I remember many years ago, the first time since I was in undergraduate, I set foot in a gym to work with a personal trainer and have had over a decade of experience with yoga. I walked in and told the trainer what my goals were which were to simply build some muscle and gain more tone. I told him that he shouldn't work my body like he does other clients due to the efficiency my body has access to due to my yoga and Ayurvedic practices. He looked at me with inquisitiveness and some disbelief. This trainer began his protocol with me and within a couple sessions, he had noticed how quickly my body was responding to the exercises he was suggesting. He was surprised and asked me how I was able to do all this. I reminded him of my strong foundation in yoga and Ayurveda. Yoga provided tools needed with breath, body, and mind. Ayurveda created a context of understanding my constitution and the best diet aligned with the physical exercises for both the yogic aspect of my practice as well as the personal training exercises.
This has been an article in the making for some time but recently I have felt inspired to complete it and put it out there. Over the years, I have worked with many individuals that have been personal trainers and/or seeing personal trainers. With this experience I have been able to support them with their optimal goals of health and fitness, maximizing the potential, and increasing the effectiveness of their intentions, exponentially. I have had the honor of supporting individuals in gaining amazing results with simple considerations and some "tweaking" here and there as a means of refinement. Trainers that I have worked with had their diets cleaned up. I initially noticed significant deficits in this department that have shown up as specific symptoms such as digestive symptoms, sleep issues, bad breath, inflammation, and overall nervous system and mind agitations/afflictions as a result of the general regimens supported. Patients I have seen would carry out this pattern as well.
I truly love the intention of increasing awareness about health and yoga and Ayurveda has been highly valuable and unique, providing a profound approach to health and well being.
This "Tri-Pod of Health Support" concept and practice has been my own creation based on my numerous experiences. The Tri-Pod consists primarily of Yoga, Personal Training, and Massage. Since my yoga training is strongly interwoven with Ayurveda, based on classical training, the components of Diet and Sleep automatically fall into the Tri-Pod by nature. Ayurveda is a vast complete holistic science and art of living. Furthermore, Ayurveda brings with it a whole body of knowledge and experience that takes everything to a whole other level of consciousness and effectiveness, by far and more than any other system available.
Most people are familiar with yoga but the yoga I am referring to is more of the traditional uses of the asana's (physical practices) that aren't rooted in outward intensity or goal-driven practices such as obtaining abs; let alone the yoga that reflects gymnastic/olympic/athletic type of protocols. Yoga as a serene practice for increasing and/or heightening a persons inner and outer experiences with the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga in the form I am referring to involves a different quality that invites us to really get to know ourselves and cultivate our inner wisdom. The many asanas of yoga are designed to access different parts of our body that no other physically driven practice has been devised. Yoga is a complete practice, especially when it is connected with Ayurveda, in many ways that grant us an ability to maximize our performance when combined with other regimens and traditions. I encourage it to be a firm foundation for other practices to combine with it.
Within yoga, there are various forms. Generally, Ayurveda would categorize practices according to an individuals' constitution. For instance, Vata and Pitta predominant types benefit best from Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin, and Restorative. Kapha predominant types are best served by Kundalini, Ashtanga, Anusara, and Hot Yoga. It can be more specific than this based on individual needs and desires but still integrated with the principles of Ayurveda in order to optimize the approach to balance and well-being. When we get more into the idea of intensity type of practices than there are various degrees of how this can be interpreted. For instance, a Pitta predominant individual may resist a balancing practice that isn't as intense because of the like intensity. This intensity for them could further imbalance them. Additionally, a calming practice could seem to be challenging since these individuals enjoy the intensity and the opposite quality can seem less so, but it is ironic to consider the understanding that an intense person would be challenged by slowing down. Hence, why Ayurveda would say this is better. This is a different interpretation to "personal training."
Personal training offers many benefits that are different in ways to yoga. Personal training helps with increasing mobility, building muscle, strengthening cardio function through vigorous exercises, tones muscle and burns fat, and addresses metabolism in its own way. Within the model of personal training there tends to be a diet/nutrition component as well that is typically rooted in FDA approved standards and general modern scientific and time-tested contributions. Individuals that tend to follow personal training sessions also have a generally good outlook on themselves and life. They may have higher self-esteem and confidence as a result of seeing how their body changes with some diet and exercise programs. Within the model of personal training, there isn't the understanding of individual constitutional needs as indicated in Ayurveda but an overall assessment is done with the individual to match the needs of the individual and the determining qualities that a practitioner of this model would be driven by that sculpt the overall path for the individual to follow.
