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Yoga for Athletes

How My Family Trained for a Triathlon Using 4 Ayurvedic Techniques

With only a couple of weeks to train for the race, John Douillard and his family used these Ayurvedic techniques to get to the finish line.

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Recently, I competed in a sprint triathlon with my family in Colorado. With only a couple of weeks to train for the race, we incorporated a few Ayurvedic training techniques and successfully used them to prepare for this event.

Originally, my 24-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son were going to join me for this triathlon. As it turned out, my son injured his shoulder in a soccer tournament before the race, so it was just me and Devaki, my daughter, who raced.

We challenged the Ayurvedic principles detailed below pretty intensely—as we only trained for two weeks for this triathlon. Granted, it was only a 525 yard swim, 10 mile bike ride, and a 3.1 mile run. 

See also How to Use Ayurveda to Get Healthier Every Time You Eat

The race sounded easy, but we should have been concerned by the name: The Lookout Mountain Triathlon. Any triathlon with the word “mountain” in the title should tip you off to a day running and riding up and down the side of a mountain. Around two weeks of nose breathing training and no real mountain training pushed me to my limits—I did a lot more huffing and puffing than planned! 

That said, Devaki did fantastic with a first-place finish in her age group, and I took fourth place in mine.

Here are 4 key Ayurvedic strategies we used to train for the race in such a short time.

4 Ayurvedic Techniques That Can Help You Train for a Triathlon

Exercise Strategy #1: Nose Breathing

woman doing chandra bhedana moon breath meditation pranayama

Nose breathing is a more natural way to breathe, but requires much practice to master. The ancient Central American Mail Runners were said to run with rocks or water in their mouths. Try this and you will quickly see that it is impossible to do unless you breathe only through the nose. Nose breathing drives air into the lower lobes of the lungs more efficiently, where it activates calming nerve receptors and a wealth of vascularized lung alveoli that max out respiratory efficiency. In the long run, nose breathing makes exercise easier and healthier.

Mouth breathing, otherwise known as “huffing and puffing,” triggers upper chest receptors, where the majority of fight-or-flight receptors predominate. They are great for running away from a bear, but very stressful and degenerative over time. Being chased by a bear gets old. Perhaps because of the excessive and chronic stress we live under and basically no breath training during childhood, we have become really lousy upper chest, shallow breathers.

Learning how to become a nasal breather during exercise helps train the body to handle a variety of life stressors without triggering the degenerative, fat-storing, sugar-craving, anxiety-producing, sleep-preventing, exercise-hating emergency response!

Practice Tip

Go for a walk and count your steps for each complete nasal inhale and exhale. Watch how, as you become an accomplished nasal breather, you will steadily increase your steps per breath.

Your goal: 10 steps for the inhale and 10 steps for the exhale. 

See also Chanel-Cleaning Breath (Nadi Shodhana Pranyama)

Exercise Strategy #2: Fox Running

cardio vs yoga: running shoes

Fox Running is a term borrowed from the Tom Brown Tracker School, where he taught Native American running techniques. 

Simply put, Fox Running is a three-point foot strike. When the foot lands, it touches first on the outside of the ball of the foot, then rolls onto the entire ball of the foot, then the heel comes down, allowing the whole foot to be in contact with the ground. 

It is as if with the light touch of the outside of the foot, it feels or tests the terrain and then, if the terrain is even, the ball of the foot comes down, still testing the safety of the terrain. Then, when the thousands of neuroreceptors in the feet send the OK messages to the brain, the body safely puts all its weight on to the surface for a full-foot strike.

This type of nervous system activation requires the small muscles of the feet and legs to be 100 percent responsive to the terrain. This keeps the legs, ankles, knees, and low back extremely supple and functional, which is antithetical to the biomechanics of well-cushioned shoes. 

Practice Tip

Run as fast as you can on soft grass and watch how your feet naturally strike the ground. Fox Running is how humans are biomechanically designed to run.

See also 4 Yoga Tricks to Steal for Running

Exercise Strategy #3: Chasing the Rabbit


Chasing the Rabbit is the process by which ancient hunters caught much of their prey. It required a series of sprints and rest periods as the hunter chased down a common meal, such as a rabbit. Even persistence hunting larger prey (basically running after an animal until the point of exhaustion) required quick bursts and easy runs to keep the animal in sight.

Ask a 12-year-old, “When was the last time you ran as fast as you can?” Then ask a 50-year-old the same question. Kids use their fast-twitch muscle fiber regularly, while modern adults rarely ever do. Studies on this practice show significant health benefits result from these consecutive bouts of intense activity alternated with periods of rest.

As a training tool that does not require breaking the body down to reach that competitive edge, it has worked for me for years.

Practice Tip

Each morning, do 4 one-minute sets of jumping jacks as fast as you comfortably can with one minute of rest between each set. See how you feel after just a few days of this simple 8-minute workout.

See also 20 Tips to Run Smarter

Herbal Support: Ashwagandha


Did you know that Ashwagandha is rejuvenating for the muscles? Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, or an herb that helps the body adapt to stress. Historically, the prized Ayurvedic herb has been used to support athletic performance, endurance, and exercise recovery, with much success.

When I worked for the New Jersey Nets (the NBA basketball team) as a nutrition expert, I had amazing success using Ashwagandha before every game and practice. It boosted immunity and endurance and helped with injury prevention. I have used Ashwagandha for my family’s sporting events with similar success. For this triathlon I am quite sure it helped us, in particular my daughter.

See also Tulsi: The Anti-Aging, Stress-Fighting Wonder Herb You Need to Know

See also An Ayurvedic Office Makeover: 6 Essentials to Take to Work

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