Ayurveda and Exercise - Fit and Healthy with the ‘Science of Long Life’
At your desk, in your car, on the couch, at the dinner table: do you spend most of the day sitting? Then you belong to the majority—the 55 to 75 per cent of people in modern industrialized countries.
Why has Ayurveda recommended regular exercise for thousands of years, and how can we easily be fit and energetic? This blog post tells you what the ‘science of long life’ has to say.
Many scientific studies confirm what Ayurveda has known for thousands of years: Regular exercise develops muscle strength and posture, reduces body fat, improves digestion (Agni) and sleep, boosts the immune system, prevents sluggishness, and delays aging.
The Ayurvedic texts describe the benefit of daily physical exercise as ‘sthiratva’, or stability. This not only refers to physical stability, but also mental, intellectual and emotional.
Exercise clears and strengthens the ‘shrotas’ (transport channels in the physiology in which metabolism takes place); blockages and congestion are relieved, stress is reduced, and our sense of wellbeing is improved.
Joy and Wellbeing Are the Goal
The ancient Vedic language Sanskrit uses the words ‘krida’ (playing, skipping) and ‘vyayama’ (toughening up, physical exercise) for ‘exercise’, and this demonstrates the Ayurvedic principle of balance. Too much activity—like overexertion, even to the point of pain—creates imbalance just as much as too little. Ideally, we feel better and more energetic after exercise than we did before.
If exercise is fun, we can motivate ourselves to be regular. Ayurveda helps us to choose the type of exercise or sport best suited to our dosha type and constitution.
Type Specific Tips
For slim people, with fine limbs and fast movements, known in Ayurveda as Vata types, slow, light sports, which keep the body moving continuously for 15 - 20 minutes, are the most appropriate. These include walking, swimming, dancing and cycling. Vata types should be particularly careful not to overdo sports, and in winter should possibly prefer indoor sports, because they are not so well suited to the cold.
People with moderate to vigorous physique, Pitta types, with good thermostasis, whose heat production is balanced, can tolerate more exercise.
Suitable activities include: water sports such as swimming and surfing, all sports that are practiced in the open air such as, skiing, climbing, cycling, light jogging and all ball and team sports.
Those who by nature are more solidly built, Kapha types, may often not be very motivated, but, they will especially benefit from regular exercise. They may make their sport sessions a little more intense and longer. Recommended sports: jogging, long distance running and rowing.
For all body types, warm up time is important.
How much Exercise is Healthy?
Ayurveda recommends daily exercise as an important part of the daily routine, preferably during the Kapha time of day (6:00 to 10:00 a.m.).
Evening is the ideal time to relax, rest and rejuvenate.
It is better to exercise for a few minutes daily, approx. 15 minutes up to to half an hour, at 50% capacity, to keep fit, rather than exhaust yourself for two hours once or twice a week.
In summer you should not "work out" in the midday heat. Generally, it is better to do more sport in autumn, winter and spring than in summer.
‘Healthy Exercise’ from the Ayurvedic perspective means exercising to half your capacity. At this stage you can still breathe through the nose, although breathing is deeper, and you can still chat easily. Slight sweating is good.
You should feel warm but not exhausted. If you like you can include short intervals of higher intensity exercise (approximately 80% of your maximum capacity, until you start sweating). It is ideal to use a heart rate monitor to help regulate your level of exertion.
Build your stamina slowly. If you have not played sport for a long time or are over 40 years old, a medical check-up is useful.
The Formula for Success: Three Pillars of Fitness
Ayurveda recognizes three pillars of exercise: strength training (for example Sun Salutation, weight training), flexibility (yoga, stretching) and endurance (jogging, cycling, swimming, fast walking) Nordic Walking.
Eating before Exercise?
Wait two to three hours after a main meal (preferably low fat!) before exercising. But don’t start with empty batteries—piece of fruit (banana, apple) is ideal.
- if you feel exhausted
- in case of illness
- when you're hungry or thirsty
- just before or after eating. After eating wait at least 2-3 hours.
- during menstruation, pregnancy and for some time after childbirth, women should avoid vigorous sport - certain yoga postures and gestational or postnatal exercises excepted, of course.
The Secret of Rasayanas
Ayurveda describes a variety of herbal and mineral mixtures, called Rasayanas. They contain not only highly concentrated nutrients, but also develop a unique effect on the mind and body by virtue of their specific compilation. Each of the different ingredients complement and reinforce each other synergistically, and can therefore be optimally absorbed by the body. The most important Ayurvedic food supplement, Maharishi Amrit Kalash, supports the immune system in a holistic manner, and also has been proven to reduce cell-damaging substances known as free radicals. Free radicals are highly destructive molecular fragments that are increasingly produced at high levels of exertion.
The nutritional supplement, Sport Rasayana , for physically active people, is made up of Indian Amlafruit (Amalaki). According to the Ayurvedic texts, it has holistically nourishing and balancing properties as well as a natural anabolic (muscle building) effect.
Yoga asanas are sequentially coordinated postures that will not only increase flexibility, but also improve the mind-body coordination. They should, however, only be learned from an experienced teacher.
Relaxation = Regeneration
After exercise, a sufficient regeneration period is as important as the sport itself. During this time, the body recovers and regains energy. A gentle massage with ayurvedic massage oils relaxes the stressed limbs and joints. In the resting phase, you can enjoy soothing ayurvedic aroma oils, which also create a pleasant atmosphere in the gym.
Regular mental relaxation is important for continued success and inner balance. Transcendental Meditation is an ancient Vedic consciousness technique that is easy to learn and practice. More than several hundred scientific studies have clearly proven it's unique effectiveness, as compared to other methods of relaxation.
Top Level Sport
The above ayurvedic tips are only partially applicable for professional athletes, since they need to train more in order to achieve top performance. For professionals, we recommend taking appropriate ayurvedic food supplements to reduce the damage caused by free radicals. Also, be sure to maintain your daily regeneration phases, and twice a year take a Panchakarma course (Ayurvedic purification therapy).
Professionals report that these measures enhance their performance and improve their health.
Enjoy your exercise!
Your Maharishi Ayurveda Team