Massage is an interesting and important asset to the practices of yoga and personal training. Yoga and personal training sessions involve a certain level of proactive engagement for the most part. In that, when moving through the exercises of yoga (except for moments of savasana, the relaxation pose) and when engaging in workout techniques there is an actual involvement. Massage, on the other hand, you're simply laying on a table, breathing, and focusing on letting go and surrendering while someone is working with the body. This in and of itself is an important act because it encourages a level of relaxation and integration that is provided by another individual, as well as a different type of molding to the body. While on a massage table, the lymphatic system can be encouraged in a different way. The muscles after firing can come into a calm and quieter state. The parasympathetic system is strongly supported when an individual can surrender and let go. "Working out the kinks" is usually easier when on a massage due to a hands-on approach. This increases overall functionality and efficiency of the body.
There are many types of massages ranging from subtle to deep techniques; such as swedish, intuitive, shiatsu, thai, rolfing, and deep tissue. Finding a massage therapist that you can connect with and that has a holistic approach and/or works well with holistic approaches can best meet you and support the desired outcomes.
Yoga has Ayurveda for diet. Yoga by itself is traditionally emphatic of being vegetarian. Yoga with Ayurveda says that this may not be true for everyone and that individual needs are met based on the understanding of an individuals constitution according to the three Doshas (biological humors) called Vata, Pitta, Kapha. Configurations of these doshas vary and in addressing them an individual can develop an ideal plan that fits their uniqueness. Diet is an important contribution of Ayurveda because of this, and within the context of diet, metabolism can be properly supported. In Ayurveda, when the proper diet is in place then there is no need for medicine. Ayurveda has it figured out! There is no one size fits all approach because of the awareness around Vata, Pitta, Kapha. There is a common saying that "you are what you eat" but in Ayurveda it is corrected to "you are what you digest." Ayurveda isn't focused on caloric intake, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats/lipids. It is focused on seasonal eating, eating per your constitution which also takes into account metabolism. Metabolism is about transformation. It is the dividing factor between Anabolism and Catabolism. Anabolism involves the building up of something and Catabolism is about breaking down. Transformation, which is Metabolism, can be guided to either the direction of building or reducing of tissue. Hence, why any type of physical (and even mental activities) can be converted for one thing or another.
So much of Ayurveda goes into the breakdown of diet and nutrition. Ayurveda does not focus on calories, fats/lipids, protein, and carbohydrates. There is so much more to diet than these simple categories can account for. First is foremost, in Ayurveda, we look at who is coming in to see is. We determine their constitutional configurations of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. We assess what is predominant and this will lead us practitioners to understanding the basic foundation of an individual's metabolic constitution. This is the platform we spring from in order to move forward and create a holistic approach and protocol to increase balance. Vata predominant individuals tend to have a variable appetite. Pitta predominant individuals have a strong steady and reliable appetite. Kapha predominant types have a sluggish appetite.
Within the model of personal training, the idea and intention are to somehow meet individuals where they are at and have them meet a certain standard that is equal across the board, more or less. This, according to Ayurveda, has the tendency to miss the understanding who the person is and what they are individually capable of. In Ayurveda, we believe that there isn't a set standard or one-size-fits-all approach. Additionally, in attempting to do so, other imbalances can more likely occur later on down the road.
The usage of protein powders and synthetic fillers to give the individual that extra boost or push in their body is actually contraindicated in the natural performance of the body. When the metabolism isn't truly seen for what it is in the individual, when this piece is missing from their overall assessment and protocol, then imbalances are more likely to occur. I have worked with many personal trainers that have symptoms that are based in unclean digestion. Unclean digestion can come from poor sleep habits, poor eating habits/regimens, and the quality of food/nutritional support is actually at a deficit. I have worked with trainers that may look great on the outside but their insides are rotting. Their breath would smell foul, indicative tongue coating, there was an increased level of inflammation and acidity, sleep disturbances, restless mind, digestive symptoms such as constipation or loose stools, even a slight to moderate discoloration in their skin. These are all symptoms of significant imbalance and as Ayurvedic practitioners, we seek to prevent and undo such symptoms because we know that the long-term effects of such things can spiral into other health issues.
