This time of year, it’s all nose-blowing and unforgivable stomach flus.
For some that means a wrench is thrown in New Year’s-related fitness goals; for others that means taking time off from the yoga poses that keep them grounded. Either way, it isn’t fun.
Every time I get sick, I wonder how sick is too sick to practice. So I consulted two yogis—Mary Dana Abbott and Fern Olivia—to get the facts on whether or not practicing yoga while sick is a good idea. Here’s their take.
If you have a cold, go for it.
If you have a mild case of the sniffles, Mary Dana says going ahead with your practice is just fine and that many doctors give patients the green light to practice as long as their symptoms are above the neck.
In other words, a runny nose and congestion mean you can practice, but if you have a fever, aches and pains, or anything that originates in the lungs, your time is better spent getting rest, drinking liquids, and eating healing foods.
“If you’re in the later stages of a cold, go to class and listen to your body,” Fern adds. “A gentle class may be best. I wouldn’t go to Bikram when you’re still feeling weak and achy. Trust me; you’ll get better faster if you do more restorative yoga poses and sleep.”
If you have the flu, back off.
Doing yoga with a fever will only make things worse—and if you think you can sweat out your sickness, think again.
“Your immune system needs to focus on healing, and strenuous movement is going to tax your system,” says Mary Dana. “Sweating can promote dehydration and tire out your body instead of giving it rest. Drink lots of fluids to help support your body’s elimination system. I used to try to ‘sweat it out,’ but ended up prolonging illness every time. Focus on healing foods and rest, and you’ll be back to top form in no time.”
If you are going to move gently while healing, Fern suggests taking some easy at-home postures.
“One of my favorites is supported bridge pose with your legs up on a bed, one or two blocks under your lower back,” says Fern. “I swear by this one for anything from brain fog to bloating and flu-like symptoms. Your body is asking you to slow down and rest. Honor that!”
What to be mindful of
First things first: Your teacher and fellow yogis won’t be pleased if they come down with a cold because you were coughing your way through the class. So if you have a cold—and especially if you feel like you’re coming down with one, as that’s the time when you’re most contagious—respect your instructor and other students by practicing at home.
Try moving through sun salutations and a few backbends. If that feels like too much, simplify your routine.
“Really simple, like sitting on the edge of your bed and doing arching the spine, side stretching, and light twisting,” says Mary Dana. “Get a yoga belt, and do some stretching in bed, walk around a bit, but really take it easy.”