Ayurveda: The Secret to a Happy Heart

Photography by: Thayer Allyson Gowdy
Ayurveda: The Secret to a Happy Heart

KAPHA: THE EARTHY TYPE

Body type Endomorph, large-boned and slightly overweight
Emotional tendency Depression
Biggest heart risks Obesity, high cholesterol and congestive heart failure
Heart-health focus Regular vigorous exercise

You’re a kapha if
Your energy is never super-high, but it’s always steady.
You don’t like cold and rainy days.
When stress gets the best of you, you feel withdrawn and want to hide.
Your sleep is long, deep and heavy—you never want to get up.
Your skin is thick, smooth and cool. It’s also prone to cystic acne.
You’re caring and devoted; whether it’s a job or a relationship, you tend to be in it for the long haul.
You’re a little bit hungry most of the time and like to graze.

KAPHA TYPES TEND to be the “rocks” that pittas and vatas lean on for support and stability. They resist change even when it is badly needed. They are slower by nature, and don’t like to do anything without having a clear methodology. They are typically larger-boned and tend to put on weight easily. The gifts of a kapha type’s nature are many: Kaphas are loving, strong, stable, nurturing, supportive and have great endurance and stamina. But the cost of a kapha’s nature is that they’re also prone to inertia, depression and accumulation of fat, weight, phlegm, water and cholesterol. “The kapha body will accumulate excess flesh, triglycerides and cholesterol,” says Ayurvedic expert Scott Blossom. “This excess creates a taxation on the entire cardiovascular system. The heart has to work hard to pump against all that weight.”

What’s worse, that excess weight often accumulates around a kapha’s midsection—the pattern associated with heart disease. Cardiologist Jane Schauer notes that the National Institutes of Health defines central obesity as having a waist measurement higher than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men. “It’s a clear marker for the development of diabetes, high triglycerides and high blood pressure, which are risk factors for heart disease.”

As kaphas gain weight, they become even more stagnant—in the best of times, they don’t like to move; in the worst of times, they’re totally sedentary. The result is often depression, a risk factor for heart disease that ranks right up there with smoking. In a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that depressed people are 31 percent more likely to have a cardiovascular event.

Focus on moving more
Kaphas are the types who thrive on challenging forms of yoga, such as Bikram, Ashtanga and power yoga. Running, kickboxing, cycling, rowing and circuit training are all good choices—the more challenging the better. Kaphas should push themselves to get the blood pumping, says John Zamarra, M.D., a cardiologist and Ayurvedic practitioner based in Fullerton, Calif. He also recommends lots of cardio and circuit weight training, so that they work up a sweat every day. Since kapha is the most other-centered of the doshas, Yarema recommends team sports: “Kaphas thrive in a situation where there’s activity and social interaction. They love to have fun. When they play team sports, they’ll laugh—if only at their own performance.”

One caveat: Kaphas who have been sedentary for a long time may need to take baby steps toward a new, active lifestyle. Exercise-related injuries will only lead them back to the couch. So move slowly (start with a daily 15-minute walk), but move—inactivity will cause more weight gain and stiffness.

Other heart-health moves for kapha types:
DIET DO’S: Lighten up
The American diet—as characterized by the abundance of fast and convenient processed foods—is especially bad for kapha types. Why? Kaphas often use sweet, rich, heavy, greasy foods to sedate themselves and to cope with stress, says Blossom. “They don’t mind that stagnant feeling that junk food creates.” Whole fruits and vegetables—foods that literally come from the ground—are most grounding and balancing to kapha types. Vegetables are the best choice, especially cruciferous ones, such as broccoli.

Spicy foods are also a good pick to boost a kapha’s slow metabolism. Black pepper, garlic, ginger and cumin can be used liberally. Whole grains should be light in nature—barley, buckwheat, millet and quinoa are among the best choices. Fried, processed, salty, sour and excessively sugary foods should be avoided. “When kaphas overload on carbs, bad fat and processed foods, their bodies don’t know what to do with all that junk,” says Welch. “It gets packed away in the vessels, and the vessels get lined with plaque.”

EMOTIONAL OVERHAUL: Move through stress Mellow kapha types don’t wear stress on their sleeves. But since their stress response is to freeze (whereas vatas flee and pittas fight), it pays to develop an active practice of releasing worry and keeping depression at bay. Emphasis on active: Walking meditation is an ideal choice to focus the mind as the body keeps moving. Regular trips to the spa can also be beneficial in helping you relax without inviting stasis. Saunas, steams and herbal wraps can help congested kapha types sweat out toxins and release excess water. Body brushing or exfoliation treatments help stimulate the skin and open clogged pores. Massage that involves movement (such as Thai massage or shiatsu) are ideal, as is deep-tissue body work (such as Rolfing).