We all know exercise is good for our bodies, minds, and souls, but did you know the type of exercise that’s best for you actually depends on your mind-body type?
According to Ayurveda, the world’s oldest health system, there are three mind-body types: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. As an Ayurvedic Nutritionist and author of the upcoming book The Idiot’s Guide to Ayurveda, I focus on bringing this ancient healing system into our modern lives. While the Vedas didn’t write about whether CrossFit or Pure Barre is better for your physique, they had some pretty incredible insights into our physiology that we can truly benefit from today.
In this article, I’m going to give you pointers on the best type of exercise according to your unique mind-body type. If you don’t know your mind-body type, take my quiz which will help you assess it.
Once you know, here are the best workouts for you:
Those with Vata bodies:
Vatas are energizer bunnies who love to move. They are most similar to the Ectomorph body type in Sports Nutrition. They love the feeling of a good cardio session. You can find them in Soul Cycle spinning up a storm, doing high kicks in kickboxing, shaking their booties in Zumba, or going HAM on the elliptical machine. They have a need for speed and love the types of workouts where you lose your breath, and yourself while doing them. They love the feeling of getting their heart rates up, which makes them feel free - something very important for Vatas.
However, all that movement is not recommended for Vatas. Ayurveda is all about seeking balance. Therefore you should counter-balance your natural energy with that which you lack.
Because Vatas are drawn to quick, sweaty cardio sessions, it’s best to counter-balance that quickness with some slow, steady strength training.
Vatas have a hard time gaining muscle mass and need to pay particular attention to building their bones and muscles to prevent bone-density issues in the future. I recommend scheduling two to three strength-training sessions in the week where you really isolate your individual muscles, without the cardio component of quickly trying to lift as fast as possible. Think slow, steady, and thorough. Proper form is more important than speed.
Balance is also very important to practice for Vatas, as they naturally can have a weak balance due to skeletal irregularities in their physiology. Try doing one-leg deadlifts, bicep curls on one leg, and walking lunging to improve your balance and agility.
Make sure you take your rest days. Vatas are naturally on the thin side and have a hard time preserving body fat so you want to make sure you don’t overdo it and give your muscles a chance to rest between sweat sessions.
Those with Pitta bodies:
Pittas are natural athletes. They are most similar to the Mesomorph body type in Sports Nutrition. They have a strong stamina and love to work their muscles to the max. They are drawn to boot camps, boxing, CrossFit, and anything else that pushes their body's limits. They put muscle on easily and love the results they get. Needless to say, they love to feel the burn.
However, all that intense exercise is not really the best thing for these already fiery Pittas. They must counter-balance their naturally competitive energy with some non-competitive, relaxing workouts. Don’t kill me, I know you want your boot camp in, but I swear that grounding down will really help.
Pilates is a great exercise for Pittas because it works their muscles, but at the same time is therapeutic and relaxing. I also recommend yin yoga, which is the practice of holding one stretch for two to three minutes without moving. If you do boot camps, be sure to meditate and ground down afterward so you don’t stay in that fight-or-flight mode for the rest of the day.
It’s super important for Pittas to avoid getting overheated. Pittas are hot by nature, so a humid room can really throw them off balance. Avoid working out in hot weather, such as in the middle of the day or outside in the summer. Steer clear of heated yoga practices, which will throw your Pitta energy way out of wack. Instead, focus on cooling down.
Swimming is an excellent practice for Pittas because it allows you to move, strengthen and stretch your body while cooling down. Hit up your friend that has a pool to do some laps or take a run on the beach.
It’s also crucial for you to take your rest days. Pittas like to be on the go and often forget to schedule downtime in their busy agendas. Remember, your muscles cannot develop if you are always working them. Try to take two off-days during the week to just stretch your body out. Foam rolling is a really great way to knead out deep knots, which Pittas often have. And practice Abhyanga, self-massage with cooling coconut oil. I explain all about how to practice Abhyanga on my site.
Those with Kapha bodies:
Kaphas are naturally slow and steady and may actually hate to workout. Getting up to go to the gym may feel like physical torture for them. Does this sound like you?
Kaphas are most similar to the Endomorph body type in Sports Nutrition. They are more sedentary by nature and have a tough time getting into an exercise routine. However, once they start getting their sweat sessions in, they actually begin to love it because it stimulates their minds and bodies, counter-balancing their heavy energy. Kaphas actually have the highest endurance of all the Doshas and can tolerate the longest duration of exercise, so don’t be afraid to work it.
Kaphas medicine is sweat. In Ayurveda, sweat is fat's antidote. Therefore, by sweating every day you are inhibiting your body's fat storage. Kaphas naturally store fat more easily than the other Doshas, so sweat is really medicine for them. I always like to tell myself in a tough workout, “Sweat is fat crying.” You can try that little mantra for motivation the next time you find yourself on a treadmill.
Kaphas should avoid excess strength-training if they are trying to lose weight because it will actually make them heavier. Kaphas may be drawn to slow, steady weight-lifting and shy away from cardio but it’s really the opposite they need.
Kaphas should do HIIT (high-intensity interval training) classes where they are doing things like jump squats, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and burpees throughout the class, with quick weight lifting in between. This is really going to speed up your metabolism and help trigger your body’s fat-burning potential. If your heart-rate isn’t increased you won’t be burning enough calories to target your fat cells. Check out your local gym for classes. Tabata, Plyometrics, Spinning, and Ropes & Rower classes are all great options and gyms often have their own variations of classes. If that sounds too intimidating for you start off with a type of cardio class you enjoy like Zumba or a barre class.
Even if you don’t have a gym membership there are so many workouts you can do at home. Try going for a run, jump roping or practicing lunges, squats, push-ups, and planks at home. That’s really all you need to get your body going. Don’t underestimate the power of walking. Walking 20 minutes a day can make significant differences in your weight over time. Do something that you enjoy and don’t be afraid of a challenge.
Exercise is one of the most medicinal things we can do. Physical stimulation creates mental stimulation. A stagnant body is a stagnant mind. By opening the channels of our bodies we open the channels of our minds. If people exercised more often most diseases and depression would cease to exist.
Which type of exercise is your favorite? What’s your Dosha? Let me know in the comments! And if you don’t know your mind-body type, take my quiz on my website eatfeelfresh.com.
Sahara Rose is an Ayurvedic Practitioner, Sports Nutritionist and Holistic Health Coach, as well as upcoming author of The Idiot’s Guide to Ayurveda. She is passionate about bridging Eastern and Western health philosophies and leads a 12 Week Program on incorporating both into our everyday, busy lives. Learn more about Ayurvedic wisdom on her website eatfeelfresh.com and follow her on Instagram @EatFeelFresh.