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April 2, 2023

Exercising for Longevity and Vitality | According to Āyurveda

How much exercise should I do? When should I exercise? What kind of exercise is best? With so many questions around physical movement, we can look to the time tested wisdom of ayurveda to bring in a sense of ease and grace into our practices.

What does it look like to have a vital relationship with exercise according to Āyurveda?

“You have to do cardio to lose weight because you are burning calories” …

“Actually, it’s all about strength to build muscle mass for a higher metabolic rate” …

“Well, really you should do gentle movements because you don’t want to stress the body out” …

“If you are a woman though, the only thing that matters is working out according to your cycle:

  • Menstrual = Light and gentle movements
  • Follicular = Light cardio
  • Ovulation = Circuit, high-intensity exercises
  • Luteal = Light-to-moderate”

What if I tell you, all of these statement can rue AND yet...

It could all go out the door if we don’t take into account:
  1. The season and overall environment, and
  2. The current presentation of the body — physique, age, dietary intake, etc.

Given the fact that each individual varies, exercise must be designed in accordance with the needs of the person - with respect to the time and space.

For years I was working out for 1 hour to 4 hours a day, sometimes more! It depended on how many appointments I biked to around Brooklyn and Manhattan plus how many yoga classes I was teaching. Although, it seemed like no matter how much I moved, there was still something “wrong” with my body.

May 2017 | Walking my bike up to my Brooklyn, NY apartment on the 4th floor after a full day of work, teaching yoga, and moving.

I knew that what I ate, how I moved, and my level of stress all came into play when it came to my health. However, it wasn’t until I dove deeper into traditional āyurveda within an urban setting that I discovered;

I could be focusing in a different way.

I could work smarter not harder.

I can allow support by nature.

Āyurveda is a time tested, complete medical system that takes into account an individuals current presentation, historical influences, and even mindset tendencies.

It also notes one’s environment and genetic makeup as critical information to living free of dis-ease.

Given the fact that this system’s goal is to cure disease and/or keep a healthy body healthy, this is a perfect place to start to uncover how to exercise for a long and vital life.

To understand exercise we can look to one of the traditional āyurvedic texts, Caraka Samhita (1).

Here it describes, the sanskrit word vyayama which means “specific activity”. Vyayama in a healthy person improves and maintains health, plus it is a preventive and therapeutic tool for various imbalances.

In fact, it is stated that “vyayama is a cost-effective means for a disease-free generation”.

I will refer to Caraka often here by referencing where in the text these statements were written.

Sushruta, an ancient Indian physician who wrote the most Sushruta Samhita, an ancient Sanskrit text on medicine and surgery, categorizes vyayama as:

1. Physical (sharira),

2. Verbal (vak), and

3. Mental (manas). Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana- 35/40 Dalhana].

For the sake of our topic, exercise, we will dive into the physical here. However it is important to note, that the other forms of vyayama can be relevant here too.

When is it best to perform vyayama?

When Agni Is Strong

It is found that physical exercise is best performed when Agni is strong. Agni in so many words encompass that which digests, it includes metabolism, and overall energetic transformation. With a strong state of agni we receive the power of the digestive system to transform consumed material into usable energetic output. With a low state of agni, one can experience poor appetite (not feeling true biological hunger), feeling heavy and lethargic, have decreased energy, improper bowel movements, dry skin, cracking joints, insomnia, receding gums, cramps or other challenges.

There is a lot to be said about agni assessment. At a high level, in reference to our topic it is wise to exercise when one’s self assessment of agni notes along the lines of:

  • “I experience a normal appetite and after I perform this physical movement I believe my hunger will increase and support my digestion.”
  • “My last meal has been fully digested.”
  • “Physically, I feel capable of this exercise and it will not make me feel “more weak,” but rather I will feel more energized.”
  • “The environment and season support the exercise I am going to do.” (See how seasons come into play section).

If these statements are not true, please work with your healthcare team to support best next steps to balance or strengthen agni.

One way to support a depleted agni is through a digestive reset or mono diet cleanse. We do this in a virtual group setting every spring and fall - see here to learn more.

When Well Rested

This is important for many reasons including safety, as well as having the ability to connect awareness with systematic performances.

Additionally, exercising when running on empty can lead to exhaustion which decreases agni and can lead to further imbalances (see precautions of vyayama).

If one did not get a good night’s sleep and is feeling tired, the best thing you can do for your body is to get a good night of rest and get back to exercising the next day.

It may also be advised to take substitute the exercise for light stretching, a meditation, or perform a meditative body scan or yoga nidra(5) for the day.

How to tell if I am performing optimal vyayama?

The traditional texts say, one should practice at half capacity.

This can be noted once a person is sweating. Where exactly?

* Under the arms

* At the temples

* Around and on the nose

* The joint areas

This coupled with dry mouth can tell us when about half capacity is met(2).

