Like attracts like, and opposites heal. This phrase is the backbone of how Ayurveda prescribes certain foods, herbs, and bodywork to bring balance and harmony to each individual person. But did you know that me Ayurveda can guide you in choosing the best exercise programme for you? With just a little Ayurvedic knowledge, you can start exercising in a way that not only benefits your physical body, but brings harmony, equilibrium, and fresh inspiration to your mind and soul.
Ayurveda translates to “knowledge of life.” It is often considered the sister science of yoga. Whereas yoga is [traditionally] a quest for self-knowledge, Ayurveda is focused on supporting that path with self-healing. Ayurveda may be an ancient science—over 2,000 years old—but its wisdom remains relevant for those of us today who are interested in health for our whole constitution.
The doshas of Ayurveda
In Ayurvedic philosophy, all things of the world, including our bodies, can be categorized and organized by the three doshas (constitutions) of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The doshas, in turn, represent various combinations of the Five Great Elements (Pancha Mahabhuta): Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether. And these, in turn, have qualities associated with them. So we have:
Vata (Air/Ether) = light, cold, and dry
Pitta (Fire) = light, hot, and dry
Kapha (Water/Earth) = heavy, cool, and damp
The goal of Ayurveda is to make dietary and lifestyle choices that best suit our dosha by using the principle of like attracts like and opposites heal. In regards to exercise, this means that while your body is wise, your cravings and desires are not always pointing you in the right direction. Often, people tend to be attracted to an activity that aggravates, rather than balances, their constitution, leaving them feeling depleted, frustrated, bored, overstimulated, or in some other state of imbalance. And when exercise leaves you feeling in any of these states, you’re not likely to enjoy it, continue it, or reap the benefits from it.
What’s the best exercise for your Ayurvedic dosha?
Knowledge about your dosha and the effect different exercises will have on it, you can create an exercise programme that fires you up when you need inspiration, grounds you when you need support, or opens you up when you need flexibility.
Know who you are
To begin with, discover what your dosha is by visiting with an Ayurvedic practitioner or taking a simple test online. Try to find a quiz or practitioner that will help you find your prakrithi [original constitution] versus your vikrithi [current state]. If you are dual-doshic or tri-doshic, focus on which one is primary. The others can come into play as you refine your programme.
The next step is to make choices that will keep you, and your dosha, in balance and best health. Below is a brief description of each dosha, their tendency, and the types of exercise that would most effectively bring them into balance.
People with vata dosha like to move like the wind [air + ether], so they tend to be drawn to vigorous exercise that keeps them moving, such as aerobic activity or running. They crave a lot of change and variety, and never want to repeat the same class twice. They like to feel light and resist activities that keep them tied to one place.
As a result of performing vata exercises, vata people run the risk of further increasing the vata within them, setting them up for imbalance. They might initially come away from their workouts feeling great about the calories they burned, but also feeling ungrounded and unfocused as they move into the rest of their day or evening. They tend to crash into exhaustion.
How to balance the vata dosha via exercise
While they often resist it, vata types benefit from grounding exercises that keep them close to the floor/earth. They would benefit from weight training, getting outdoors, and exercises with repeated, steady routines (a repeated Vinyasa yoga sequence, for example).
Pitta dosha tends to join competitive teams and play active sports such as tennis, squash, football, etc. With the heat of their inner fire, they go all in with any sport they choose. They’re also generally good at most sports, so that’s a draw, too!
But, if you’re pitta dosha, you likely don’t need yet another area of competition in your life. This choice of exercise can leave you more aggravated, angry, and hot-tempered. Pittas eventually “burn out.”
How to balance the pitta dosha via exercise
You might not like it initially, but an activity like tai chi or qigong would be a powerful counter-activity to keep the fire of your pitta in check. Another great option would be swimming—individually or in small groups—as the water is cooling and soothing for a pitta type. The key for pitta is to slow down and cool down, finding joy in the simple movements of life.
For kapha types, made up of water and earth, the tendency is often not to choose an exercise programme at all! The water and earth in them tend to keep them grounded. If they do choose to exercise, it’s generally a short walk or gentle stretching.
Without movement to get the water and earth swirling, little to no improvement is seen, and the adversarial relationship with exercise continues. This creates a cycle in which the dosha continues to accumulate, which eventually causes disease.
How to balance the kapha dosha via exercise
Out of all the three types, this is the type that could benefit the most from (and has the stamina for) vigorous exercise. Working up a good sweat warms kapha dosha and helps break things up and get them moving. It would be helpful for kapha to join in-person classes (or even Zoom live classes) so they can feel the motivation of the other students and use that to get them gently pushing limits.
Getting regular exercise is good for all of us. As long as we’re moving our body in one way or another, we’re reaping benefits: stronger muscles, better balance, increased cardiovascular health, etc. But just “getting through it” is not enough to keep us coming back for life, especially if it’s putting us into greater imbalance.
By employing just a bit of Ayurvedic wisdom, along with an increased understanding about your dosha, you can use your exercise time to take care of your body while also harmonizing, healing, and balancing your constitution as a whole. The best part is this: once you start seeing these additional results from your exercise programme, you are more likely to return to it, setting up habits that can keep you exercising for life.
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