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Why do you run a marathon, participate in a bike race, play a tennis match or simply walk every day? Is exercise a way of life? An integrated goal is not to achieve perfection in a challenging workout, or accomplishing one grueling endeavor after another in search of fulfillment.  It is to develop our spiritual side.

Ayurveda, the Science of Life, clearly explains that the main goal of exercise is to rejuvenate our body and mind, reduce stress and strengthen our immunity. The Charaka Samhita text written thousands of years ago, states that exercise when done to 50 percent of our capacity will be beneficial for health and longevity. When we exercise at a comfortable level we feel energized, our digestive fire or agni improves and we are able to remove toxins from our body.  There is no formula to know the right amount of exercise but as we become aware of our own unique constitution or prakriti, we also begin to find the balance between exhaustion and comfort. This is the holistic approach to fitness and health. Modern medicine recognizes that the body produces a significant amount of harmful free radicals when we push ourselves to exhaustion that lead to diseases, degeneration and death.

It is common to see people exercise with the latest gizmos—iPods, iPads, books, TV screens or simply chatting with neighbors to combat the boredom of exercising. The body continues to mechanically perform an activity while the mind has been hijacked. When the mind and body are performing the same task there is alertness as well as relaxation. This is the “zone” the athlete seeks in peak performance where the brain is relaxed in silence and the body is in dynamic action. When we are alert and relaxed equally we produce alpha waves. We are powerfully creative and productive at this state, drawing from a deep place of innate wisdom and limitless possibility.

Here are four fundamental classical tools to attain mind body integration.

•Tapas, Svadhyaya, Ishwara-pranidanani kriya yogah is the first sutra in the second chapter in Patanjali’s yoga sutras.  It deals with the fundamental concepts of purifying and strengthening our systems through disciplines designed to reduce physical, emotional and mental toxicity.

Tapas is a wise and consistent discipline for purifying and strengthening our body to reduce physical, emotional and mental toxicity. We learn to balance perseverance and contentment to gain alertness, relaxation and confidence. Tapas is a good discipline to instill in young athletes.  When parents and coaches adopt a process-oriented method of learning the sport, and children focus on skill development, they are happier, gain self-esteem and don’t fall sick as often.

They learn the art of “less is more” and go back to practice with renewed energy. But if they push, strain and stress themselves to the maximum effort to win at all costs, the body, breath and mind will not integrate and stress levels increase in their growing bodies.  The threshold for new stress is lowered with repeated stressors and eventually they experience “burn out” which leads to significant illnesses like anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive disorders, physical injuries and eventually exhaustion.

Train yourself and your children to breathe through the nose the next time you play a sport. Conscious nasal breathing increases the tidal volume (amount of air going in and out) to two liters instead of mouth breathing where the tidal volume is only half a liter.  Breath is the bridge between body and mind.  By practicing yoga consistently, beginning every movement with the breath to help circulate energy, we build endurance, better coordination and a relaxed mind.  Learn slow sun salutations or surya namaskars to warm up, stretch and strengthen the back, and also help with bilateral stimulation of both sides of the brain.

•Svadhyaya, literally means “to move towards oneself” is where we come to a deeper understanding of ourselves and increase our awareness through the practice of meditation and reflection. For example, if we begin to train for a marathon without being truly self-reflective about our training, we may end up destabilizing our backs, creating some vulnerability and injuring our knees or ankles in the process. Pay attention to your breath to reduce anxiety or nervousness. Practice meditation regularly to increase awareness and access untapped information and energy. Tapas and Svadhyaya become two sides of a coin to integrate our mind and body.

When they both are present, we integrate our mind and body.

•Ishwarapranidana signifies the Divine—the one with the greater knowledge.  We all work towards the goal but we can’t control the outcome. However, we can cultivate intensity and steadiness dedicating our practice to a higher force. This is kriya yoga. This is yoga in action. We need to learn to relax so healing and reintegration can happen.

•Practice Yoga/Meditation. Yoga is a means to developing free will in the mind.Asanas help oxygenate the lungs.  Combining breath with movement will lead to stress reduction.   Slow sun salutations done with the initiation of the breath before movement will warm up the body, strengthen and stretch the back. Breathing becomes a massage from the chest, to the abdomen and then to the spine.   These movements also help with bilateral stimulation of both sides of the brain. They integrate and make the brain capable of focusing and ready for learning.  Meditation is an act of restful alertness. Meditation allows us to place our attention and intention in those subtle planes giving us access to untapped information, and potential energy.  It is a simple process that teaches us the art of “less is more” and increases our awareness.  When we become aware we begin to accept more, react less.  We are willing to be with the experience as it is than what we would like it to be. We breathe deeply and counter stress by stimulating the vagus nerve that runs from the brain to the diaphragm and activates the parasympathetic nervous system.  We learn to relax so healing and reintegration can happen.

Ayurveda defines a healthy person as one who has a balanced constitution, clear thoughts, sharp sense organs and a calm and peaceful mind. We exercise to stay healthy.  Lets make it an integrated and spiritual experience.

Raji Krishnamurthy is an ayurvedic wellness practitioner and yoga therapist teaching adults and young athletes yoga, ayurvedic nutrition and balanced lifestyles. She lives in Saratoga with her husband and two children, all competitive tennis players.