Originally published in Mindbodygreen on January 1, 2017.
We all know that exercise is so good for our bodies, minds, and spirits. But with all the options out there, how do we know which one is best for us? According to Ayurveda, that depends on your dosha.
Ayurveda is the world’s oldest health system, originating in India 5,000 years ago, based on the concept of bio-individuality: that there is not one diet or lifestyle suggestion that works for all people because we are unique. Ayurveda classifies all people, food, and things into three doshas, or energies. The doshas are Vata (air and space energy), Pitta (fire and water energy), and Kapha (water and earth energy).
As an Ayurvedic nutritionist and author of the upcoming Idiot’s Guide to Ayurveda, I’m passionate about shedding light on this ancient holistic health philosophy, which can help us in so many facets of our lives. One of the ways it’s really affected my life is changing the way I exercise to match my body’s needs.
Now, the Vedas didn’t exactly write “SoulCycle for Kaphas” or “Pure Barre is best for you Pittas,” but they give specific recommendations on what type of movement each dosha needs depending on their physiology and mental characteristics.
I know you are probably wondering “So what’s the best type of exercise for me?!” That will depend on your dosha. If you don’t know your dosha, the easiest way to get an idea is to take my free quiz over at eatfeelfresh.com. In this article, I’ll briefly explain each dosha and share the best (and worst) types of exercise for each so you know which workouts to try in 2017.
Vata is the airy fairy dosha. Vata types are quick-moving, with cool body temperatures, weak digestive systems, and a tendency toward dryness, leading to gas, bloating, and constipation. Vatas typically have thin bodies and have a very difficult time putting on muscle or fat. Vatas are naturally attracted to intense cardio classes like cycling and running, but what they need is actually more grounding.
Vatas benefit from slow and steady strength training, TRX bands, dynamic stretching, barre, and anything that improves their balance. Vatas often have creaking, cracking joints that are easily injured, so they have to make sure their form is right. A boot camp might be too quick and intense for them, so they’re better off exercising in their own time, really making sure their alignment is on point so they can build muscle safely. Try lunges, squats, resistance bands, and exercises on a single leg to improve your balance and agility.
Pitta is the hot and fiery dosha. They have warm body temperatures, strong digestive systems, and never-ending appetites, which can sometimes lead to acidity. They love a good workout that pushes their bodies to the limit. They are naturally drawn to intense workouts like Orange Theory, Barry’s Boot Camp, and CrossFit because they are naturally athletic, with a bit of a competitive streak.
However, what they really need is to calm and cool down. Hardcore exercise will actually cause adrenal fatigue and an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone. Even though they love dripping in sweat, they really need the opposite of that. Pittas should strive to practice more yoga, Pilates, and swimming, which build muscle without overtaxing the adrenals. They don’t do well in the heat, so hot yoga isn’t quite the best for them as it will lead to burnout. Instead, a slow-cooling yin practice is perfect. It’s also really important that they meditate after a workout to ground their energy so they don’t take that tension into the rest of their day.
Kapha is the earth mama dosha. They are the ones who have to convince themselves to work out. And maybe bribe themselves with a snack afterward. They often resist movement and would much rather hang out on the couch. Kaphas gain weight easily—most easily of the doshas—and become sluggish, heavy, and lethargic when imbalanced.
Kapha types may not exercise at all but benefit from it the most. Walking is a good start, especially uphill to get the body moving. Kaphas should strive to sweat every day, because that is the antidote to their imbalance. They should incorporate more high-intensity interval training (HIIT) moves such as jumping jacks and mountain climbers into their workout routine. They do best with quick-moving Vinyasa yoga classes, and heated sweaty sessions are highly recommended. Kaphas actually have the highest endurance of all the doshas and can tolerate the longest duration of exercise. All it takes is getting over the mental hurdle!
Regardless of your dosha type, exercise is one of the most healing things we can do for the mind, body, and spirit. It’s important to find the right type of exercise that gives your body what it needs, without over- or underdoing it. Just like there is no one diet for everyone, there is no one workout for everyone. Finding the right workout for you is like finding a crystal—sometimes it takes holding a bunch to really find what feels right.