Kapha Balancing Foods
Spring is a season of rebirth, new beginnings, and renewal, both on the earth and within our bodies. As Mother Nature purges and dries out the heaviness of winter, our bodies react in a similar fashion, ridding our tissues of the density accumulated during the previous season.
The exact dates of spring, or Kapha season, have less to do with the calendar and more to do with where you live. In Sanskrit, Kapha translates as “that which flourishes with water.” If you live in a desert, you may not experience spring at all, while. those in the snow belt regions of the upper midwest and northeast encounter the damp season with the greatest gusto, as wintery piles of ice and snow thaw into muddy rivers. The beginning of the spring season is when Kapha becomes aggravated; during the latter part of spring, Kapha accumulates.
Physically, our bodies sense the slow rise in temperature and are prepared to embark on a natural detoxification. We begin to crave lighter and drier foods, and our energy innately increases along with our mood.
With fresh spring air and new greens sprouting, you can’t help but want to be outside. As the spring season approaches, our internal heat naturally increases, working its way from the inside out. This helps to liquify and “burn up” accumulated Kapha and Ama from the previous season. Ayurveda teaches us that “like qualities increase like qualities.”
By the end of winter, it is natural for all of us to have accumulated some excess Kapha, and the onset of spring is like adding salt to the wound. However, if all goes as nature intends, the accumulated earth and water qualities will melt into the circulation and digestive tract, making them easy to eliminate from the body. Although you are craving heat, it’s possible that your body has not caught up to the changes in the weather, which can ultimately lead to a variety of physical symptoms. While the body is doing its best to push excess Kapha out, it may sometimes get stuck or there may be too much, leading to an accumulation that settles in weak areas of the body and wreaks havoc in the form of:
- skin changes (hives, rashes, acne, itching)
- emotional irritability
- joint swelling or puffiness
- increased heart rate (with each degree of temperature increase your heart rate increases 10 beats per minute, then gradually adapts)
- red, puffy cheeks
Balancing forces for a trouble-free spring
One of the best ways to maintain balance throughout all seasons and their transitions is to align yourself with nature and keep a regular routine (Dinacharya). When considering a daily routine, keep in mind that, just as temperatures vary between cold, warm, wet, and dry at the beginning of the season, your routine needs to be flexible, too. There may be times you feel more Kapha aggravation—the cold, wet days—while other times you may sense more Pitta aggravation during warm, dry days.
Your routine is not meant to be rigid, but rather fluid and malleable to accommodate any situation. After all, understanding the Gunas and how and when to apply certain forces is the crux of how Ayurveda works.
We know the qualities of Kapha are heavy, slow, cold, oily, smooth, dense, static, gross, and cloudy. Choosing foods, spices, and lifestyle habits that counteract the forces of Kapha help to reduce the chance of it accumulating and/or causing illness.
Kapha Balancing Foods
Kapha balancing foods are pungent, bitter, and astringent. Favor greens and herbs, which tend to be bitter and naturally heating. Bitters drain heat away from the blood, saving you from sore throats, swollen hands and joints, and headaches. They also help relieve congestion and sluggish circulation. Try:
- beet greens
Diuretics (relieve congestion and help alleviate puffiness):
Diaphoretics work by dilating the capillaries to promote sweating. Excess fluid is then released through the pores, detoxifying the body and creating a sense of lightness. Examples of diaphoretics are:
- mustard greens
- raw onions
- cayenne pepper
- black pepper
Most fruits are either too sweet or watery for Kapha, but those that are more sour or astringent can be kept on the grocery list, such as:
Avoid consuming foods that are Kapha-provoking. Wheat, sugar, excess salt, and foods that are overly sweet or dense will exacerbate Kapha. Dairy is mucogenic, meaning it tends to increase mucus production—Kapha—in the body, so it is best avoided during this season.
Triphala is a popular herb comprised of three fruits, and is generally pacifying to all Doshas. One of the fruits in Triphala, Bibhitaki, is especially known for balancing Kapha. It is astringent, light, and dry, and clears out places where Kapha usually accumulates, like the lungs, sinuses, liver, and lymph. Drinking a tea of cumin, coriander, and fennel (CCF) helps to enhance Agni, improve digestion, and purge excess fluid. You can find this type of tea in the grocery store, or make your own using equal parts dry-roasted cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds. Drinking a cup will leave you feeling light and vibrant. Another Ayurveda herb for augmenting circulation, supporting metabolism of fat and toxins, and igniting Agni is Trikatu. This can be consumed in warm water on an empty stomach, or as prescribed by your ayurvedic practitioner.
Routine for Kapha Season
- Don’t oversleep
- Avoid daytime sleeping, unless recovering from illness
- Wake with or before the sunrise
- Begin each day with an invigorating Pranayama practice to clear sinuses, energize the mind, and refresh and cleanse the lymphatic system (like Bhastrika, Brahmari, Kapalabhati, and Ujjayi)
- Spend time in nature
- Movement and sweating is key; engage in exercise that increases your heart rate and produces sweat—a form of Swedana (sweat therapy)
Vata Precautions During Kapha Season
- Be cautious not to overdry tissues
- Overuse of astringent, pungent, and bitter Gunas can exacerbate Vata qualities and deplete tissues
- It is possible for Vatas to incorporate some raw foods or CCF tea and spring routines while being cognizant that too many drying herbs and foods can bring on the symptoms of vitiated Vata (constipation, dry skin, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, etc)
- If Vata increases too much, focus on Vata-pacifying food and routines instead
Pitta Precautions during Kapha season
- Be cautious not to overheat
- Pungent foods and spices are notoriously heating, which will aggravate Pitta
- Try using aloe instead of CCF tea if you want a good digestive; it is more cooling and soothing to Pitta
- Cucumbers, avocado, cilantro, and lime are good for Pitta
- Go outside, but avoid the hottest times of the day; favor morning and evening to avoid overheating
- Recognize the signs of Pitta provocation, including: anger, irritability, diarrhea, insomnia, and skin breakouts
- If Pitta increases too much, focus on Pitta-pacifying foods and routine instead
The way that springtime plays out for each person has as much to do with our climate as our choices. Avoid a cold over spring break, exacerbated allergies, and achy joints by following the ebb and flow of Mother Nature’s dance; the state of our well-being always lies in our actions. Relish the possibility of balance and health, and embrace all of the opportunities for growth, rejuvenation, and renewal that Kapha season has to offer.