Here are some ayurvedic principles to help you enjoy the best results from exercise—and if you hate to workout, you might discover why!
According to ayurveda, all natural systems, including our bodies, are regulated by three functional principles called doshas—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Regarding our bodies, doshas can be understood as biological intelligence: Vata governs bodily functions concerning movement; Pitta deals with heat, metabolism and energy production; Kapha governs fluid balance and physical structure such as fat, tissue and muscle. Ayurveda’s goal is to prevent disorder (disease) by maintaining balance in our doshas.
We are each born with a predominance of one or two doshas. (I’m a Pitta Vata—more on that later.) Knowing your body type helps you understand your strengths and avoid imbalances.
This is particularly important regarding exercise. Vatas tend to have a slight frame, are quick in mind and body, but lack stamina. Pittas are medium-build, competitive, and heat up easily. Kaphas are sturdy, strong, slower, but have endurance. Kaphas do well in weight lifting, rowing, power walking and distance running. Vatas excel in sports requiring balance and coordination such as gymnastics, yoga, martial arts, or dance. Pittas who run at high noon may come back to the office red hot and cranky. They’d be better off swimming, or running in the cool of the morning.
The doshas are strongest at different times of day. You’ll feel best if you schedule accordingly. Kapha time, 6:00 to 10:00 a.m., is best for exercising (remember, fat, tissues and muscles). Pitta (heat) dominates from 10:00 to 2:00. Digestive fire is strongest at noon so lunch should be the main meal. Vata period from 2:00 to 6:00 is best for mental focus. The cycle repeats at night —a walk after dinner (Kapha, part II) balances all doshas, aids digestion, reduces heaviness, yet is not too stimulating before sleep.
"Exercise increases mind-body coordination,’ says Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf*, physician and ayurvedic expert. “Disease occurs when the body loses contact with the underlying intelligence responsible for its maintenance and repair. Exercise... is valuable in maintaining contact of the physiology with biological intelligence." She adds, “Exercise increases circulation which, among other benefits, is key for the body’s natural internal cleansing processes.”
For fitness training, ayurveda advises us to use 50% of our capacity and conserve the other half. This builds stamina gradually, without stress. Exercise should recharge our battery, not deplete it. Kaphas have a greater capacity—and need—for intense exercise than Vatas or Pittas. For everyone, Kapha time supports a more vigorous workout.
Dr. Rainer Picha, cardiologist and Director of Maharishi College of Vedic Medicine in Holland, says low-intensity exercise metabolizes fat most efficiently. High exertion demands access to the body’s fast food—carbohydrates—but more energy is stored in fat. To develop stamina or get rid of a spare tank of slow-burning fuel (aka fat), do low-intensity workouts daily. (Not no-intensity—whatever your 50% happens to be.) Says Dr. Picha, “Over-performing can harm your body,” leading to imbalance, injury and cardiovascular stress.
Like a sports car, our bodies run on fuel. To avoid breaking down on the highway of life, eat good quality food. A wonderful ayurvedic cookbook, Heaven’s Banquet,** contains easy-to-understand explanations of ayurveda, doshas, great recipes, and it’s fun to read.
I’m a Pitta Vata. As a kid I hated gym class, which emphasized strength, endurance and contact sports. I loathed getting sweaty in the middle of the day. Do you see the problem? Gym was out of sync with my doshas! My natural strengths are coordination and movement. Now at 45, I thrive on Nia, dance, yoga and hiking. I’ve never been healthier or more active.
Fitness tips from Maharishi Ayurveda Council of Physicians:
- Give yourself an ayurvedic oil massage in the morning before exercise to tone muscles, aid circulation, and help prevent injury.
- As long as you feel energized and blissful while exercising you’re in a safe cardiovascular zone.
- Signs of overexertion: Sweating on the forehead or tip of the nose—It's fine to sweat elsewhere; Difficulty breathing through the nose—If you have to open your mouth to gulp air, your heart is stressed, the circulation system is taxed, and the coordination of heart and lungs is disturbed. Stop immediately.
* Nancy Lonsdorf, MD, is Adjunct Professor of Research at Maharishi University of Management, Department of Physiology, which offers a Pre-Med program, and is developing an integrative medical college, including training in ayurveda. See www.mum.edu/premed
**Heaven’s Banquet, Ayurvedic cookbook by Miriam Hospodar, available at Amazon or through local bookstores.
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