What's the best exercise for my dosha?

Best Exercise for my Dosha_Ayurveda Lifestyle Advice.jpg

Do you ever have difficulty regulating your energy? Maybe you feel too tired when you need to be more activated/motivated at work or too wired when it’s actually time to wind down for bed?

Have you ever had the experience of feeling bursts of excess energy and needing to find a way to expend it? Have you found yourself feeling irritable because you hadn’t moved your body enough in a day or gotten to focus mental energy on a physical exertion? Or, perhaps you’re someone who feels heavy, slow and lethargic if you don’t get enough exercise.

If you really tune in, it’s likely that you’ve had at least one of these three experiences. The way that we move our bodies each day directly relates to our ability to sustain mood, digestion, and energy levels that feel good.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, each of these experiences corresponds to predominance of a unique dosha, or mind-body type… 

  • The sense of having small, frequent bursts of high energy is most likely experienced by someone who has a predominance of vata in their constitution.

  • The feeling of irritability when a person doesn’t make it to the gym or get the opportunity to direct mental focus toward physical exertion is a pitta-type response.

  • ·That feeling heaviness and lethargy would likely be the experience of a kapha person who opted to stay in bed rather than hop up for a morning work out.

Think about it — does your need for exercise correspond with your predominant dosha? (Discover yours with our dosha quiz)

Of course, movement of some kind is important for each of the three doshas — as well as for the overall health of the body and mind. Regular, physical activity enhances circulation and immunity, while building strength and stamina, and releasing endorphins that elevate your mood. It encourages us to breathe more deeply and promotes sweat, both of which are natural mechanisms for riding the body of toxins. And, what’s even better is that when you connect to the types of movement that align with your body, it works like pure magic… your body will reward you for this with more effective digestion, improved mood, sustained energy and better sleep. Not only that, regular movement ensures that the doshas do not accumulate and cause disease down the road.

Exercise is an important part of any lifestyle that emphasizes self care, but you might be surprised about how Ayurveda approaches this aspect of wellness. Had you ever considered that different mind-body types might gravitate toward different types of exercise? While movement is important for all doshas, the type and intensity of physical exercise will vary amongst them.

 Within the system of Ayurveda, there are tools for understanding your own experience to then decipher which action would be most balancing for you – this can be applied to exercise too. One of our foundational tools is to describe the doshas in terms of their Ayurvedic qualities. As you may remember….

The qualities of vata are dry, light, cold, mobile, and subtle

The qualities of pitta are hot, sharp, oily and liquid

The qualities of kapha are heavy, slow, dense and static. 

The foundation of how we apply the wisdom of Ayurveda in our own lives is this: in order to balance any one dosha, we simply apply the opposite qualities. Physical activities are an important opportunity to bring our doshas closer to balance with our inherent constitution. Below, you’ll discover which exercise is best for balancing which dosha so that you can incorporate the ideal movement into your routine.

Movement for Vata

For vata, the need to exercise is related to grounding excess energy.

  • Mild, regular exercise is key!

  • Vata will benefit from smooth, flowing, grounding activity such as... gentle/moderate hiking, swimming, stand up paddle boarding, dance or barre

  • Restorative yoga will also be great for supporting the fragility of vata. A gentle, grounding vinyasa or hatha yoga practice will be soothing for vata in moderation.

  • Gardening will also be soothing/grounding to vata, because it brings in the earth element. Bouldering will have a similar effect.

  • While vatas may be attracted to fast moving sports, these are not the most balancing for their constitution.

  • Avoid exercising in the wind

Movement for Pitta

For pitta, exercise is an important outlet for drive, sharp focus, and achievement – as well as a chance to simultaneously release internal pressure and embrace challenge.

  • Pitta will benefit from cooling, heavy, slow, and dense activities (like moderate hiking, swimming, weight lifting, yin yoga, Pilates, and winter sports)

  • Or, those that offer deep focus and strategy, such as rock climbing and mountain biking

  • Limit overly competitive sports, as the pitta tendency is often to take it too far. While pittas may be attracted to competitive sports, these are not the most balancing for their constitution. Know your limits and practice engaging in healthy competition when playing team sports – the ability to cultivate a healthy relationship with competition is sign of more balanced pitta.

  • Avoid exercising in the hot sun

Movement for Kapha

For kapha, exercise is important for lifting energy, keeping excess weight off the body and preventing depression.

  • Kapha will benefit from movement that is light, sharp, hot, rough and mobile such as….

  • Vigorous hiking

  • Cycling

  • Aerobics, cardio dance (like Zumba), or kick boxing

  • A strong yoga vinyasa — or even hot yoga —  is generally balancing for your kapha

  • Jogging — but keep in mind, while running is particularly excellent for your kapha, it can be a little aggravating for vata within anyone – especially when the path is concrete. Consider running on a soft path, or even walking a couple mornings a week instead.

  • While kapha may be attracted to more sedentary physical activities, these are not the most balancing for their constitution.

  • Kaphas should avoid eating 1-2 hours before exercise. Since those with kapha predominance have a tendency toward mandagni, or slow digestion, we want to pay a little more respect to exercising without a full belly. Though, it is not great for anyone’s digestion to eat immediately before working out.

For all doshas, the goal is to exercise daily for at least 30-60 minutes. But here is the interesting thing: Ayurvedic philosophy recommends that you only exercise to about half your fullest capacity. This is because exercising too vigorously can cause depletion of subtle life essences, and the ancient Ayurvedic texts often cite vigor as a cause of dis-ease.

As you move into this new routine of physical activity, keep in mind that exercise as an opportunity to connect with and care for your body. This is not about controlling your body or trying to “lose weight.” Practice working with (and for) your body, and not against it by renewing your commitment to a form of movement that you love, or commit to trying something new.  

Put it into practice

Take a look at the list of exercise types that are recommended for your predominant dosha. What are you most drawn too? Is it a fitness class, or something that you can do on your own? If it’s a class, take a moment to research studios in your area and take note of when the class is offered. If it’s something you can do on your own, take a look at your calendar and make note of when you could create space for movement.

Now, schedule the activity in to your calendar for the next month. Some say it takes about three weeks to form a habit, so give yourself four to really solidify this new wellness practice in your life. And, remember that exercise is always more fun with friends! This week, invite a friend to join you for your chosen movement activity. You can also take this as a fun opportunity to practice thinking of your friends’ predominant doshas! Who has a similar constitution to you and could benefit from similar movement? Explain the benefits to your pal and plan a date to make it happen!

Want to start real simple? Begin by inviting your partner, friend or co-worker on a short 10-15-minute stroll after lunch. We promise you’ll return to work feeling lighter and more energized! 

Self care is a radical act — when you are vibrant and awake, you have the clarity and energy to show up for what you believe in. Cultivate Balance provides Ayurvedic consultations, Goodness Guides, and online wellness courses that support you to nurture yourself so you can nurture the world. Dive in with our FREE mini-course, The Basic Balance Challenge!