Simply regimenting the meals according to proper times of days that have already been created by nature, and by following the natural flow of the day itself and aligning with the circadian rhythm can also invite an optimal foundation for health. For instance, here are some basic points to consider and guidelines to follow in order to better serve overall health with the intention of deepening into balanced practices:
1) Breakfast is not the main meal of the day. Breakfast is about "breaking a fast." This fast has occurred as a result of the natural 24-hour cycle of the day where the last meal was around 7 pm the night before. Those following hours that lead up to rest, include rest, and exist around waking time, are the natural breaks in a day to help encourage metabolism. You see, when we first awaken, the body detoxes the remaining residue that the body didn't need from the previous day. On another level, this is a way the body encourages letting go of the past, becomes more present, and paves the way for the future. When we first wake up in the morning, ideally, we poop, we pee, we spit up things like mucous, we cleanse the body through baths/showers, and we begin a whole new day. Breakfast is light in order to support this process, if at all. Vata predominant types can/should eat a small balanced meal. Pitta predominant individuals can eat a heartier meal. Kapha predominant types can either skip breakfast (having tea, broth, or a very light type of meal.) The best time for breakfast is by 8 am (plus or minus.) The digestive enzymes are weak in the morning after a night of processing yesterday's stuff and rest.
2) Lunch is the main meal of the day and the most important. It has been too often the case that individuals have told me that they skip lunch, or that they have a smoothie or power bar to supplement lunch, or even do yoga or exercise during lunch time. This is counter-intuitive to the body and very harmful in fact. Lunch is the main meal of the day. Digestive enzymes are at its peak at this time and if we override this natural process of the day and replace it with any activity that is other than a meal, then we have created a huge window for imbalances to lead to disease. The window for lunch is between 10 and 2, ideally noon (ish.) Smoothies with protein powder do not count as meals. Nor do power bars or any other power drink. This is not correct information for the body to receive. The cells tell the story over time of such neglect. Smoothies in the case of personal training could be okay in between meals when necessary but that is based on a case by case basis.
3) Dinner is a lighter meal. Ideally, no later than 7 pm. Should dinner be later, then it should also be lighter in order not to interfere with metabolism that occurs from the last meal of the day to the first meal of the next day, which brings us back to breakfast. I've told many patients to consider dinner as a mini lunchtime. The digestive enzymes are not as strong as lunch, usually, but are stronger than breakfast time enzymes, and therefore, the volume at mealtime should be half of whatever lunch was. Additionally, the later the meal, the lighter it should be.
4) Liver time is to be loved. The liver becomes very active at night time around 10 pm, which is why it is ideal to be in bed around this time in order not to impede upon its job which is to clean up the day for us and get us ready for the next one. Dr. John Douillard, a colleague, and teacher of mine shared a story about the liver saying that the liver at night is like the night time janitor that is designed to clean up the office building after a long and busy day, but when business meetings are still happening the janitor will either come back later or not at all and the building will not be cleaned up for the next day. Similarly, staying up at night into the later hours has been shown to affect metabolism by decreasing it, and in increasing inflammation to say the least. Additionally, this has also been found to affect the quality and duration of sleep, which will be discussed in the next section. Late night eating isn't ideal. Eating heavy meals isn't ideal. Check out this article HERE to learn more about how a daily structure can be created to optimize performance of mind and body, and prevent imbalances from developing.
5) Fasting occurs naturally during the daytime, three times a day. Breakfast as previously mentioned is an example of the natural fasting time that happens between the last meal of the day and the first meal of the next day, while we are sleeping and the liver is metabolizing. The next fasting period is between breakfast and lunch, and generally consists of a time span of 4 hours. Then, the next fasting period occurs between lunch and dinner, which ranges anywhere from 4-5 hours from lunch. During these periods the body may signal that it is "hungry" and in Ayurveda we observe this and question with these three questions: did I have a complete and balanced previous meal? (yes or no) Am I adequately hydrated? (yes or no) If I'm not sure of the difference, then drink a mug of warm water. If the feeling of hunger disappears, then it was thirst. You see, the same mechanism in the brain that determines hunger determines thirst. If the feeling of hunger remains, then the previous meal wasn't balanced. Did I have good sleep last night? (yes or no) Good sleep supports optimal digestion. Poor sleep negatively affects digestion, causing hormonal imbalances, cravings for sweets or any substance that "boosts" energy. Additionally, poor lunch meals can also affect hormones, increase cravings, and affect sleep. HERE is a article I wrote recently regarding dieting/fasting/detoxing.
