes them ravenous, but Vata ensures they’ll have trouble digesting large meals.  Ambitious and intense, but also anxious.  They can take on too much and become overwrought and short-fused.  They lack the stability of Kapha to ground them.

Vata-Kapha: Average to slightly overweight build.  They tend to have poor digestion, poor immunity, and suffer from “hypo” conditions due the lack of metabolic fire.  They often produce excessive mucus.  They can be emotionally oversensitive: jumping to conclusions and holding on to past hurts.

Pitta-Kapha: Kapha’s stability and cautiousness combined with Pitta’s adaptability and anger.  Physically sturdy, they are comfortable in a wide range of climates. Often successful, because they can constitutionally handle the confusion and constant change that characterize today’s world.  They can be arrogant:  combining Pitta’s overconfidence with Kapha’s smug self-satisfaction.