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Vyayama is the samskrit term which means physical exercise. All the classical treatises on Ayurveda have clearly mentioned about Vyayama and its health benefits. The two prime aims of Ayurveda are preservation of health of a healthy individual and management of disorders of a diseased person. Ayurveda has given great emphasis on preventive measures to remain healthy and to lead a disease free long life. Ayurveda scholars have advocated various preventive measures under the instructions of Dinacharya (daily routine), Rutucharya (seasonal regimen) Sadvritta (physical and mental code of conducts). Vyayama has been first described under the topic of Dinacharya or daily regime and considered as an integral part of one's routine daily activities. Also it is considered as the parameter for assessment of one's balam i.e. physical strength.
Ayurveda classics have defined the term vyayama on the basis of its health benefits or the desired outcomes. Although vyayama indicates physical exercise, not every type of exercise people routinely perform in today's time, is called as vyayama. The type of physical exercise which fulfills the criteria given below is only eligible to be called as vyayama and should be incorporated in daily routine. Acharya Charaka has defined vyayama as below,
शरीरचेष्टा या चेष्टा स्थैर्यार्था बलवर्धिनी| देहव्यायामसङ्ख्याता मात्रया तां समाचरेत्|| - (Char. Samh.7.31)
Meaning: That movement of limbs of body which is performed to gain strength and firmness is called as Vyayama and it should be done in optimum amount.
From the above definition of vyayama, it is clear that, the ultimate aim of doing vyayama should be to gain strength and endurance. If any physical activity performed in the name of vyayama is leading to weakness or fatigue and does not aid in gaining strength then it should not be considered as vyayama. The reason behind this clear distinction is, vyayama is recommended in daily regime of an individual which is supposed to enhance the energy levels of one's body and mind. But, if the physical exercise done in daily routine is on the contrary leading to fatigue, it will reduce one's capacity to efficiently perform other daily activities. Thus, only that type and amount of physical exercise which generates strength and endurance in body is known as Vyayama.
Acharya Vagbhata has also defined the term Vyayama in a different way. He says, the physical activity which requires efforts or generates strain on body is called as Vyayama.
शरीरायासजननं कर्म व्यायाम उच्यते| 
Also, various dictionary meanings of the term Vyayama suggest that the activity which requires efforts and causes shrama (strain) on body is called as vyayama. Although vyayama requires efforts and generated strain on the body, it is transient and the ultimate result is increase in strength and firmness of body.
Difference between Vyayama and Asanas
Asanas are the most popular aspect of hatha yoga practiced today. According to yogashastra, asana practice is considered important since it helps to keep the physical body healthy. Although Asanas and vyayama both focus on the health of physical body they are different in many aspects from each other and thus are not replaceable. Asana is defined as 'the physical posture that generates stability with comfort' as per Patanjali yogasutras. (P.Y. Sutra 2.46).
स्थिरं सुखं आसनं (P.Y. Sutra 2.46).
Asana is supposed to be a steady and comfortable posture and the movement of limbs is not expected once the posture is adopted. Thus, practice of asana produces mental equilibrium and prevents fickleness of mind. While vyayama performed with efforts involves movement of limbs, generates transient strain on body and develops physical strength.
Difference between exertion and exercise
Although vyayama involves movement of limbs not all the body movements can be called as vyayama. Acharya Sushruta has given an example of it while explaining what type of body movements can be termed as vyayama and how any random movement differs from vyayama. He says, a movement like lifting heavy weights of any kind in order to complete some household task can not be termed as vyayama. However walking can be a type of vyayama when done in moderate amount. Appropriate body movements identified as vyayama when doen in an amount which brings about lightness in the body are termed as vyayama. When one indulges in excessive physical activity or vyayama which generates fatigue and symptoms like giddiness, it is called as exertion and not vyayama or exercise.
(Chakrapani - cha su 7/31)
An example of walking is given in this context. When walking will be called as vyayama and when not, can be understood by the after effects described by Acharya Sushruta.
“यत्तु चङ्क्रमणं नातिदेहपीडाकरं भवेत्| तदायुर्बलमेधाग्निप्रदमिन्द्रियबोधनम्” (सु.चि.अ.२४) (Chakrapani - cha su 7/31)
Benefits of vyayama
The health benefits of vyayama are described in depth in Ayurveda treatises. Although the definition of 'Vyayama', mentioned earlier speaks about gaining strength and firmness of body through vyayama, it is not the only benefit vyayama gives. Acharya Charaka has listed the health benefits of vyayama as below,
लाघवं कर्मसामर्थ्यं स्थैर्यं दुःखसहिष्णुता | दोषक्षयोऽग्निवृद्धिश्च व्यायामादुपजायते||३२|| (Char. Samh. Sutra 7/32)
At another instance, while listing the best sources of gaining particular quality in body, Acharya Charaka has described Vyayama to be the best act which generates stability. This can also refer to the anti-ageing effects of vyayama.
