The physical universe is derived from three powers: energy, light and matter. Energy works through the air element, light works through fire, and matter is dominated by water. When these factors are imbued with prana, or life force, the three doshas (vata, pitta and kapha) are created. These doshas determine our conditions of growth, aging, health and disease; they produce the physical body and oversee its substance and function; and they relate to our individual habits and proclivities–from bodily structure to emotional responses.
Kapha dosha is composed of earth and water. These properties make this dosha stable, and it is responsible for growth and homeostasis of the body. Kapha dosha is produced in the body as a post-digestive product (in the form of energy), and its quality and quantity depend on the substances consumed and their proper digestion.
Kapha dosha is responsible for the cohesion of the body throughout life. It gives the body weight, mass and stability. Due to its water and earth components, it is cold, heavy, steady, dull, viscous and strong. It lubricates and moisturizes body tissues, thus maintaining their smooth functioning. It replaces old cells, heals wounds and balances the corrosive properties of pitta and vata. Kapha also works on mental and emotional levels, giving calmness and steadiness to the mind. Its properties are similar to ojas, which is the supreme strength or energy, produced after a metabolic cycle, giving vigor, strength and energy to the body and increasing resistance and immune power.
Like vata and pitta, kapha functions throughout the body. Its main sites are the mucous-producing tissues and organs, including those in the chest and gastric regions, palate, joints, plasma and lymph.
Types of kapha
Kapha is classified according to the site of its function; the types are known as kledak, bodhak, tarpak, avalambak and shleshak kapha.
Kledak kapha functions in the chest and gastric area. It lubricates ingested food, forming it into soft, moisturized balls for ease of passage through the esophagus, stomach and lower digestive tracts. It helps gastric juices to mix with and soften food, so it becomes easier to digest. If sweet, starchy, heavy and liquid foods are eaten often, more kapha is produced and the body becomes heavy and bulky.
Bodhak kapha is found in the region of the tongue, palate and throat and keeps the oral cavity lubricated. As food is chewed, bodhak kapha moisturizes and softens the food, making it easier to swallow. It also moisturizes the mouth to facilitate talking as well as eating.
Avalambak kapha is found in the chest, where respiration and circulation take place. Because these activities are constant, the tissues in this region undergo considerable friction, wear and tear, and catabolic destruction. Thus, avalambak kapha strengthens and lubricates the heart and lung tissues to combat these effects. In the respiratory tract, avalambak kapha prevents damage to soft tissues and mucous linings caused by inhaled air and other particles.
Tarpak kapha is present in the area of the head and the spinal cord. Tarpak kapha lubricates nerve tissue and enables it to carry impulses from the brain organs. It supplies nutrition to the brain, prevents wear and tear and drying of brain tissue, and acts as a shock absorber in head trauma.
Shleshak kapha is found in all joints, providing lubrication to soften friction caused by movement. It exists in the form of synovial fluid within the joint space. If it diminishes, the bones become brittle, and movements will be difficult and painful.
Effects of unbalanced kapha
Kapha dosha is increased or unbalanced by heavy intake of starchy, sweet, cold, oily or fatty foods.Fish, meat, heavy dairy products, mushrooms, bananas and peas are among the specific foods that aggravate kapha.
Lifestyle factors that aggravate kapha include excess sleep; lack of work or exercise (physical as well as mental); a sedentary lifestyle; eating of cold, heavy foods, especially at night; and a windy, wet climate.
When kapha dosha is increased, there is loss of appetite, dullness, and the body becomes heavy, cold, slow and lethargic. Excess salivation may occur and the body becomes pale. Weight and girth may increase due to accumulation of toxins, water retention and improper lymph circulation. Tachycardia (very fast heartbeats) and labored breathing may result due to inadequate lubrication in the heart and lung regions.
Other disorders associated with unbalanced kapha are nasal congestion, colds, coughs, sinusitis, pneumonia, asthma, pleurisy, rheumatic conditions, nausea, fainting and obesity.
Treatment for unbalanced kapha includes the removal of causative factors. When kapha is aggravated, herbs, foods, spices, and climactic conditions with opposite properties will calm it down. For deficient conditions, herbs, foods, etc. with similar kapha properties are prescribed.
Article written by Aparna Bapat, B.A.M.S. (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery). She is a senior faculty member and Academic Dean at the Sai Ayurvedic College and Ayurvedic Wellness Center. She has been a dedicated international Ayurvedic Specialist (Vaidya), consultant, and educator since 1990 and is a member of the Board of Directors, National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA). She studied Ayurvedic medicine at the University of Pune, faculty of Ayurvedic Medicine & Surgery. She was a Senior Lecturer at the College of Ayurveda in London, U.K. Dr. Bapat is the author of numerous articles on Ayurvedic medicine and related themes, has made multiple television appearances, and is one of the premiere lecturers, scholars and practitioners of Ayurveda in the West today. Dr. Bapat specializes in pulse diagnosis, detoxifying therapies, Ayurvedic medicines and treatments, and yoga. She does consultations, treatments and conducts Ayurvedic cooking classes.