In giving in to the cravings, the body's fasting period is thwarted. The laziness of waiting some time for the body's' natural processes to kick in can cause long-term harm. If we wait 20 minutes for the feeling of hunger to go away, the body will kick in to metabolize and convert the necessary supplies into usable forms of fuel. The body actually wants to do this. It tends to store what it needs from our nutrient intake for later to be used as needed. This is how the body is self-regulating and amazingly efficient. The body has an amazing intelligence if we give it a chance and learn to listen to it better.
6) Exercise and diet must be balanced. Exercise of any kind is imbalanced without an adequate diet. Similarly, diet alone can not fully balance the body when exercise is missing. They are mutually inclusive and necessary for our overall well being. There's not getting around it or avoiding it, if we are honest with ourselves. The current state of the typical westernized lifestyle is lazy. More eating happens, while more sedentary practices grow. This is not correct. The body is meant to be engaged on many levels.
7) Frozen beverages such as smoothies with ice are counter-intuitive. Once the ice is added to any beverage then we have now weakened digestion. It's like putting a wet blanket on a fire. Digestion is a fiery process and putting anything cold in the body creates an enormous amount of stress for the body, compromising health on so many levels. Just have the smoothie without the ice and it will make a huge difference. Check out this article HERE regarding ice and cold foods and beverages.
8) About smoothies, there is an understanding in Ayurveda that there should be more vegetables to fruit. Too much fruit can cause issues with blood sugar, even though exercise helps with metabolizing sugar. Why add any un-needed stress to the body and support its performance by helping it to work less hard. For instance, to make 16 ounces of carrot juice, it takes (depending on the size of the carrots) a whole bag of carrots, but you wouldn't eat a whole bag of carrots in one sitting (usually), so why would you expect the body to take it in juice form. It's too much. We live in a culture of too much. Less is better than more. Additionally, it is also important to remember that generally when smoothies are made they have either frozen fruits/vegetables and/or ice added. This is highly contraindicated and creates a serious metabolic dysfunction. Ice is usually added as a filler but causes so much harm. Why would you want to put all that work into such a good workout and yoga practice but then add ice to a smoothie and undo a lot of that work on a digestive and cellular level?
9) Protein Powders are normally synthesized. On a fundamental and basic level of cellular intelligence and nutrition, the body really doesn't recognize most of the store-bought GNC protein mixes formulated in laboratories. It doesn't actually make sense to the body when we listen to it, versus force the issue and "force feed" the body to do something that it knows isn't ideal for it. There are natural protein powders that are manufactured that are healthier for the body. Even simply adding nuts to a smoothie can add protein naturally. The body will express the difference and in the long run thank you in so many ways, one being great health inside and out.
10) Portions are important during meal times. We get more nutrients absorbed into the body if we simply chewed more of our food, versus shovel and swallow. By following better practices for eating, the yoga practitioner and personal trainer, and personally trained individual will find amazing results with even less effort. Check out these guidelines for healthy eating HERE.
11) Incompatibility of foods is another important contribution of Ayurveda. Ayurveda has a great deal to share how foods are compatible with one another. For instance, cheese and sauce do not go together. Or, most fruits and yogurt do not work well together. It is a common idea that we must have fruits in our diet and think to take it with something like yogurt in the form of a smoothie but on a microcellular level, this can cause inflammation to develop and or increase due to the inherent qualities of fruit versus dairy. For the purposes of this article, I am referring to the incompatibility of meals and smoothies. On many occasions, I have seen clients of personal trainers and even personal trainers themselves indulging in the intake of having a smoothie with a meal. This is incorrect according to dietary guidelines and healthy eating practices of Ayurveda. First, because often is the case that smoothies are with ice and as we learned earlier that ice should not go in the body. Ice is mainly added as a thickening agent for smoothies otherwise smoothies would be more expensive. Secondly, the damp cool/cold qualities of a smoothie combined with say an omelet or a sandwich (for that extra protein) is incorrect because, again, it's like putting a wet blanket on a fire and overwhelms digestion. One meal at a time. Meals themselves should be balanced, consisting of various ratios of proteins to grains to legumes to veggies. Too much is too much!
