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Ayurvedic Medicine

Yoga for Your Dosha: A Congestion-Clearing Kapha Yoga Sequence

If you’re feeling congested, this sequence of twists, sidebends, inversions, and heart-opening backbends can help clear your lungs and brighten your mind.

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Try this practice for the kapha dosha, then sign up to delve deeper. Larissa Carlson and LifeSpa founder John Douillard will demystify yoga’s sister science in our upcoming Ayurveda 101 online course.

If you’re feeling congested, this sequence of detoxifying twists, energizing sidebends, warming inversions, and heart-opening backbends can help clear your lungs and brighten your mind. To get the most out of each pose, take deep breaths, evenly filling all facets of your rib cage. For an extra dose of heat and stimulation, pause at the end of each exhalation for a moment or two (unless you’re pregnant).

To prepare for asana, you’ll need a mat, two blocks, a strap, a bolster,
an eye pillow, and a couple of blankets. Carlson recommends beginning with three to six slow, rhythmic rounds of your favorite Sun Salutation. Generally, all constitutions benefit from warming, soothing movements like Sun Salutations during the cold, dry vata season. While practicing, maintain a soft Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath) to enhance focus and introversion.

Side Plank Pose, variation

Side Plank Pose, variation larissa carlson


Come to Plank Pose. Then, shift your weight to your right hand and roll to the outside of your right foot. Step your left foot onto the floor in front of your hips. Lengthen through your inner right heel. Lift your left arm up alongside your left ear, and your left side hip and rib cage up toward the sky, creating an arch. Drop your right ear toward your right shoulder. Breathe into your left rib cage for 3–6 breaths. Slowly lower, and then repeat on the second side.

See also Elemental Yoga: An Airy Asana Sequence to Balance Kapha

Dolphin Pose

Larissa Hall Carlson Dolphin Pose

Come to Tabletop and lower onto your forearms. Interlace your fingers, curl your toes under, lift your knees and hips, and straighten your legs. Hang your head, lift your hips to lengthen your spine, and press down through your heels and forearms. Hold here for 3–6 breaths, pausing at the end of each exhalation for 1–2 seconds to gently increase your internal fire.

See also Backbending Flow to Balance the Kapha Dosha

Revolved Head-of-the-Knee Pose

Revolved Head-of-the-Knee Pose Larissa Hall Carlson

Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana

Sit with your legs extended in front of you. Bend your right knee and lower it to the floor, placing the sole of your right foot on your left inner thigh. Bring your left hand to your right knee and your right hand to the floor by your right hip, twisting to the right. Elongate both sides of your torso; extend your right arm alongside your right ear and move into a sidebend, reaching for your left foot (or use a strap wrapped around the foot). Take the inside of your left foot with your left hand, and turn your chest toward the ceiling. Breathe fully into your left rib cage for 3–6 breaths. Then, carefully release your left foot and sit up. Repeat on the other side.

See also Kapha Dosha: Learn About this Ayurvedic Constitution

Bridge Pose

Bridge Pose Larissa Hall Carlson

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana 

Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, knees bent, and your feet hip-width apart under your knees. Press down into your arms and feet to lift your hips off the floor; reach your sternum toward the ceiling, broaden your collarbones, and tuck your chin mildly toward your chest. If you’re comfortable, tuck your shoulder blades under your back and interlace your fingers. Breathe into your front rib cage for 3–6 rounds. To release, unlace your fingers and roll down one vertebra at a time.

See also 8 Holiday Gifts for Yogis with a Kapha-Dominant Dosha

Fish Pose, variation

Fish Pose, variation Larissa Hall Carlson


From seated, place two blocks behind you. Arrange them so that when you lie down, you can rest your head on one block on its highest setting, and your mid–­upper back on the second block on its medium setting, running along your spine. With bent knees, place the soles of your feet on the floor and your arms alongside your body, resting palms-up. Relax your shoulders and gently breathe into your front rib cage to loosen up congestion and tightness. Stay here for 1–3 minutes.

See also Better-Summer Secret: 9 Tips To Burn Off Excess Kapha

Kapha Self-Care Tip

Dry exfoliation

To keep kapha in check, try this quick, dry exfoliating massage, called garshana, with raw-silk gloves. It removes dead skin, supports good circulation, helps stimulate the lymphatic system (which fights infection), and makes you feel lighter. Do it three times per week, followed by a deep warm-oil massage to protect your skin in winter.

How to Before showering, put on garshana gloves and briskly (but not roughly) scrub your body. (Find gloves at John Douillard’s lifespa
.com or through Banyan Botanicals.) Use circles over joints and long strokes over long bones, taking about 5 passes over each body part.

Modify Avoid garshana if you’re pregnant or have a skin infection or rash.

See also Bliss Body: Ayurvedic Spa Treatments for Balance

Kapha elixir

lemon and ginger tea

ginger-honey nectar

Nix sluggishness and stoke digestive fire with this ancient Ayurvedic nectar. A little goes a long way, so experient with drinking 1 ounce about 15–30 minutes before your biggest meal of the day. If more is desired to keep digestion strong, try sipping 1 ounce before two daily meals throughout the winter and early spring.

  • ¼ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ cup raw honey
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped ginger
  1. In a glass, mix together the lemon juice and honey. Combine ginger and 2 tbsp water in a blender and pulse until finely ground. Strain the ginger-water mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the honey-lemon mixture. Mix well.

Modify Avoid if you have acid indigestion or ulcers.

See also Yoga for Vata Balance

Teacher and model Larissa Carlson is the former dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, a certified Ayurvedic practitioner, and a yoga teacher trainer based in Massachusetts. You can find her at