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2 Methods to Spot a Kapha Dosha Imbalance and What to Do About It

How to spot a kapha dosha imbalance?


Ayurveda offers tools that can help you notice when kapha goes out of balance.


Paying attention to the qualities present in your body as well as which tastes you are consuming can help you spot a kapha dosha imbalance and can help you to guide your kapha dosha back into balance.


a balanced spinning top to indicate kapha dosha balance

Kapha Dosha: The Normal State and the Increased State


Kapha in its normal state gives stability, lubrication, firmness of the joints, and capacity to withstand emotions and strain, as well as other functions.1


According to the Ashtanga Hridayam, when kapha is increased, it creates slow digestion, excess salivation, lethargy, a feeling of heaviness, whitish coloration of feces, coldness, looseness of the body parts, labored breathing, cough, and excess sleep.2


I would like to point out that lethargy is very different from exhaustion. I have a lot of clients who come to me saying that they think they have a kapha imbalance because they lack motivation and feel sluggish. When we talk more, it usually turns out that they are so exhausted from overdoing that they just don't have the energy to keep going at their frenetic pace. In this case, this deep exhaustion is actually a vata imbalance rather than a kapha imbalance and should be handled in a very different, basically opposite, way. Read more about Vata Dosha Characteristics here.


The effects (or actions) of kapha being out of balance are oiliness, hardness, itching, coldness, heaviness, obstruction and coating inside the channels of the body, reduction in movement, swelling, indigestion, excess sleep, white coloration, the experience of sweet and salty tastes in the mouth, and delay in all activities.3


woman walking on a log to indicate kapha dosha imbalance

6 Stages of Disease


Ayurveda tells us that there are six stages of disease manifestation. The first 4 stages are relatively easy to reverse with changes to diet and lifestyle, however, the last two stages indicate full-blown disease and are much more difficult to reverse.


Using the 10 pairs of opposite qualities (gunas) and the six tastes, you can begin to notice any imbalances in kapha dosha before they become full-blown diseases and bring your body back into balance using these simple principles.


10 Pairs of Opposite Qualities (Gunas) and Their Effect on a Kapha Dosha Imbalance


Let's look first at the 10 pairs of opposite qualities (gunas) and which ones increase/aggravate/imbalance kapha dosha.


According to the Ashtanga Hridayam, the qualities of kapha are:

  • heavy

  • slow

  • cold

  • oily

  • smooth

  • solid

  • soft

  • stable

  • big, gross

  • slimy, cloudy, sticky4


According to Dr. Vasant Lad, an excess of these qualities can imbalance kapha dosha.5


The general rule of Ayurveda is that "like increases like and opposites decrease."6 This knowledge of the qualities of the doshas and this rule is one of the easiest ways to keep your body balanced, no matter which dosha is out of balance.


Using this rule to balance kapha dosha, we need to understand the qualities that are opposite to the above list. For example, if you are feeling cold, then you need to add warmth through your diet, lifestyle, environment, emotions, and relationships. If you are feeling heavy, you need to add lightness through your diet, lifestyle, environment, and relationships.


a person walking on a log indicating kapha dosha balance


Here's a chart to show the qualities of kapha dosha and the opposite qualities which will help to balance (or pacify/reduce) kapha dosha.


Kapha Dosha Qualities

Opposite Qualities Used to Balance Kapha

heavy

light

slow/dull

quick, fast, sharp, penetrating

cold

hot

oily

dry

smooth

rough

dense, solid

liquid*

soft

hard*

stable, static

mobile, unstable

big, gross

subtle, small

slimy, cloudy, sticky

clear, clearing, non-slimy7

*Keep reading to learn how liquid and hard can also aggravate kapha at certain times.


According to Dr. Vasant Lad, each of these kapha dosha qualities (those in the left-hand column, as well as liquid and hard) in excess can lead to specific signs and symptoms.


