Exercise in the Ayurvedic Way
Exercise has been an important part of the Ayurvedic routine for thousands of years before it became a modern fad. Exercise gets rid of heaviness and stiffness of the body because it burns ama (digestive impurities) and creates more flexibility, lightness, smoothness and easiness.
Other benefits include enhanced firmness, endurance, and ability to do work. It pacifies all three doshas and creates balance when suitable for the body type and season. It enhances the digestion, and if done properly, it dissolves impurities in the tissues. Exercise enhances immunity and capacity for food. It banishes fatigue, stops early aging, and retards weight gain.
Respect Your Limits
But too much exercise can be damaging. Fatigue, lack of glow in the skin and face, Pitta and Vata aggravation, and strain on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems result from too much exercise. Modern research confirms that too much exercise can create free radicals and damage the body. Excess free radicals have been linked to over 80% of degenerative disease as well as premature aging. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, you should not use more than 50 percent of your total capacity. And that capacity depends on daily fluctuations of energy, change of the seasons, age, and body type. This is the Ayurvedic principle of balaardh - using half your capacity and conserving the other half. Exercising beyond one's capacity can create imbalance in mind and body, and do more harm than good from the Ayurvedic perspective.
Vata types need less exercise, so lighter activities such as walking are best. Pitta types need moderate amounts, swimming and skiing, for example, and Kapha types need more intense exercise, such as jogging and aerobics, in order to stay in balance. The seasons follow another pattern: if you want to increase your exercise, winter and spring are the best times. In hot weather, you need to decrease exertion and stay out of the hot sun. As for age, children have more capacity for exercise and older people need less, although daily exercise is essential at any age.
How do you know if you're doing the right amount of exercise?
As long as you feel energized and blissful, you are not going beyond what your physiology can sustain. If you feel strained and exhausted, you're doing too much. You can continue to exercise until you notice one of the following two signs of overexertion:
Difficulty breathing through the nose. If you have to open your mouth to gulp in air, that's a sign that your heart is overexerted, the circulation system is taxed, and the coordination of heart and lungs is disturbed. Stop immediately.
Sweating on forehead or tip of nose. It's fine to sweat elsewhere in the body, but when you notice sweat in these two places, it's a sign that you are overexerted and should stop.
If you're not exerting enough, you can exercise for a longer period or with more intensity. You could start with a walk, but each day you could increase the intensity of exercise (by walking faster). Or you could walk for a longer time (increasing the duration). Start out slowly and gradually increase the intensity and time. Stop when you note signs of overexertion.
Yoga asanas are the ideal form of exercise for all body types and ages, because they balance the three doshas, tone the muscles, and rejuvenate all the organs in the body. Pranayam, or breathing exercises, are also good for restoring balance to mind and body. You can take a course at a Maharishi Vedic Center to find out how to do them properly.
Increase Your Stamina
To increase endurance, eat more sweet, juicy fruits, and more proteins such as milk, paneer (a fresh cheese), soaked almonds and cashews. Make sure your bowel movements are regular, and if not, incorporate more cooked prunes, figs and raisins in your diet.
Exercise every day, as part of your regular daily routine. If possible, exercise in the morning before 10:00, as your body has more strength, stamina, and coordination during the Kapha time of day. Exercising at this time also energizes you, preparing you for the day ahead. Exercising in the late evening or towards bedtime is not recommended, as it can elevate body temperatures and disrupt sleep rhythms. A light walk in the evening is fine. Also avoid exercise from 10a.m. to 2p.m., the Pitta time of day when the digestive fires are burning high and it is time to eat the main meal of the day.
It's not a good idea to exercise on a full stomach, nor is it good to exert yourself if your stomach is empty. Wait about two hours after a full meal. Have a light snack of fruit juice, a cooked apple, or some kind of soupy, warming food before exercising and eat your full breakfast afterwards.
I also recommend an abhyanga (Ayurvedic oil massage) before exercise, which is another reason why it works well to exercise in the morning, after your morning massage. This will tone the muscles, get the blood circulating and prevent injury or strain.