No Pain, No Gain? Crafting a Healthy Exercise Routine

Everything is wrong here! If you're puking, you've already done major harm to your body.

If you’re puking, you’ve already done major harm to your body.

One of the important lessons Ayurveda has taught me is the importance of moderation. (Though arguably I’ve exercised a bit too much moderation with my blogging lately.)

Ayurveda means “the science of life,” helping those who follows its principles to live a very long, balanced, and healthy life.

While I’ve written quite a bit on the Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle, I have yet to tackle the topic of exercise.

In the United States, we’re consumed and defined by our fitness routines, crave impossibly skinny physiques, and take our exercise regimens to extremes (ultra marathons, cross fit, hot yoga, to name a few). But this comes at great cost. I’ve seen so many patients, friends, and family with a range of exercise-related disorders that include plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, bulging discs, herniated discs, arthritis, torn meniscus–you get my point.

Another source of inspiration for this post came from this fantastic blog post on shocking “fitspiration” photos (see above) detailing all of the irresponsible fitness guilt-trip images making the rounds. You know the ones, “strong is the new sexy” with a highly Photoshopped, skinny yet surprisingly toned form depicted. Or “quitting is unacceptable.” You wuss, just ignore that pain–your body’s natural response to something that is not healthy–because long-term health is not nearly as important as having big biceps.

In Ayurveda, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Healthy exercise takes into consideration age, the season, any sort of imbalance or disease present, as well as the person’s constitution (vata, kapha, or pitta).

How to Create a Proper Exercise Regimen

I’ll refrain from tearing apart the latest exercise craze sweeping the nation, I’d rather be more productive and write about the factors that go into a proper exercise routine and how to craft one for yourself. Here goes…

Constitution

Everyone is built differently and some people can handle a lot more exertion than others. If you’re built solidly, strong, have good endurance, and tend to gain weight easily, you’re likely kapha predominant. This means you can take on the most strenuous exercise with fewer problems. With too much exercise and physical exertion, even the strongest kapha frame can suffer from degenerative damage in the long run.

Those with lighter builds, drier skin, cracking joints, and those with a naturally smaller frame (vata predominant), should have the least rigorous routine. Gentle yoga, a brisk morning walk, swimming, and a light bike ride will be good choices.

The pitta types (medium build, reddish skin, tends to feel hot, usually a focused and driven personality) are the ones who are most apt to have an aggressive exercise routine, but are the ones who will least benefit from it. A brisk walk, a strong and varied yoga practice (not hot yoga!), swimming, and light cardio will do pitta bodies good.

Age

When you’re young, age 0-16, that’s the kapha stage of life. You’ve got more body fat, your joints are healthy and well-lubricated, bones are strong, your skin is smooth skin, you’ve got lots of energy, and can tolerate running around for hours.

Between the ages of 16-45, you are in pitta stage. At this age, you’ve likely lost the baby fat and hormones have taken hold, your brain becomes more developed, and your exercise regimen should be less active than when you were a kid.  Yes, you can be active, but you have to watch out for activities that will deplete your joints’ lubricating synovial fluid, cause bones to be more brittle in older age, that will disrupt hormones, and generally overheat and overwork your tissues.

After age 45, you’re at greater risk for developing joint pain, osteoporosis, and many degenerative disorders if you’ve spent your pitta years overexerting yourself. Keeping up the same exercise routine you had when you were 12 may keep the fat at bay for the time being, but it will lead to many issues that will haunt you in your later vata-predominant years.

Seasons

Just as your body goes through a variety of changes as you age, the various seasons throughout the year bring with them a variety of weather patterns, temperatures, and moisture, dryness, heat, or cold. Our bodies are microcosms of the larger macrocosm, so adjust your routine and exercise regimen accordingly.

In summer when it’s hot and dry, going out for a 10-mile run at high noon is going to heat you up something fierce and cause a variety of ailments, from rashes and fevers in the short term to cracking and degenerating joints or arthritis in the longer term. In the hottest months of summer, swimming, restorative yoga, and morning hikes in nature (or on a shady street) are key to staying in shape without causing long-term damage.

In the spring, when winter fat is melting off, when flowers are blooming, and moisture is in the air is the best time to exert yourself. Go for that run, you’ve earned it.

Exertion Level

But you may be wondering: how do I really know what’s the right amount of exertion? My teachers and the texts say that when your brow becomes sweaty and you have to breathe through your mouth is when you should stop and rest. You can start back up again when you regain your breath. Just don’t go overboard and puke, regardless of what those fitspiration posters say, puking is a clear sign you’ve gone too far.

Health is something we must work for and manage every day. So forget those inane posters depicting the impossibly fit and Photoshopped. The best exercise routine is one that supports your body and mind, bestows health, and changes according to your age and the seasons.

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