Ayurvedic exercise

How Ayurvedic wisdom makes you exercise better

Ayurveda offers a unique and comprehensive understanding of exercise. The main focus is maintaining a relaxed state during exercise so that stress is not produced.

We move to exercise, and movement increases Vata dosha or air element. Excess of this air element can cause degenerative changes. Modern science talks similarly about stress hormones like cortisol being released after strenuous exercise. Vata dosha can be compared to stress hormones like cortisol.

Some of the critical elements of the Ayurvedic understanding of exercise are:

Morning vs evening time exercise

Kapha dominates morning time between 6 am and 10 am.
Kapha represents the Parasympathetic nervous system, which helps repair, recover, and relax. So, early morning exercise refreshes and energizes us, as opposed to evening exercise, representing Vata energy or sympathetic overactivity. This renders us stressed, which is not good, especially for sleep. The high cortisol results in poor-quality sleep.
Kapha also represents strength. Morning strength is higher. We can achieve more and are less prone to injury.

Exercise according to body type

Ayurveda advocates exercising according to the unique body type of the individual. Not all persons are made equal.
A Kapha body type is blessed with strong muscles, skeletal muscles, and those supporting the heart. Such persons also have more strength. Hence, these types are more suited for sports that demand strength, like soccer, running, bodybuilding, etc.
Vata’s body type is opposite to this and has comparatively smaller and less strong muscles and lesser stamina. They should do gentle exercises like jogging, hiking, table tennis, etc.
The pitta body type is in the middle regarding strength and stamina. It is also a hot body type. The best exercises for it are swimming, mountain hiking, etc.

Exercise up to half the strength.

While exercising, it’s essential to consider one’s body type. But in addition to this, each person should exercise only up to half their strength.
Half strength is understood in two ways.
When we start panting or mouth breathing very strongly and deeply, it’s time to stop and rest until we start nose breathing again.
Once we start sweating on our heads, foreheads, noses, hands, feet, and joints and feel intense thirst, it’s time to call it a day.
Exercise according to the seasons
Each season has a unique effect on our body and its strength.
Our bodies are most robust in the winter. We sweat and mouth-breathe much later in the winter than in the summer to go longer and stronger in the winter. Summer renders our bodies weak. We sweat much faster, and it’s time to call it a day sooner.
One can also understand strength by looking at the bodies of people living in cold climates. A cold climate like that in Russia and parts of Europe can be compared to a constant winter. It’s a common fact that people living in these climates are very strong compared to those living in the tropics. Tropical climate is more like a constant or prolonged summer season.

Nasal vs. mouth breathing

Maintaining nasal breathing and stopping each time we start to mouth breathe is essential.
The nose has muscular structures inside known as turbinates, which derive their name from turbines. These structures push air deeper into the lower lobes of the lungs, unlike mouth breathing, which sends air more to the superficial lobes of the lungs.
Deeper lobes of the lungs carry parasympathetic receptors that keep the stress of exercise away.
Another thing to remember is that one should always exhale to exert. This means that we should throw the air out while lifting a weight and vice versa. While exhaling, we engage our Udana Vata, representing strength and vigor. It’s commonly seen that professional athletes always grunt or shout after winning or losing a point. They throw the air out strongly and try to engage their ‘Udana.’
What to do after exercise
Vata is increased to a certain extent after exercise. Doing a self-oil massage for 5-10 minutes is important to keep this vata under check. It’s done in a downward direction with warm sesame seed oil.

Healthy diet to complement exercise

It’s essential to eat healthy to achieve good results from exercise. Adding healthy fats to the diet is especially important. The harder the exercise, the more healthy fats should be added.
Exercise is movement, and movement increases Vata. Fats are essential to keep this vata under check.
It’s no coincidence that traditionally, the wrestlers and boxers from akhadas (local wrestling clubs ) in India are used to taking a lot of ghee and butter. They even carry ghee to whichever country they travel to for competition.

Dangers of over-exercising

There is a famous simile in Ayurveda that says not following the above rules and going beyond one’s limits will be harmful, like a lion trying to drag an elephant. The lion will ultimately exhaust himself and put himself in grave danger.
This will not happen if done once or twice but if over-exercising becomes a habit.
This is evident from the many gym deaths of celebrities in recent times.

When not to exercise

It’s important not to exercise:
• On a full stomach
• After sexual intercourse
• During respiratory illness like cough, asthma
• If one is feeling weak

Benefits according to Ayurveda

Sushruta underlines the multiple benefits of regular exercise. He promises health of the highest order and metaphorically states that diseases don’t come close to the one who exercises, just like small animals don’t come close to lions. But for this, all the above things must be kept in mind.

Other benefits stated are:

• Anti-aging
• Incomparable weight loss
• Increased metabolism

• Ability to withstand heat as well as cold
• Ability to withstand hunger and thirst
• Improved complexion

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