12) Supply and Demand is something essential to consider with regard to observing progress and great health. What is the food versus physical demand? Are you eating more and working out less? Are you working out more and eating less? Are you eating less and working out less? Are you eating and not working out? Are you working out and not eating healthily? What does the body need and what are we getting out of it? Is the body getting less than what it needs in nutrition while physically active? If so, where is the nutrition coming from if it's not coming from food. More often than not, the body will take from itself what it isn't getting externally? We can determine the quality of healthy, inside and out, by how we treat ourselves. How we treat ourselves is rooted in how well are we able to truly listen to ourselves. This isn't about what we think but really from what we feel. We can use the mind to navigate us to those experiences that can support us if we listen quietly and closely. What symptoms are present? This can tell us a lot. HERE is an article about supply and demand, and how your body is your guide HERE.
13) In this order, yoga can start the day to open up and warm up the body. Next can be the practices at the gym. Lastly, massage wraps it all up and integrates it. Diet is in between, and sleep pulls the entire day together.
Everyone needs it and there isn't anyone that doesn't, but it's not as simple as just going to bed anytime. It's actually very specific. Sleep is essential and getting to bed around 10 pm (no later than 11) will provide great balance to the body. The later someone stays up, the more the natural rhythms of the body are thrown off and the more this affects tomorrow by disrupting metabolism, increasing hormonal issues, cravings, and even affecting the next nights' rest. Sleep is a profound reset for the mind and body. It's the place that we get to turn inward and let go of yesterday as we surrender into the unknown. Sleep brings us balance when it is adequate. Daytime sleep does not possess the same qualities of nighttime rest. There is no substitution for it. HERE is a simple article I wrote on sleep some time ago.
Therefore, with the level of importance that sleep possesses, it is contraindicated to work out at night. You see, the body begins to increase levels of melatonin around 2 pm and it peaks/surges in the body around 10 pm just as the liver becomes active. This is one of the main reasons why it is important to be in bed around 10 so that the natural sleep chemicals and processes are minimally disturbed. The liver increases its duties around sleep time. We come inward to turn off for the day, while certain systems turn on to reorganize, recuperate, and realign for the next day. In the old days, before electricity was harnessed, there was a natural settling down for the day around the time of sunset. Studies have shown that when people travel into nature and go hiking and camping, that the body naturally resets itself and becomes more harmonized. Stress levels come down as health and happiness increases.
With the right exercise, in the right place during our daily routines, we can actually have better sleep. It takes energy to fall asleep. Ideally, according to Ayurveda, the best time to have a good work out is in the morning. The most efficient time of day to build muscle is before 10 am.
Vigorous exercises and stimulating activities, that include intense yoga practices, late night yoga practices, non-calming/non-restorative yoga practices, and gym based/fitness based practices, at night time cause the body to go into the sympathetic response (flight or fight). Whereas, winding down for the day supports a parasympathetic response (unwind and harmonize.) Many times, I've had friends say they do their workout at night and feel really good. I ask about sleep and they say that's good after a night workout BUT when I point out that they are straining the adrenals and causing depletion over long-term and connect it to why they feel deeply relaxed or an induced tiredness, they rethink it (usually) because they then learn that the tiredness is from fatigue and not a genuine usage of the body and honoring of its natural rhythms. The quality of sleep is different when depletion has replaced the natural cycles of melatonin, serotonin, and cortisol responses to stress.
It is important to note that if sleep has been inadequate then it is contraindicated to do any form of exercise, including yoga and any vigorous activities, but massage is good. It is a priority to make sure rest is sufficient before any exercising regimen. Doing otherwise would cause more harm to the body than good. Just get some rest firs! The body will be more productive and your health will be a sign of thank you in return.
In conclusion, integrating principles and practices of Ayurveda can optimize health in so many ways. By having a "Tripod of Health Support" consisting of yoga/Ayurveda, personal training, and massage, a complete integrated and holistic approach can be put in place to best support your life and keep things running amazingly for years to come. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you!
DISCLAIMER: This information is meant for educational purposes only and not considered medical advice. Any changes in lifestyle should be reviewed by a qualified practitioner and/or primary care physician if you are currently under their care for specific conditions.