This also means, the extent of exercise is determined by your own capacity. It is made clear that one should stop exercise before getting tired as one should note their current energetic capacity to meet the physical demand put on the body. [Cha.Sa. Sutra Sthana 8/18] (see precautions section).

Now, assuming you choose to exercise because you have determined to be in a generally healthy body, the best way to know you are performing vyayama optimally is to self asses throughout the process this could look like:

Check in on levels of:

  1. Sweat
  2. Increased respiration - This connection to healthy stamina, energy, and endurance provides strength to agni, stimulates power of digestion, reduces lethargy, heaviness, mucus (negative effects of too much kapha).
  3. Feeling lightness of body - For a long and vital life, one should exercise to about half their capacity, especially during winter and spring. To go to 100% or more is going to exhaust and wear the system out (see precautions section). Exercising 40 - 75% instead should lead to one being able to perform work easily (physical and mental work).
  4. Tightened cardiac region

[Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 7/32-33]

Exercise is to be done with full awareness.

One should be able to concentrate with movements and participate fully. This is when healthy boundaries are felt and limits are respectfully found.

In other words, aim for mind and muscle connection.

How do the seasons and environment come into play?

Winter & Spring

It is mentioned that strong people, and those with a fat rich diet can practice vyayama daily up to half of their capacity in winter and spring. [A.H.Sutra Sthana-2/11-12]

The environment should hold a comfortable temperature to support proper/ optimal organ functions of the nervous system, the muscular system, and the vascular system. See “types of exercise section” for which seasons support which kind of exercises.

Summer & Fall

During summer and fall, vyayama can be done with mild to moderate strength. [Su.Sa.Chikitsa Sthana-24/45-46].

During transition including the transitional seasons (especially spring), exercise depends on person’s health.

Transitions bring up where the body/ system are not as strong. This is because the body is trying to reprogram utilizing thermogenesis (ability to regulate body temperature).

Thus, assessing agni and honoring energetic capacity through the a supportive diet and lifestyle is essential to performing vyayama with integrity.

Types of exercise

There are mainly four types of exercises(4).

  1. Endurance - also known as aerobic exercises to improve heart rate and respiratory rate. They help in preventing wear and tear by improving the health of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Eg: swimming, dancing, brisk walking etc.
  2. Strength - increase muscle strength, metabolic transformation, and prevents falling. Eg. weight training, wall push-ups, lifting own body weight, etc.
  3. Balance - Enhances body balance also prevents from falling. Eg: yoga asana, heel to toe walking.
  4. Flexibility - Improves mobility, posture, muscle coordination, reduces the risk of injuries and muscle soreness. Eg. Stretching

I’ll take this opportunity to speak to the value of yoga asana here as it can touch upon all “forms” of vyayama and holds the opportunity to relearn where the body is in space and time.

Muscles and joints signal to the brain information about your body and how it moves.

Having awareness of body in it’s environment, moment to moment, helps us understand how to relate all things as well as more easily observe what the self needs.

March 27th, 2023 | Gentle yet stimulating yoga postures to re-energize after sitting for a while.

The best time to build is in the winter.

This is because agni is at its strongest.

Muscle can grow easily since the power of transformation (agni) is available to create tissue.

Agni is more available because in the winter, heat centralizes in the body to keep digestive organs safe.

Hence, cravings for heavier foods that are in season come up in the winter.

This diet coupled with strength training is a recipe for great physical training.

The best time to cut down fat is summer.

This is because agni is at its lowest due to heat leaving the center of body to thermoregulate.

That said, this does not mean one should exercise more to “cut fat”.

It actually means the season’s heat will automatically support weight loss through decreasing appetite for heavy foods, increasing cravings for lighter foods, and choosing practices to support a lighter mindset.

In other words, exercise lightly and avoid pushing oneself too much. It is best to avoid aggravating vata through runs, long walks, and hyper stimulating practices.

If one tries to push the body into state of heavy duty action when metabolic power is low, it is exhausting and counter productive to other areas of life and longevity (see precautions of vyayama).

Post- vyayama:

To perform a full body oil massage after vyayama will increase the endurance of the exercise. [Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana 5/86]. It is also stated in traditional texts, to powder massage the feet after exercise prevents disease and offers good looks in which can surpass age. [Su.Sa. Chikitsa Sthana-24/43-44].

Activities after vyayama to avoid:

Strenuous physical activities after vyayama is harmful to health

[Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 8/22]. One reason for this is due to exhaustion.

Consuming alcohol after vyayama leads to health hazards.

[Madhava Nidana-18/13]. After a workout, body needs to refuel, rehydrate and rebuild muscle as it was expending a lot of energy and tearing muscle fibers.

Alcohol does just the opposite of what is needed a it is dehydrating in nature — hindering the recovery and strengthening process.

