By Shannon Sexton, Yoga+
Studies show that people who exercise regularly feel more confident, capable, and able to handle life’s challenges than those who don’t. Yet surprisingly, only fifteen percent of Americans work out on a regular basis. Need some inspiration? Here’s some expert advice on how to get the most from your exercise plan.
3 steps to better exercise
Forget the old muscleman adage “No pain, no gain.” It won’t get you to the gym regularly. Ayurveda tells us that exercise should be fun, suited to our nature, and always comfortable. So choose an activity that inspires you, something you’ll do, day after day, because you love it. (If you’d rather have a root canal than step onto a treadmill, don’t step onto a treadmill.) Maybe horses are your first love—how about riding? Love to dance? Do it!
Reconnect with Your Center
Many of us reach for the Walk-man when heading out for a jog. But if we’re doing two things at once, how can we pay attention to either? Ayurveda urges us to be embodied when we exercise; when you’re grounded in your body, you’re less likely to overdo and injure yourself.
So leave your headphones behind and pay attention. What does your body need right now? Is it time to stop? Time to step up the pace? Are your shoulders relaxed? Knees hurting? Are you breathing comfortably through your nostrils, or panting through your mouth?
You’re on the right track when your body and mind are content and you’re attending to the present—the rhythm of your feet on pavement, birdsong sifting through the pines, the glitter of the rising sun on snow.
You’ll get the most effective, energizing exercise when you learn to recognize your breaking point, which comes when you reach fifty percent of your capacity. For most people, that’s when sweat forms on the forehead, under the arms, and along the spine. Stop here—any exercise that causes discomfort or strain is considered harmful, because it gives your body extra repair work to do. (For example, if playing tennis for an hour exhausts you, stick to thirty minutes.)
Next: How to find the exercise practice that is best for you
Different bodies need different types of exercise—so look for activities that balance your prakriti (nature or constitution), and avoid those that aggravate it. Your prakriti is composed of three doshas (humors): vata, pitta, and kapha. In most of us one is dominant and needs to be brought back into balance.
If “light, limber, and quick” describe the qualities of your body and mind, your dominant dosha is vata. Restless and impulsive, you dive into enthusiastic exercise plans and quickly exhaust yourself. You’re attracted to high-action sports requiring bursts of energy (like racquetball), but you need just the opposite: activities that require slow, rhythmic motion. Vata-balancing exercise is low-impact (to protect your weak joints) and stabilizing (to offset your erratic nature). You need to pay particular attention to your breaking point and stop before you reach it. Swimming, rollerblading, hiking, and hatha yoga are great for you.
Are you hot by nature? Driven to accomplish? Naturally athletic, with a medium, muscular build? If so, your predominating dosha is pitta. You’re intoxicated by competitive sports like tennis, but they often feed your aggression. You’ll reap more benefits from activities that cool your fiery nature and encourage you to enjoy yourself. Water and snow sports are perfect, as are team sports (like basketball and baseball) and activities where you compete against yourself (like mountain biking). Remember, having fun and getting a good workout is more important than winning.
Do your friends describe you as steady and grounded? Do you tend to be heavyset and to procrastinate? If so, your main dosha is kapha. Strong and enduring, you are slow to begin a routine—but once you do, you maintain it. You gravitate toward laid-back sports like golf and baseball, but you’ll benefit most from hard, sustained exercise that makes you break a sweat. Martial arts, aerobics, running, and soccer are ideal—they will counter your couch-potato tendency and help you to feel more invigorated, vital, and alive.
Shannon Sexton if editor at large for Yoga+.