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Dinacharya Series #5 Vyayama And Utsadhana

Vyayama, The Exercise

Workouts: How to Energize & Recover

“We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

                                                                                                               -Aristotle                                                                                 

Vyayama and Utsadhana or known as Physical fitness has always been a point of interest in human societies throughout history. During the ancient days, the routine work of common people involved a lot of physical labor that kept them fit. Unlike the present century, the inclination towards sedentary jobs was not so pronounced, and that in a way helped them to stay strong and healthy. However, the privileged class including the warriors and the royals were not expected to be involved in such enervating jobs. Yet, even they were not exempted from maintaining their physical fitness as they were always supposed to be ready and fit for war. 

Centuries went by – everything changed – diet, lifestyle, job patterns and so much more. What also changed is the time that we invest for ourselves, in taking care of the body. We now have sophisticated gyms and pieces of equipment around the corner, open 24*7. But the lack of profound knowledge on what should be done and what should not be done according to the body type has created more chaos than ever. 

This is exactly when we must look back at the ancient Ayurveda treatises to understand the importance of a healthy exercise routine and how it can therapeutically influence the overall health of a person. While explaining the definition of health, Acharya Susrutha mentions – “a person is said to be completely healthy when his doshas are in a balanced state, his Agni is in equilibrium, his dhatus and excretory system are functioning well and he enjoys a pleasant disease-free state of his soul, senses, and mind.” Ayurveda recognizes that a systematic fitness routine suitable for your body has some direct perceptible impact on maintaining this kind of perfect health. 

Read on to know more about the two laudable practices meant for physical fitness, described in the ancient texts of Ayurveda – Vyayama and Utsadhana.

Vyayama, The Exercise

Any physical activity that contributes to stability and strength of the body and causes exhaustion when performed correctly is considered as Vyayama. This description in itself is so perfect that it explains how Vyayama is different from normal daily chores, the importance of doing it the proper way, and the ultimate benefits that it brings along. Let us unfold every bit of wisdom concerning Vyayama as told in the ancient scriptures and find ways to incorporate it into our daily lives.

Vyayama (Exercise) is a daily regimen?

The glory of Ayurveda lies in the concept of “Swasthasya swasthya hitam” – that is, maintaining the health of the healthy. It recognizes that diligent practices like exercise done daily are quite ineluctable to maintain the healthy functional integrity of the body as a whole. A highly sophisticated ritual that can be done in different ways according to the body type and flexibility, Vyayama is given more importance among all the daily regimens because the same can be a precipitating factor for many diseases if not done appropriately. Thus, exercise is a stringent observance that should be done daily, yet in a regulated manner according to the individual needs. 

When is the best time to exercise? Morning? Afternoon? Or at the end of the day? Although there is no ideal fixed time mentioned for exercise in Ayurveda, we can derive a logical conclusion as to when is the best time to practice it. Ayurveda is the art of bringing balance to the body. That said, if you are tired, hungry, and thirsty, you need food, water, and adequate rest to restore balance. Same way, if you are resting a lot as in a sedentary job or sleep through the night, your body needs to be active to restore a perfect balance. Thus, mornings and evenings are perfect for doing exercise depending on your activity levels. Because we have an empty stomach in the early mornings and the freshness of both the body and the environment are commendable during that time, exercise should be an ideal way to start the day if possible. 

How much is too much Vyayama (Exercise)?

Exercise has a preventive, curative, and rehabilitative effect on the body and is not just explained in Dinacharya. You can see the importance of doing exercise according to the seasons when you look through Ritucharya or seasonal regimen. Each season has different characteristic features and has significant effects on the dosha balance and other aspects of the body. Thus, unlike other daily regimens, variations should be there in the way you perform the exercise in each season. 

Winter is a season with the predominance of Vata dosha. Vyayama is also a ritual that can increase Vata dosha in the body. Does that mean exercise is contraindicated during this season? No. Acharya Vaghbata says exercise should be done during the winter season because, as the outside temperature is low, the Agni inside your body kindles more to adjust itself to the external temperature. Hence, you are expected to have more appetite and are suggested to have comparatively heavy food during this season. Exercise helps you to burn those extra calories and opens up the channels of circulation and aids good sweating. 

Vasanta Ritu (spring season) is known for the predominance of Kapha dosha. As mentioned by Vaghbatacharya, Vyayama helps balance the excess medas (fat) as well as Kapha dosha, and hence it is recommended to do physical exercise during this bright enjoyable season. So, what about the fall and summer seasons? Autumn (Sharad Ritu) or fall season is known for Pitta dosha predominance and the strength of the humans is substantially low. Summer also has an intense dehydrating activity in the human body which will lower the overall strength. So during the fall and summer seasons, it is recommended to exercise according to one’s ability and not be very exhaustive. 

Acharya Vagbhata continues to be more specific regarding the exercise levels during the winter and spring seasons where it is highly mandatory. Do not think you can exercise as much as you want during these seasons as it helps reduce body weight. He says,

“Ardhashakthya nishevyastu balibhi: snigdha bhojibhi:

Seetha kaale vasanthe cha”

The verse says, even if you have enough strength and are habituated to the intake of unctuous or oily food, you can invest only half of your body strength in doing exercise. The sudden abnormal provocation of Vata dosha is always undesirable and when done in excess can create many complications including several Vata predominant diseases. Acharya has also explained certain signs like sweating under the armpits, forehead, nose, hands, legs, and related joints along with dryness of mouth, to understand each one’s limit. Thus, even though you are expected to exercise every day, the level of physical activity should be in accordance with your body strength, age, diet pattern, and seasonal variations.