Heavy

When there is an excess of the heavy quality, it may have been caused by overeating, heavy foods (meat, wheat, dairy), and/or lack of exercise. It may lead to a feeling of heaviness, poor appetite, poor digestion, obesity, slow metabolism, and body aches and stiffness. The feeling of heaviness may be localized to a certain area of the body or may affect the entire body. The mind may experience depression, a lack of motivation, and a reduction in intuition and creative thinking.(Lad, 226) 8


Slow/Dull

Inactivity and an excess of slow-to-digest foods such as cheese and meats can lead to an excess of the slow and dull quality. This can lead to poor appetite and digestion, slow metabolism, slow monotonous speech, slow movements, poor circulation, depression, and slow heart rate. (227)


Cold

Cold, wet weather and eating cold or frozen foods can increase this cold quality in the body. When increased, it can lead to a runny nose, chest and sinus congestion, cold hands and feet, poor circulation, and cold, clammy skin.(227)


Oily

The oily quality is aggravated by fried foods and fatty foods. The skin and hair become oily, and complications may include high cholesterol, high triglycerides, fatty tumors (lipomas), too much fat in the blood (hyperlipidemia), enlarged, fatty liver, and gallstones.(227)


Smooth

The smooth quality is increased by smooth foods such as yogurt and other dairy products, as well as limited movement. It can cause swelling of the joints and dislocation of the joints.(227)


Solid, Dense

The solid, or dense, quality is aggravated by salty foods, meats, and cheeses. It can cause an increase in the density of urine (polycystic kidney), hypertension (from the blood being dense), blood clots, cerebral embolism, heart attack, stroke, arteriosclerosis (damaged arteries), vascular dementia, obstruction of bile and pancreatic ducts, psoriasis, scleroderma (thickening of the skin), endometriosis, or pulmonary embolism.(228)


Liquid

In the chart above you will notice that liquid is on the opposite side from the kapha aggravating list. When liquefaction is used to clear dense and solid, then it benefits kapha. For example, sweating will liquefy the dense, solid quality of kapha. However, excess liquid quality in itself will disturb kapha. Foods that contain excess water like watermelon and salty foods, as well as drinking excessive quantities of water can aggravata this liquid quality and kapha dosha. If there is water retention (edema), excessive salivation, increased water in the vitreous humor of the eye, increased bronchial secretions, excess urination (polyuria), diabetes, or ascites (excess fluid in the abdominal cavity), then the liquid quality is excessive and has led to an increase of kapha dosha.(227)


Soft

Soft foods, like white bread and pastries, and soft beds can create excess of the soft quality. This can lead to increased fat, reduced muscle tone, fatigue, and overly soft hands.(229)



a woman balancing on a board to indicate kapha balance

Hard

The hard quality is also on the kapha pacifying side of the above list, but in excess, it can also aggravate kapha. Excess consumption of nuts, frozen foods, and other hard foods increases the hard quality and can lead to hardening of the tissues, tumors, and cancerous growths.(229)


Stable, Static

The stable, or static, quality is increased by seated office work, a sedentary lifestyle, and not enough exercise. It can create slow metabolism, as well as cause stagnation and stiffness.(229)


Sticky, Slimy, Cloudy

The sticky quality can be found in sticky foods like cheese, other dairy foods, and candy. In excess, it can lead to blood clots, heart attacks, attachment, and greed. The cloudy quality is found in most dairy products, excess sleep, and daytime sleep. It can lead to foggy perception, confusion, lack of clarity, cataracts, and cloudy urine.(229)


Gross

Mushrooms, meat, and fish are included in gross. Gross means large and its opposite is subtle, or fine. Excess of the gross quality can lead to obstruction and obesity.(229)


Six Tastes of Ayurveda and Their Effect on a Kapha Dosha Imbalance


You can also use the six tastes of Ayurveda to determine if you have an imbalance of kapha dosha. If you are eating an excess of the sweet, sour, and salty tastes, and not eating pungent, bitter, and astringent foods, then your kapha dosha may be imbalanced/aggravated/increased.


The Ashtanga Hridayam tells us that the six tastes can be used to help balance the doshas.

  1. sweet

  2. sour

  3. salty

  4. pungent

  5. bitter

  6. astringent9


It goes on to explain that an excess of sweet, sour, and salty tastes aggravate/increase kapha dosha, while an excess of pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes pacify/decrease/alleviate kapha dosha.


Dr. Lad tells us that the sweet taste which includes sugar, fruit, most carbohydrates, meats, and dairy products aggravates kapha dosha. An excess of this taste can lead to increased blood sugar, increased glucose in the urine, and an increased craving for sugar.10


He also explains that the salty taste is found in all types of salt, seaweed, and salty foods. This taste in excess can cause edema and swelling in the extremities, thick and sticky blood, and excess thirst.


