Regularity of kalari practice

During the recent Summer School of Studio Kalari, the following question came up: how often should I train if I practise kalari online? The reflex answer would be: every day (the same concerns in-person trainings). But is it really so? In this article, I would like to address this question and perhaps dispel the myth of the glory of daily workouts, whether online or in-person.

What influences regularity

Regularity of practice is actually a very complex issue that is influenced by, among others, the time of year, the time of day, the individual predisposition and health of the person (overall and on any given day), age and lifestyle (family, work), as well as the purpose of the exercise.

A young, lively boy will have a different practice rhythm than a young girl (who is affected among others by menstruation cycle); a working young parent (especially a sleep-deprived mother) will have a different rhythm than a person who is free to use her time, but suffers from a knee injury or leads an irregular lifestyle filled with stress, bad food and disturbed sleep. Professional athletes follow different rhythm than amateurs.

There is no one perfect pattern for everyone, but there are certainly a lot of beliefs about how and how much one should exercise, with enormous social pressure striving for the ideal pattern. Quick and long-lasting results are expected, without reflection and analysis of one’s situation, as well as the processes within and around oneself.

On the other hand, it is also not a matter of exercising occasionally or letting go of physical activity under the pretext of busyness, fatigue, illness or lack of need to move. Physical exercise is essential for the body to function properly, both for physiological and mental processes, and has – in a broader perspective – an impact on our state of mind. Perhaps these issues are obvious to the readers of this blog, but maybe someone is just at a point in their life where they need to take a moment to reflect on their current situation and make some changes to the way they function. Perhaps we also know this in theory, but for various reasons (e.g. habit, haste, lack of ideas, low body awareness) we fail to implement more beneficial habits. It may be that it is only a crisis or injury that makes us reflect and introduce changes in our lives. These don’t have to be drastic steps; sometimes it’s enough to change one small element, which in the long run will entail others. 

Remedy for burnout – Ayurveda

To be honest, I myself am currently at the point where I have been reviewing my current life situation and associated workout frequency for the past few weeks. I am doing this with the help of Ayurveda. Eureka? After all, my husband is an Ayurvedic therapist and he had been giving me all sorts of advice for many months (years?), but I was convinced of my indestructibility and that I was living quite healthily, so I didn’t see a problem.

But as I am now 39 years old, with 3 children and a load of different experiences, it was time for a periodic review of how I was living; what was up to me and what was out of my control. As my fatigue has recently reached a critical level (including last year’s knee injury), for the past three weeks (with 5 more to go) I have been resting, which means spending my time the way I want to.

In my case, it’s a mix of family holidays (to the sea and the lake; the choice is purposeful – an overwhelming need to immerse myself in water) and weeks spent at home. At home I work a bit, clean the cellar a bit, make jams, meet friends, read a lot (I have bought 8 books on Ayurveda and read them one by one), keep a diary and draw conclusions. I understand better the reasons for my fatigue, not to say burnout, I notice the mechanisms of my body and mind, I learn new things, remind myself of what I already knew, make changes and think about how to live better in the future.

I am grateful that I have the opportunity to have this stop for almost two months in order to think about how to proceed. During this time, my desire to return to regular kalarippayattu classes from September is also slowly growing. It used to be that the thought of taking a break from practice for a few weeks or a month would create stress that I would lose fitness, progress, that I would regress, become lazy, etc. etc. Now I have enough confidence in myself that I know what I need and that rest time is essential to regenerate body and spirit. And that there is no single recipe for how much such time should last.

There are many connections between Ayurvedic therapies and Kalarippayattu (I wrote about them in this article), so inevitably, as I now study books on Ayurveda, I wonder how to combine this knowledge with regular martial arts practice.

Regularity in India

Traditionally in Kerala, kalarippajattu is practised early in the morning every day, usually between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. This is due to several factors. Firstly, it is still cool then. Around 9:00-10:00 the temperature rises and an intense workout would be harmful to the body. Secondly, according to Ayurveda, the best time to exercise is precisely between 6:00 and 10:00 in the morning, when the kapha dosha is in season. It is characterised by sluggishness and stillness, so it is worth breaking it with movement, activity, cleansing and transformation of energy, which we will then use for most of the day. Physical activity regulates the internal organs, unclogs the channels of the physical and subtle body so that both body fluids and energy can circulate freely in the body.

However, it is noteworthy who in Kerala practises kalari in the morning and does so every day or several times a week – it is mostly children, school children and students and rather young men (though of course not only), i.e. people who do not have many household duties in the morning and do not take care of others. After training, they take a quick shower and go to school or work. On top of that, they are around the age of 12-25, when the body is able to undertake frequent, intense physical activity and recover quite quickly. Even in Kerala, however, there are times when, due to the hot climate and school holidays, practice does not take place, and there are also many other occasions during the year, such as religious, family or national holidays, when regular practice is suspended.

