In this fourth and final installment of our series on how to customize a yoga practice for each of the three doshas, we’ll learn about kapha. If you missed earlier segments, check out the intro here as well as more detailed discussions of and pitta doshas.
Kapha dosha is a combination of the water and earth elements. According to ayurveda, it is responsible for the lubrication of the body. Its gunas (qualities) are heavy, slow/dull, cold, oily, liquid, smooth, dense, soft, static, sticky, cloudy, and gross (the opposite of subtle). People with predominantly kapha dosha typically are strong, have a larger build, and great stamina and endurance. Their skin is often cold, clammy, and oily, and they tend to have light skin and big eyes.
Kaphas gain weight easily and are able to sleep deeply for a long time. They are also known to be compassionate, calm, tolerant, loving, and forgiving. Ayurvedic principles hold that an excess of kapha can lead to weight gain, sluggishness, water retention, possessiveness, and feelings of depression.
A kapha-centered practice will be very grounding, slower-moving (which requires more endurance), nourishing, and cooling—all of which can help to balance an excess of pitta or vata.
However, too much kapha in your practice can lead to complacency, lack of motivation, stagnancy, and feelings of excess heaviness.
To balance excess kapha, we need to bring opposing gunas into our practice: light, mobile, and warm. But how do we put that into practice?
During kaphaseasons, or when you feel that your students’ kapha or your own is elevated, try the following suggestions. The protocol is based on the Ayuryoga program created by Vasant Lad, BAM&S, MASc, and has been taught at the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for more than 20 years.
Because the main sites of kapha are the lungs, stomach, and sinuses, poses to open the chest are highly indicated.
Standing poses, especially with the arms and/or gaze raised, will help bring more heat and lightness into the body. Think virabhadrasana I and II (warrior I and II) and utthita parsvakonasana (extended side angle).
Backbends can also help release tension in the areas of the chest and lungs. Urdhva dhanurasana (upward facing bow) is a great option—it is typically more challenging, it brings more heat/blood flow to the head through gravity, and it opens the chest. Natarajasana (king dancer) and salabhasana (locust) are also great backbends for kapha.
Forward bends also bring more heat to the chest by compressing that area, which helps to counter the cooling guna of kapha. Try more active standing forward bends like uttanasana and parsvottanasana (pyramid).
Inversions are great for kapha as they stimulate circulation and help bring a feeling of lightness to the body. (Be sure to practice safe inversions, minimizing the pressure on the cervical spine.)
Bring more lightness into the practice by brightening both the room and your voice.
Kapha types have a great deal of stamina and endurance, which allows them to hold asana for a longer time. Try picking up the pace of the class while making sure to start out slowly in order to move feelings of stagnation and denseness out of the body; once students feel a bit lighter, you can progress to a stronger, faster, and more challenging practice. Easing into the pace will help students maintain motivation and not become discouraged as easily.
Think of ways to increase heat as well as heart rates in your asana sequence. Perhaps raise the room temperature slightly.
Use words and phrases like focus, rise, lift, lighten, activate, reach, extend, shine,challenge yourself, and breathe into the intensity.
Consider taking shorter breaks (like child’s pose) during a kapha-reducing class.
Surya namaskar (sun salutation) is best for kapha when practiced with more vigor and attention on opening the chest area.
A focused meditation will prevent the boredom and mental heaviness associated with kapha. A moving/walking meditation is also a great option to encourage movement and decrease stagnation.
The most beneficial pranayama (breathwork) for kapha is bhastrika (bellows breath). Agni sara (fire essence pranayama), bhramari (bumble bee breath), and kapalabhati (skull shining breath) are also good options.