व्यायामः स्थैर्यकराणां (C.su 25/40)
Additionally, adorning desired shape to the body by toning the muscles and also reducing the meda (equivalent to fats or adipose tissue in body) are some other positive effects of vyayama listed by Acharya Sushruta.
लाघवं कर्मसामर्थ्यं दीप्तोऽग्निर्मेदसः क्षयः| विभक्तघनगात्रत्वं व्यायामादुपजायते||१०||
In Sushruta Samhita, Acharya Sushruta describes in detail the effects of vyayama on various health aspects of a human being. (Su chi 24/ 39-45) Those are as follows,
- शरीरोपचयः - Body building, growth, development
- कान्तिः - enhances complexion of skin
- गात्राणां सुविभक्तता - Body toning
- दीप्ताग्नित्वम - Improves appetite and digestion
- अनालस्यं - reduces lethargy
- स्थिरत्वं - Generates strength and firmness
- लाघवं - Reduces heaviness in body
- मृजा - Helps in cleansing ans detoxification of body
- श्रमक्लमपिपासोष्णशीतादीनां सहिष्णुता - Increases body's tolerance levels for arduous work, fatigue, thirst, heat and cold.
- आरोग्यं चापि परमं उपजायते - endowed with superior health
- न चास्ति सदृशं तेन किञ्चित् स्थौल्यापकर्षणम् - The best way to get rid of obessity
- न च व्यायामिनं मर्त्यमर्दयन्त्यरयो बलात् -
- न चैनं सहसाऽऽक्रम्य जरा समधिरोहति - prevents early ageing
- स्थिरीभवति मांसं च व्यायामाभिरतस्य च - muscular tissue, ligaments, tendons etc become strong and firm
- व्यायामस्विन्नगात्रस्य पद्भ्यामुद्वर्तितस्य च व्याधयो नोपसर्पन्ति सिंहं क्षुद्रमृगा इव - Works as immunity booster, prevents illness if also paired with massage therapy
- वयोरूपगुणैर्हीनमपि कुर्यात् सुदर्शनम् - enhances natural beauty (by improving various aspects of it like, muscle tone, firmness, complexion, weight loss etc)
- विरुद्धमपि भोजनम् विदग्धमविदग्धं वा निर्दोषं परिपच्यते - Becomes capable of digesting all types of foods may that be incompatible, heavy to digest,
- व्यायामो हि सदा पथ्यो बलिनां स्निग्धभोजिनाम् - Vyayama can be done always and anytime to achieve these health benefits provided the individual eats snigdha (unctous) food and is not frail or very weak already.
Adverse effects of excessive vyayama
श्रमः क्लमः क्षयस्तृष्णा रक्तपित्तं प्रतामकः|
गजं सिंह इवाकर्षन् सहसा स विनश्यति||३५|| C S 7
अतिव्यायामतः कासो ज्वरश्छर्दिश्च जायते||३३|| C S 7
How to know how much exercise should be done by an individual?
(स्वेदागमः  श्वासवृद्धिर्गात्राणां लाघवं तथा|
हृदयाद्युपरोधश्च इति व्यायामलक्षणम्||१||)| (C.SU7)
अर्धशक्त्या निषेव्यस्तु बलिभिः स्निग्धभोजिभिः||११||
शीतकाले वसन्ते च, मन्दमेव ततोऽन्यदा|
वयोबलशरीराणि देशकालाशनानि च ||४८||
समीक्ष्य कुर्याद्व्यायाममन्यथा रोगमाप्नुयात् | Su chi 24
Rtu in which vyayama should be avoided
ग्रीष्मे न सीदति||२८||
मद्यमल्पं न वा पेयमथवा सुबहूदकम्|
लवणाम्लकटूष्णानि व्यायामं च विवर्जयेत्  ||२९|| Cha.su 6
उदमन्थं दिवास्वप्नमवश्यायं नदीजलम्||३५||
व्यायाममातपं चैव व्यवायं चात्र वर्जयेत्| Cha su 6
Need of fat intake in those who regularly exercise
Vyayama a type of anagni swedana. Avoid vyayama after steam bath (C.SU 14/65-67)
Vyayama a type of langhanam (C su 22/18)
Role of Vyayama in obesity
प्रजागरं  व्यवायं च व्यायामं चिन्तनानि च|
स्थौल्यमिच्छन् परित्यक्तुं क्रमेणाभिप्रवर्धयेत्||२८|| C.Su21/28
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyayam 7 Sutram 31)
- Ashtanga Hrudayama (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 2 Sutram 10)