The situation is different in other kalari schools in India, which are mainly located in large cities, where classes are mostly attended by adults. Classes are conducted several times a week, but not necessarily every morning. The lifestyle of the participants resembles that of the West; students often arrive for training after spending many hours at the office or university. To this can be added commuting, shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking the children to school and many other activities…. 

No challenges anymore

According to ayurveda, moderate physical activity that does not lead to exhaustion is most beneficial. How does this relate to martial arts training, which per se connotes working out hard, toughening the spirit, discipline, pushing the limits and “going beyond the comfort zone”? Personally, I cannot stand any more the latter phrase; as well as the word „challenge” – a challenge is ordinary life, I don’t yet have to squeeze myself into self-imposed pressure on an issue (a challenge is, for example, driving three young children to three different schools in winter and making it to work almost on time). Rather, I ask myself: why do I need to do this? What do I want to prove to myself? Or maybe just to others? What motivates me to take action?

In the practice of kalarippayattu, the intensity of the workout is set individually, even if the group practices together. This is especially true for beginners who find the training difficult – they are just starting to build strength, develop flexibility, deepen their breath and coordinate it with movement, not to mention future combat sequences and learning about vital points. Breathing is just one of the key issues in regulating the intensity of training. We should train enough to be able to breathe through our nose. Gradually, our breathing will lengthen and deepen, allowing a higher intensity of exercise. This process can take several weeks or months depending on individual fitness. If we are exercising and start panting heavily, it is a sign that our body is not ready for such an effort. We should either slow down, change the exercise or rest. Kalari masters do not force anyone to make an effort that is beyond someone’s reach. They „force” only those they know will endure it, because their body and mentality are prepared for a greater load – which also changes over time. Anyway, at a certain stage of practice, the greatest difficulty is working with the ego and consciousness, not the physical body.

Kalarippayattu masters and adepts aged 40+ gradually practise less frequently and less intensively, but their technique and awareness do not stop developing. The practice moves more into the spiritual realm. And at the same time, there are masters aged 80+ who are still actively teaching and wielding their weapons, although obviously not with the vigour of a 20-year-old.

So how often should I practise?

Back to the question: how often do you practise kalari? The only possible answer is: it depends. To see progress, it is best to practice 2–3 times a week.

However, you need to consider your age, your current situation (work and family responsibilities), the time of year and day, as well as your health, and think first about how often you really want to train and why. Ask yourself: Is this my primary physical activity, which I complete with occasional walks, yoga, cycling, fitness etc. or vice versa – kalari is an addition to yoga or sport. Or is it the only physical activity I do? How important is training to me and how can I incorporate it into my current lifestyle?

If I sort it out with myself, I can think about when I want to exercise and what I can do to actually work in that rhythm. If I want to exercise twice a week for an hour each morning, but I’m dropping my child off at school or working the morning shift, I might start with one day when possible and general short warm-up exercises on the second day when I don’t have much time (unless getting up early isn’t difficult for me and I can exercise at 6am). On top of that, on the other days I’ll go for a walk in the park, forest or by the sea. If I have a dog, it’s not an issue at all – I don’t have time to train, but I’ll go out for a walk with my dog three times a day (unless I make my kids to walk it). The walk may not fully satisfy my need for intensity of movement (although I may jog or walk a bit), but it counts too. There is no need to burden ourselves unnecessarily with the remorse of not training for an hour each day if the current life context does not allow us to do so. Perhaps such a rhythm will be possible for a few weeks or months and then it will change.

If I want to go to a class organised at a certain time and I don’t have other obligations at the same time, the most important question is: why do I practise? Are these classes important to me and why.

If my lifestyle is busy, fast-paced, full of movement and change, and I am committed to practising kalarippayattu regularly, I need to consider what I will give up so that I don’t fall behind and that the practice has a beneficial effect on my health and overall fitness.

3Rs: Regeneration, variety, balance

Regardless of how often we participate in kalarippayattu training or other movement activities, it is important to balance the type of movement implemented during them with others. In the case of kalari, outdoor activities in exposure to sunlight, stretching, slow forms of yoga (e.g. yin yoga), swimming, walking in natural surroundings (green areas, water, mountains) are beneficial. These activities balance the fiery, intense nature of kalarippayattu and help with regeneration. Additional regeneration will be provided by a bath or shower, a massage, a relaxation treatment or, in the minimum version, lying on the sofa in silence and stillness (including mental stillness).

I would be happy if you let me know if this topic is interesting for you and what your thoughts are on it 🙂 You can leave a comment below or write me an email.

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