What Are The Types of Vyayama?

Niyudha, Bahuyudha, Adhva, Shila Nirghatha, Padaghata, and Chankramana types of Vyayama are described in the ancient treatises. Niyudha and Bahuyudha may be correlated to wrestling; Adhva and Chankramana mean simple walking or long-distance walking and Shila Nirghatha refers to throwing or pulling stones. This also gives the impression that there is nothing wrong with choosing the type of exercise suitable and comfortable for you, provided it brings about the expected benefits.

Acharya Charaka has explained varieties of exercise for Kapha predominant diseases. Kapha Prakriti persons are indicated for swimming, horse/elephant/chariot riding, practicing weapons, rotating weights, pulling a rope, shooting arrows, etc. These are more or less similar to the modern-day classification of aerobic and anaerobic exercises. Depending on the health status and individual requirements, one can choose the appropriate exercise for him/her with the help of a healthcare practitioner or a qualified trainer. Certain yoga practices like Surya namaskara also provide workout-like benefits as it involves various movements performed with controlled breathing pattern.

What Are The Importance And Benefits Of Vyayama?

Your body is constantly subjected to wear and tear and maintaining its functionality as long as you live is a real challenge. Exercise is an easy and effective way to ensure a robust healthy body. Acharya Susrutha says a person whose body is strong by regular exercise would not be defeated by anyone. Old age does not advance quickly and his muscles will always be strong. His digestive fire will be mighty enough to digest even the heaviest food, even if it is improperly cooked. It removes laziness, improves tolerance towards fatigue, thirst, extreme cold, and heat. Exercise is also considered to be one of the most effective ways to reduce body weight since ancient times. 

Excessive exercise – good or bad?

Could there be any bad effects if you exercise unrestrained and exorbitantly? Certainly, yes. Acharya Vagbata says:

तृष्णा क्षयः प्रतमको रक्तपित्तं श्रमः क्लमः

अतिव्यवायामतः कासो ज्वरश्छर्दिश्च जायते

  • Excessive thirst
  • Emaciation
  • Severe dyspnoea (difficulty in breathing)
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Exhaustion
  • The feeling of debility (even without any work)
  • Cough
  • Fever and Vomiting

These undesirable effects can happen if you perform exercise much more than what your body can endure. So think twice the next time you push yourself more for a faster weight loss or for a quicker fit-looking body – you cannot rush something you want to last forever!

Contraindications Of Exercise 

Exercise helps in improving grasping power and activeness in the body mechanism including brain functions. But exceptions are given for children, the elderly, those who have indigestion, and those with vata or pitta dosha predominant conditions in the body. Once you recover from these conditions, exercise can be considered a very effective method to regain the lost strength and stamina. One who suffers from hunger or thirst, bleeding disorders, respiratory illnesses like severe cough, asthma, dyspnoea, etc., wounded and the emaciated are also exempted from doing regular exercise. If you do exercise in such contraindicated conditions, it can further create dosha imbalance in the body and can result in complications described earlier.

Connection Of Mental Health And Physical Exercise 

We all have days that do not go well as expected. So, what if we do not have the mind and emotional quotient to do exercise? Exercise should be done with a peaceful stress-free mind. So, if you are in a grip of anger, emotional distress, grief, or fear, avoid exercising heavily. You can either skip it for a day or two or try considering it as a solace to come out of the emotional turbulence. But do not do it excessively – it can cause more harm than you imagine. Exercise helps in improving the circulation throughout the body and especially the oxygenation of brain cells. It certainly has a positive influence on reducing anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric and psychological illnesses. Even modern-day mental health care practitioners consider exercise as a good therapy for mental health and stability. 

UTSADHANA 

Utsadhana is a form of Mardhana where the body is effectively, rigorously, and rhythmically massaged and generally advisable to be performed after Vyayama. During the olden days, the warriors after doing various physical activities used to get drenched in sweat and were not allowed to take baths immediately. So, before bath, their attendants used to do this rigorous massage on their master’s body to help them relieve faster from the exhaustion. This was considered a part of the exercise regimen itself and comes with immense benefits. It helps the overly active muscles to get more blood supply and also pacifies the body aches that accompany physical exercise. 

Utsadhana is entirely different from Abhyanga and Udwarthana which are oil and powder-based massages respectively. Thus, Utsadhana or rigorous body massage after exercise can be considered as a closure and an effective way to attain the complete benefits of exercise to make your body even more sturdy and healthy. This practice helps one to recover faster from exercise-induced muscle fatigue & tiredness. So include your family members as well in your fitness routine, not just to give a company but they can genuinely help you with this enormously effective after-ritual, post-exercise.

Ayurveda identifies physical inactivity as an important cause of several diseases. Prameha (Diabetes), Sthoulya (obesity), PCOS, Medoroga (dyslipidemia), Hridroga (cardiovascular diseases), and many other diseases point out sedentary lifestyle or avyayama ( lack of exercise) as one of the important triggering factors for its occurrence. The next time you feel that you are in an energy-saving mode, remember – you own your body and that’s the only place you have to live. You owe so much to your body and all that it asks in return is to keep it healthy. 

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

                                                                                                    -Jim Ryun.

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