Therapeutic emesis and nasal administration

These treatments are contraindicated for those exhausted by vyayama. This falls within the lines of exhausting the body, mind, agni, and spirit.

Precautions of vyayama

As mentioned, vyayama shall be performed after considering variables like age, strength, current state of health, geography, seasons, and diet pattern.

We have discussed that vyayama soon after food consumption is contraindicated.

In fact, the traditional texts state that it can cause dis-ease such as rheumatoid arthritis. [Madhava Nidana 25/1]. This is why exercise should be done on an empty stomach or after proper digestion of food.

This prevents improper food digestion as the digestive process requires a lot of blood and energy centralized in the body. To perform exercise would take this ability away and lead to dis-ease such as skin disorders [Cha.Sa.Nidana Sthana 5/6; Su Sa.Nidana Sthana 5/3; Ma.Ni.41/2; Cha.Sa Chikitsa Sthana 7/5].

Over exertion in outdoor settings

It is said that this may manifest as a form of fever (jwara) or trapped heat. This is due to the fact that body will try to regulate its temperature in accordance to outside elements (such as temperature and wind).

Outdoor settings due to strength of weather and nature take away from proper/ optimal nervous system, the muscular system, and the vascular system. Thus, comfortable climatic conditions as well as clothes are necessary for healthy vyayama. [A.S.Nidana Sthana 2/58]

Over-exertion (ativyayama)

There is a clear and important difference between vyayama, ayasa (exertion) and shrama (fatigue).

Exertion and fatigue are catabolic in nature (metabolic activity to breakdown complex molecules and the release of energy within the organism — this results in exhaustion and burn-out).

Both exertion and fatigue are dangerous to health especially longterm. Vyayama should be stopped prior to exhaustion.

Over exertion destroys the body “like the lion who tried to defeat an elephant attacking directly”. [A.H.Sutra Sthana 2/15; Cha.Sa Sutra Sthana 7/35]. It can cause inflammation, tearing or overstretching in muscles, tendons, connective tissues, ligaments and other imbalances(3).

Care is to be had to abstain from over-exertion. One can monitor this by taking stock of:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Weakness to perform physical and mental activities
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Brain fog

Thus, as stated Cha.Sa Sutra Sthana 7/34:

”A wise person should always abstain from over-exertion.”

In sum, just as participating in Ayurveda will constantly request of us, optimal vyayama can be best accounted for by performing self assessments:

Self assessment before exercise to attend to current needs and environmental factors:

  • “How is my agni?”
  • “What energy level am I at?”
  • “What kind of movement would best support me?”
  • “How does the environment/ season come into play to support my choice?”

Self assessment of effort during exercise:

  • “What is my overall intensity input, is it supporting my longevity?”
  • “How is my heart rate, is higher, lower, or as is supportive for my holistically?”
  • “How is my heart rate, breath rate?”
  • “Am I sweating?”

Perform self assessment of outcome after/ through the day:

  • “Do I feel a sense of lightness?”
  • “What are my energy levels, are they at a place where I can work optimally the whole day?”
  • “Do I feel stable?”
  • “How is my stress tolerance?”
  • “Has my agni/ digestive capacity increased?”
Jan 22, 2022 | Post gentle yet active ride around Lima Peru - healing from eczema flare.

If you check in and find, this workout is about push push push and body can’t keep up - this is doing body a disservice.

Learning to live a different way in the same body, and looking to understand how your unique body feels and moves is a radical act of self love and a key element in stepping into root cause healing.

Happy Balancing,



1. Anupama Krishnan, Blessymol EV. Vyayama. In: Deole Y.S., eds. Charak Samhita New Edition. 1st ed. Jamnagar, Ind: CSRTSDC; 2020. Accessed April 2, 2023.

2. Kaiyadeva Nighantu; Chapter 8; sloka 153; NIIMH-National Institute of Indian Medical Heritage. e-Samhita [Internet]. Available from:

3. Musumeci G. Effects of exercise on physical limitations and fatigue in rheumatic diseases. World J Orthop. 2015 Nov 18;6(10):762-9. doi: 10.5312/wjo.v6.i10.762. PMID: 26601057; PMCID: PMC4644863.

4. NIH. Four Types of Exercise Can Improve Your Health and Physical Ability | National Institute on Aging [Internet]. National Institute on Aging NIA. 2021 [cited 2022 Dec 14]. Available from:

5. Pandi-Perumal SR, Spence DW, Srivastava N, Kanchibhotla D, Kumar K, Sharma GS, Gupta R, Batmanabane G. The Origin and Clinical Relevance of Yoga Nidra. Sleep Vigil. 2022;6(1):61-84. doi: 10.1007/s41782-022-00202-7. Epub 2022 Apr 23. PMID: 35496325; PMCID: PMC9033521.

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