By Kathleen Finn
Originally published in Delicious Magazine
John Douillard, DC, helps athletes attain peak performance. At his LifeSpa in Boulder, Colo., he teams up Ayurveda and exercise to tailor programs based on individual mind-body types.
John Douillard wants to get the word out that exercise can be fun. He’s not selling a fitness video or new running shoes. He wants people to know about Ayurvedic fitness, which isn’t just exercise, but a lifestyle.
“Ayurvedic fitness is tailor-making a lifestyle and fitness routine according to your body type. When you’ve accomplished that, daily life becomes more enjoyable,” Douillard says in his book Body, Mind, and Sport (Harmony).
Douillard, who holds a doctorate in chiropractic, also trained in Ayurveda in India. Ayurveda is the predominant healing system in India. Ayurvedic physicians work primarily from an individual’s mind-body type, which is determined through a lengthy questionnaire and discussion. From here, practitioners prescribe specific diets, exercise and lifestyle routines according to each patient’s individual constitution.
From an Ayurvedic standpoint, Douillard sees health and fitness together as a lifestyle. “People tend to separate the two, whereas fitness can be a way of life. It all ties in with other Ayurvedic recommendations – following the right kind of diet for your body type, eating in a relaxed state, going to bed early, and in general, respecting the cycles of nature,” he says.
At his comfortable Life-Spa in Boulder, Colo., Douillard integrates Ayurvedic teachings with modern exercise. “I try to find out what this person’s body is trying to heal. Ayurveda doesn’t speak the language of disease. It speaks about what your body can heal. What is your body working on right now, and how can Ayurveda enhance that?”
Boulder is once again home to Douillard, who had a chiropractic practice here in 1986. During this period he left for a three-week vacation to India but returned one and a half years later. While visiting a family there, Douillard was invited to stay and learn Ayurvedic medicine. “To be taken under their wing and be taught this ancient system of healing was the opportunity of a lifetime. Ayurveda is a very private family tradition in India with teachings handed down from generation to generation,” he relates.
While studying in India, Douillard met Deepak Chopra, an Ayurvedic physician and Western-trained endocrinologist, who invited him back to the United States to work at his Ayurvedic clinic in Lancaster, Mass. Douillard accepted and ran the clinic from 1987 to 1994.
There, he immersed himself in the practice of Ayurveda, performing pulse diagnosis and learning the art of Panchakarma (therapeutic treatments involving massage and deep relaxation). In mid-1994 Douillard opened his own clinic in Boulder, where he still resides with his wife Ginger and their six children.
Before his foray into the ancient healing system of India, Douillard was a Hollywood stunt man and professional triathlete who was accustomed to the rigors of intense training but now views exercise as a stress reducer not a stress inducer. During his tenure as a competitive athlete his interest in Ayurveda was piqued. He was torn between the heavy-duty training mindset of triathletes and the Ayurvedic philosophy of “less is more”. “Our society’s fitness philosophy operates under the misconception that we must break our bodies down in order to build them up,” he maintains. “Yet, studies show this style of exercise isn’t productive. What we get from this is increased free radical formation and suppressed immune system function.”
“There’s no way to know how much exercise is good for you and how much is harmful. The right level of exercise gives you a real enjoyment of what you are doing, so you look forward to it and most importantly, it doesn’t limit you,” Douillard claims.
You can reach a happy medium, he says, adding that competition and challenging training can be accommodated. “The body’s potential is unlimited. You just have to know how to access it or the body will reject it. If you want to run marathons, you can do it, but you can do it in a way that you take the composure and calm with you. It’s like being in the eye of a hurricane,” he says. “The bigger the feeling of composure, the more dynamic activity you can support.”
Relearn to Breathe
Creating this eye of the hurricane involves two important elements: nose breathing and yoga. Nose breathing, also called yoga breathing, during activity keeps you in that “zone,” according to Douillard. The zone he refers to is the peak performance, or “runner’s high,” that athletes achieve when mind and body become one. “As soon as you take emergency (short and shallow) breaths, the breath can’t support the eye of the hurricane anymore. Your body responds as though it’s in an emergency,” he states. “That’s why there are now 10 million fewer people exercising than three years ago. People say they don’t have the time to exercise, but the real reason is they don’t like it. If you enjoy something, you make the time for it. Yet, it’s possible for people to reach a measurable level of comfort that can be reproduced each time they run, ride their bikes or play basketball.”
“I use exercise as a tool to teach people to deal with all kinds of life stress from a composed perspective. Exercise teaches you how to maintain composure. You can retrain yourself using physical activity as a tool to deal with real life stress, and you’ll become more calm under other stressful situations.”
Douillard has taken his message across the country, giving clinics and lectures on creating the zone, yoga breathing and making exercise an integral part of people’s lives, not a punishment. He also lectures and works with athletes of all levels from high school tennis players to professional bike racers. Well-known clients such as Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova sing his praises for the added dimension he’s brought to their games.
“My overall goal is to teach people how to live in a more enjoyable and productive way. I want to give people a different model for success, which would be to really enjoy the process of life. This means not looking at the clock and wishing your day or week away just so you can get to the next thing but really enjoying being in the present,” Douillard explains. “The way people live now limits productivity. Just like the eye of the hurricane, the bigger the eye, the faster the wind. The calmer we are while under stress, the more productive we can be. Less is more in the long run.”