Ayurveda, Exercise & Weight Loss

We all know the importance of exercise. And yet there is often a misconception about what this means. How much? How intense? Ayurveda has some important pointers to help guide your exercise practice. 

First of all it is important to realize that by inviting movement into the body, the body’s “digestive fire” is increased, which melts away fat, liquefies excess kapha dosha, and burns ama (the toxins created from improperly digested food). The real key is to reconstitute your metabolism so that your body functions in higher “gear” even when you’re not exercising. This is achieved by regular exercise that challenges but doesn’t strain your physiology.

It is much better for overweight people to do light exercise for a long period of time. There is a mistaken impression that if you are overweight you should exercise very intensely; however, intense exercise tends to be short-lived, and studies show that short bursts of activity burn carbohydrates, not fat. It takes longer, ongoing exercise to burn fat.  In addition, trying to exercise beyond your capacity can be both demoralizing and can lead to injury.

Using your body should be pleasurable and never a chore; if you are finding your exercise program to be a chore, then rethink your choice of exercise and find something that you enjoy.

General guidelines for healthy exercise (beneficial for all body types):

  1. In general, work to about 50% of your limit. Our total capacity represents all the energy available at that time from our physiology. What we want is not to expend all of our energy but produce more energy. At this point you should still feel energetic and comfortable, not strained or tired. With regular exercise, your conditioning will improve and your total capacity will increase.
  2. Ayurveda recommends regular exercise, preferably seven days a week.
  3. Use your breathing and perspiration rates as indicators of exercise intensity. In general, rapid breathing and heavy perspiration means that you are straining your physiology. No exercise should be so challenging that you can’t accomplish it while breathing through your nose. Your breathing should be slow and deep.
  4. The best times to exercise are during the kapha times of day, which are from approx. 6:00 to 10:00 am and 6:00 to 10:00 pm. This is because your physiology is strongest and more tolerant at those times and the heat is less intense.
  5. The best exercises for weight loss should meet two criteria; they should involve continuous activity rather than starting and stopping, and they should include motion by the large muscle groups in the lower half of the body, rather than just the arms.
  6. Ayurveda promotes gentle physical activities that involve conscious movement of the body such as yoga, tai chi, walking and swimming. Do these exercises frequently and vigorously. For example, a good daily walking routine would be 30 minutes of brisk walking in the morning and again in the evening. If your schedule doesn’t allow this, try to do 30 minutes of walking in the morning, or even three sessions of 10 minutes each. Within a few days you will begin to see a transformation.
  7. Find an activity you love and a partner to do it with, if possible. This will keep it fun while  helping to keep you motivated and stimulated, enlivening your exercise routine so that it is something that you can maintain on a regular basis. However, if you don’t have a suitable partner or your partner can’t join you some days, be sure to go ahead and enjoy doing it alone!

One final note: If you choose to incorporate yoga into your exercise regimen, sun salutations (surya namaskar), pictured here, is generally a great choice!



By Dr. Marisa Jackson-Kinman, C.A.S., P.K.S., A.Y.T., Faculty at the California College of Ayurveda