Our bodies are designed for physical activity—to move and breathe and circulate our vital life energy. More than 5,000 years ago, the master Ayurvedic physician Charaka wrote, “From physical exercise, one gets lightness, a capacity for work, firmness, tolerance of difficulties, elimination of impurities, and stimulation of digestion.”
In fact, getting regular exercise is one of the most powerful things you can do to stay healthy, relieve stress, and reverse the aging process. As Drs. William Evans and Irwin Rosenberg of Tufts University have documented, exercise alone improves muscle mass, bone density, strength, aerobic capacity, and many other key biomarkers of aging.
To keep your body in peak condition for as long as possible, you need to exercise it regularly, but this doesn’t mean pounding your muscles into shape. In the Ayurvedic view, exercise is meant to leave you feeling invigorated, happy, and ready for the day’s activities—not exhausted or in need of painkillers.
The secret is finding some physical activities that you most enjoy and that are suited to your mind-body type or dosha, so that it won’t be a chore to exercise regularly. Keep reading for some exercise tips, according to your specific dosha. If you don't already know your mind-body type, you can take our dosha quiz.
Kapha doshas have strong, steady energy and great physical strength. They therefore can excel at endurance sports such as long distance running, aerobics, dance, soccer, rowing, and so on. Any kind of aerobic activity that works up a good sweat is powerful for clearing Kapha congestion and sluggishness.
If you are predominantly Kapha, your biggest challenge may be finding the motivation to exercise. If you have not been exercising for a while, you can break the inertia by starting with brisk walking, beginning with half an hour.
To feel a noticeable improvement in vitality, it’s important to experience some sweating during your exercise, so you may want try wearing a two-layer exercise outfit, such as an all-cotton sweat suit under a nylon suit. Gradually increase your exercise to include jogging, hiking, and bicycling.
Pitta types have a strong drive and tend to like challenging sports such as skiing, hiking, tennis, and mountain climbing. Because of their competitive nature, Pittas need to be careful not to increase their stress while exercising—stewing over every bad golf shot or wanting to win at all costs.
If you are a Pitta type, you may especially enjoy winter sports of all kinds because you can handle cold better than Kaphas and Vatas. Pittas tend to have less endurance than Kaphas but are good at all exercise in moderation. You might like to try long-distance bicycling or rollerblading. You also will benefit from taking a leisurely walk outdoors in a beautiful area. This will give you a change from your usual determined pace, allowing you to deeply experience nature’s beauty. Finally, swimming is an ideal exercise for Pitta dosha. The water cools the heat of PItta and relieves the accumulated tension of the day.
Naturally enthusiastic, Vata types have bursts of energy but tend to tire quickly. If they are out of balance, Vatas are particularly prone to getting carried away and pushing themselves too hard. Feeling dizzy, exhausted, or on the verge of cramping are all signs of Vata imbalance.
Those who are predominantly Vata benefit enormously from grounding exercises such as yoga, easy walking, bicycling, and dancing. These activities help Vata doshas develop much-needed strength, balance, and agility—as long as they don’t overdo it. In the winter, indoor exercise is recommended for Vatas because they are averse to cold and don’t have enough fat and muscle to protect themselves from the elements.
In short, choosing exercises suited to your mind-body type will give you the greatest benefits and enjoyment. If you are straining to follow a workout program for the sake of your health but aren’t enjoying it, you are not likely to stick with it.
No matter what your current fitness level is, the key is to move your body and breathe. Develop a regular exercise routine and you will experience the flow of vital energy and fulfillment.