The sour taste is found in fermented foods (like kombucha), yogurt, cheese, and citrus fruits. In a very small quantity, the sour taste can help to reduce or pacify kapha, but excess of this taste can cause edema, congestion (when taken in large quantities), excess fluid in the lungs, and an increase in congestive disorders.11


To pacify kapha dosha when it is out of balance (increased/aggravated), eat more pungent, bitter, and astringent foods.


Pungent foods are found in many common spices like black pepper, chili, mustard, ginger, onion, radish, and garlic. This taste dissolves excess kapha dosha, aids circulation, removes fat from the body, breaks up clots, and helps eliminate waste products. It can be aggravating to pitta and vata doshas in excess.12


Bitter foods aren't very commonly used in the typical American diet, but these would include dandelion, bitter gourd, bitter melon, turmeric, aloe vera, and fenugreek. This taste causes a reduction in fat, urine, feces, high blood sugar, and toxins. In excess, the bitter taste can aggravate vata dosha.13


The astringent taste is less of a taste and more of a feeling of dryness in the mouth. Foods predominant in this taste include pomegranate, legumes, sprouts, raw vegetables, and unripe bananas. It is said to be a decongestant and to scrape fat and toxins from the body. In excess, the astringent taste can aggravate vata dosha.14


scales indicating balancing of kapha dosha

What to Do When Kapha Dosha Is Imbalanced?

At its core, Ayurveda is quite simple. Here are two ways to work with an imbalanced kapha dosha:


1. When kapha dosha goes out of balance, look at the qualities present that are excessive and apply the opposite qualities to bring kapha back into balance. In your diet, lifestyle, environment, and relationships, notice if any of the kapha aggravating qualities of heavy, slow, dull, cold, oily, smooth, solid/dense, liquid, soft, hard, stable/static, sticky/cloudy/slimy, or gross is excessive, and if it is, then apply the opposite quality (see the chart above or read 20 Gunas (Qualities) of Ayurveda).


2. Notice if you are eating too many foods that are kapha aggravating, those with the sweet, sour, and salty tastes; and then consciously eat more foods that will help to balance kapha dosha, those with pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes.


I would love to hear how you work with balancing your kapha dosha. Please let me know in the comments section below and share this post with your friends and family.





  1. Vagbhatta, and K. R. Srikantha Murthy. Astanga Hrdayam. 5th ed., vol. 1, Krishnadas Academy, 2001, 155.

  2. Vagbhatta, and K. R. Srikantha Murthy. Astanga Hrdayam. 5th ed., vol. 1, Krishnadas Academy, 2001, 156.

  3. Vagbhatta, and K. R. Srikantha Murthy. Astanga Hrdayam. 5th ed., vol. 1, Krishnadas Academy, 2001, 176-177.

  4. Vagbhatta, and K. R. Srikantha Murthy. Astanga Hrdayam. 5th ed., vol. 1, Krishnadas Academy, 2001, 11.

  5. Vasant, Lad M.A.Sc. Textbook of Ayurveda: A Complete Gude to Clinical Assessment. 1st ed., vol. 2, The Ayurvedic Press, 2006. p. 226.

  6. Vagbhatta, and K. R. Srikantha Murthy. Astanga Hrdayam. 5th ed., vol. 1, Krishnadas Academy, 2001, 9.

  7. Vagbhatta, and K. R. Srikantha Murthy. Astanga Hrdayam. 5th ed., vol. 1, Krishnadas Academy, 2001, 11.

  8. Vasant, Lad M.A.Sc. Textbook of Ayurveda: A Complete Gude to Clinical Assessment. 1st ed., vol. 2, The Ayurvedic Press, 2006. p. 226-227.

  9. Vagbhatta, and K. R. Srikantha Murthy. Astanga Hrdayam. 5th ed., vol. 1, Krishnadas Academy, 2001, 10.

  10. Vasant, Lad M.A.Sc. Textbook of Ayurveda: A Complete Gude to Clinical Assessment. 1st ed., vol. 2, The Ayurvedic Press, 2006. p. 229-230.

  11. Vasant, Lad M.A.Sc. Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles. 1st ed., vol. 1, The Ayurvedic Press, 2002. pp. 240-241.

  12. Vasant, Lad M.A.Sc. Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles. 1st ed., vol. 1, The Ayurvedic Press, 2002. pp. 242.

  13. Vasant, Lad M.A.Sc. Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles. 1st ed., vol. 1, The Ayurvedic Press, 2002. pp. 243.

  14. Vasant, Lad M.A.Sc. Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles. 1st ed., vol. 1, The Ayurvedic Press, 2002. pp. 244.

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