Poses, actions, and foods to stoke your metabolism and shed winter’s excess.
The tulips may be blooming and you’ve started pricing summer sandals, but if you’re suffering from weight gain, foggy thinking, and a lack of motivation, you’re likely experiencing an imbalance of kapha dosha, one of three energetic qualities in Ayurvedic science.
Spring is the kapha season, and its qualities mimic those in nature: heavy, wet, cool, and thick. Kapha represents both solidity and sturdiness and the wet juiciness that lubricates the joints after the windy, dry, bone-chilling vata months of fall and early winter. But when there is an excess of kapha in the body—the result of diet, lack of exercise, too much sleep, too much of everything throughout the long winter—right now is when you’ll feel it most, as the energy in nature begins to shift and lighten.
In other words, you’re out of balance. And health and vibrancy, according to Ayurveda, is all about balance.
So how do you shed your winter excess and get in synch with nature? By cultivating the opposite of qualities to kapha—heat, movement, and lightness, says Carlson. Think yoga poses that heat the body and stoke agni, or digestive fire; pranayama, or breathing practices, which boost metabolism; and a simple diet of light, warm foods.
Here’s a simplified Ayurvedic plan to burn through excess kapha and feel lighter and better right now.
A diet of simple and clean foods that are easy to digest and energizing.
Light grains, such as millet
Clear soups like vegetable broth and miso
Steamed veggies without sauces
Fresh ground black pepper
Avoid: dairy, meat, sweets
Yoga poses and other activities that heat the body and boost agni.
Carlson recommends focusing on twisting poses and pumping actions in other poses to wring out excess kapha, and strong standing poses that help build strength in the legs, ankles, and feet.
A simplified version of traditional Sun Salutations, start your day with this energizing vinyasa to build prana (life force) in the body and release kapha that gets trapped in the lymph nodes at the armpits, says Carlson.
How to do it
Engaging Ujjayi pranayama, inhale your arms up overhead, then exhale the arms back down. Do this 6-10 times, matching movement to the breath.
Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock): Continuing with the movement of the Sun Breath, begin to introduce a lock, or energetic seal, at the abdomen using breath retention, that will stoke the agni and “runs it through the bloodstream to burn off toxins,” Carlson says. (Warning: Do not do this if pregnant.)
Inhale the arms up, and as you exhale, bend the knees and bring the hands to rest on them, keeping the arms straight. Your back remains straight and at a 45-degree angle while the belly and organs hang loose. At the very bottom of the exhalation, when there is no more breath, pull the abdomen back in toward the spine. Stay here, keeping the breath held out, for a few beats. Try to relax into it. To release, first come to standing and release the abdomen, then allow the inhalation to fill the lungs as you reach your arms up overhead. Exhale arms back down to standing. Do a few cycles of this kriya (purifying action).
See a demonstration of Uddiyana Bandha here
Work the Legs, Ankles, and Shins
If you want to reduce kapha in the body, says Carlson, you have to work the legs, ankles, and feet where kapha can stagnate due to sluggish circulation. Swollen ankles? That’s kapha.
Starting in Mountain Pose, lift and place your left foot behind you, toes resting on the ground. Begin to rotate the foot clockwise, rolling through the ankle and foot, and over the toes. Reverse the direction. Repeat with the other foot.
Malasana (Garland Pose): Otherwise known as the yoga squat, this pose will work the feet, ankles and legs, strengthening these areas while also stoking the fire that will help release kapha that has stagnated there.