Ayurveda teaches that exercise, like all aspects of our lifestyle, should be appropriate to our body type.
When we think of the physical culture of India, images of yogis in gentle poses are more likely to spring to mind than martial artists sparring with lethal weapons. But both systems of exercise and mind training have been in India for thousands of years, and both have a lot to share about how to safely tune the body into a vessel capable of producing perfect harmony.
Ayurveda is India’s ancient holistic healthcare system—a profound collection of medical information, while, at the same time, a source of practical and affordable practices for self-care.
Exercise and Your Body Type
Ayurveda teaches that exercise, like all aspects of our lifestyle, should be appropriate to our body type. For example, if we have a naturally athletic body that tends to run hot and a mind that loves to compete, then a sport with a cooling or relaxing element that calms the mind afterward, a sport like distance swimming, would be advised. If we have a fine-boned figure prone to dryness inside and out with a mind that runs at speed, then gentle, quiet stretching with Tai Chi might be a long-term fit. If we have an ample figure with plenty of luscious curves that would rather sit still than be on the move, maybe the bouncy rhythms of a Nia class would be the motivation needed to move those extra pounds. The Ayurvedic slogan we are following here is elegantly simple: Like increases like and opposites bring balance. For example, if you are hot and intense, cool out and make space to find some peace of mind. If you are fragile, cold and dry, make sure you are warm enough when you exercise. (There is a reason those tiny ballerinas wear leg warmers.) If you are strongly built but tend to gain weight easily, then joining a group and finding the joy in more movement is your path to finding greater balance. Sadly, this is easily said but not so easily done. Why?
Our best Ayurveda teachers would say that when we are out of balance, we tend to naturally get attracted to the very lifestyle elements that will take us further out of balance. How many sweaty athletes run in the midday sun? Why do we honor slogans like “Just do it” and “No fear?” Check out the tiny figures in the spinning class complaining about back, hip and shoulder pain. Then listen to the stories from our heavier friends who just didn’t make it to the gym again.
When life is crazy, we cannot figure out what we need, or we can, but still cannot seem to put those good ideas into practice. My advice is to be merciful to yourself. Let some of the wisdom of Ayurveda clue you in to what might be best for you—then embrace these ideas gradually. Ayurveda will always support a gentle and gradual approach.
Once you get started, however, there are general Ayurvedic guidelines for all body types. Ayurveda suggests you exercise only half the time it takes for you to break a full sweat with the understanding that, as your fitness builds, so will this time frame, and at no stage are you unduly stressing your system. This is especially true for the most highly driven among us.
Like a Well-Oiled Machine
If you want to live long and thrive, oil your body, head to toe, on a daily basis. This is called self abhyanga. If you cannot manage that, take a bath with a couple of teaspoons of oil in it. No tub in your apartment? Rub a little oil over your major joints with a dot on the top of your head and a little oil on the soles of your feet before exercise or bed.
Ayurveda offers hundreds of therapeutic herbal oils, but cold-pressed organic sesame oil works just fine. It has been proven to travel from the surface of your skin to the deepest part of your joints in only 20 minutes. Just like oil in a car engine, oiling your body makes all motion smoother and reduces friction. Less friction means less heat, inflammation and drying, which means happier, stronger more flexible joints. The result? Self abhyanga is one luxurious and enjoyable way to stay youthful longer and keep moving beautifully.