Exercise: Ancient Ayurvedic Secrets

I was sitting beside mom’s hospital bed. The oncologist had decided to continue with the same GC chemotherapy regimen (gemcitabine and cisplatin). We both knew what to expect, atleast in terms of the order of drugs that would drip from the IV line. Once connected to the external jugular vein and the flow rate set to ensure that the complete list of drugs are administered before that day care department shuts shop, there was nothing much for me to do. I picked up my book again. I was reading “The Emperor of All Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It was recommended to me by Dr.Manohar Gundeti, Research Officer for Ayurveda at AYUSH. My interest in Ayurveda was growing fast. The year was 2013. Any earlier, I would have read & reread the book atleast 3 more times. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the best book out there that answers every question that you may have about cancer. I still refer to it sometimes. At that point though, I was looking for absolute answers. Science was failing me. I finished the book that day. I walked up to the chemotherapy day care reception of the posh hospital & picked up a pamphlet from the desk. The image below is representative, but similar in essence.

A cancer prevention flyer

If my memory serves right, the pointers were more or less the same. Every pharmaceutical firm & healthcare organization picks this up from the Internet and create their own brochures. I’ll concentrate on point no.2, which caught my attention right away (that doesn’t mean the other points are spot on). If being active & not being overweight reduces the risk of cancer, why are so many athletes diagnosed with the disease? I was mentally creating a list of sports stars who battled cancer. Yuvraj Singh was fresh in mind in 2013. There was Lance Armstrong from cycling, Martina Navratilova from tennis, the list goes on. Were they not “active” enough? Fortunately, I have found a few answers in Ayurveda in the last six years.

Don’t Challenge Your Body

It sounds so cool when you read or hear someone say “challenge your body”. You instantly get motivated & add more weights on the bench press. It’s mighty strainful though, you are sweating with the AC on and your whole body is shivering. Ayurveda gives a formula here. Exercise till half of your strength is depleted. Now how do you calculate that? When you are sweating from your eyebrows and upper lip and are forced to breath through the mouth, it’s time to stop. You can use a modern health app to find out your “tipping point”. There are sensors being developed that can measure how much you are perspiring [1]. If you go beyond this mark, expect tiredness that takes time to recover from. In the long term, your ojas takes a beating and the body invites many diseases. Remember, it’s your body, not an enemy that you are challenging.

AC gym

AC Gyms are in no way scientific, forget being approved by Ayurveda [2]. It is the perfect example of satisfying the need to provide comfort. Gym goers said, “we want to work out, but we don’t want to sweat, sweating is messy & stinky”. No one explained them that they need to sweat to expel toxins. To follow the rules of Ayurveda, the first step is to measure exactly how much you are sweating. This can only be done if you turn off the aircon wherever you are exercising. If it’s a gym, find one that’s healthy. Better still, dump the idea of the gym, unless you are a professional bodybuilder. Walking is a far better exercise.

Dosha wise exercise

In Ayurveda, everything is slotted as per the tridoshas. Working out is no exception. Kapha people need to exercise the most. They have to wake up atleast an hour before sunrise and work out really hard. Walking is not an option for them. Even running is not good enough. Kaphas need to run uphill. Pitta types can have it easier. They need to walk during the night. Vata or vayu types are truly blessed when it comes to physical exercise. They don’t need any! Ayurveda prescribes visiting a park or a beach in the evenings and just loitering around there. Vata body types are the slimmest among the three. Now, that’s life.

If you are suffering from an imbalance of either Vata or Pitta, you should not exercise (apart from these, children, the elderly and those suffering from indigestion are not advised to exercise)

Ritucharya

Once you move out of AC gyms, your body will be exposed to the elements. You will realize that there there are seasons. You will get tired soon in summer and work out effortlessly in winter. Ayurveda has matched your energy to seasons accurately. Your energy is the lowest in Grishma (summer) and remains dull in Varsha (monsoon). It comes back to half your original strength in Sharata (early autumn/fall). Your energy keeps on increasing in Hemanta (late autumn/fall) and is the highest in the beginning of Shishira (winter). Your energy actually reduces with each passing day from the beginning of winter till the end of summer, all through Sharata (early autumn/fall) and Vasanta (spring). In fact Ayurveda recommends not to undertake strenuous physical activity in Varsha & especially in Grishma. If this sounds too confusing, just refer to the infographic below:

Keep Yourself Healthy Throughout The Year

2 seasons without any outdoor exercise will make your body lose shape/ gain weight. Do a bit of breathing exercises in summer and some light yoga asanas in the rainy season. However, keep a strict tab on your diet. Food intake should be maximum in winter, where your stomach is 3/4th full. When you reach summer, you should be eating exactly half of what you used to eat in winter. I realized my dad practices it when some guests arrived at home just after we had lunch. Within 10 minutes of having lunch, he gave them company while they had their lunch and ate the same amount of food again!

The Complete Exercise

Ayurveda is strewn with various forms of exercise recommended at specific instances. We find mention of wrestling, sit ups, langdi, walking, running and even pranayama. Pranayama is a set of breathing exercises that lead to weight loss. In fact, some practitioners recommend it as the best exercise to lose belly fat. Modern work outs find it difficult to target fats in specific parts of the body, especially belly fat. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika mentions 84 asanas, but it is the Surya Namaskar that stands out as a complete exercise. Almost lost to the world, the ruler of Aundh reinvented it in 1900s. “The great speciality and importance of this exercise of Namaskars consists in that it can be taken most profitably at all times, in all seasons, at all stages of life and by all men and women” he said [3]. He took tot he Ayurveda way of living and practiced Surya Namaskars even while traveling in trains and ships. He even wrote a book on Surya Namaskar, “The 10 Point Way To Health”.

The photo is of the Rajah himself

Whatever exercise you do, remember to watch your breath. Ditch your personal trainer if she instructs you to hold your breath for an extended period while working out. When you are out of breath, it’s perfectly all right to breath through your mouth. If you keep your lips pursed and still try to breathe through the nose, Vagabhata warns that you might faint and even develop heart ailiments and gastrointestinal issues in the long run.

[1] https://www.livescience.com/57000-sweat-sensors-use-perspiration-to-track-health.html
[2] https://www.lifealth.com/lifestyle/fitness/why-should-you-avoid-exercising-in-an-air-conditioned-gym-or-room-dc/53110/
[3] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/bhawanrao-shrinivasrao-pant-pratinidhi-the-man-who-promoted-surya-namaskar/articleshow/64607546.cms

About aryap

Student of Ayurveda, Master of Raj Yoga, Reading Purnas & Upanishadas, Charaka Samhita & the History of Ancient & Medieval India to reconstruct the principles of Ayurveda. A big thanks to Dr. Manohar Gundeti for his guidance & support

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4 Comments on “Exercise: Ancient Ayurvedic Secrets”

  1. Terrific !!!
    A common-man needs the right direction & guidance. Your narration & explanation is perfect & praiseworthy.
    Continue your efforts to make people aware of their own health.

  2. Spot on for so many significant aspects of the exercise/workout culture! So significant that the daily activities are individualized and also modified for the season. It is heartbreaking to witness the traumas we inflict on our bodies in the name of challenging it to perform better. Breath and movement are a very precise science that can be used so effectively. I guess I would just say you are bringing awareness to a very important topic through this post …if I continue on this, it might become a lengthy post in itself.

    1. Thanks Pragalbha! The combination of breath & movement is your territory. Keep following on the footsteps of Rajah Bhawanrao Shrinivasrao Pant Pratinidhi and continue the job that he started a century ago. Teach Americans what yoga really is.

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