Advice on Doing Yoga When You're Sick

Woman with a Cold
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Exercise is good for our physical and mental health, and even for our immune system, when done at moderate intensity. However, that doesn't mean you should drag yourself out of bed and to the yoga studio when you don't feel well.

There are really two issues: First, should you practice yoga when you are sick? Second, should you go to yoga class when you are sick?

Practicing Yoga When You Have a Cold

A consistent practice—three or more times a week—is the key to enjoying all the benefits of yoga practice. However, when it comes to illness, even minor things like colds and coughs, it's best to take the long view. When you're sick, your body needs to rest and heal. Taking a few days off from asana when you feel poorly is not going to affect your path to enlightenment, or even your path to stronger abs. (Of course, if your symptoms persist beyond the normal lifespan of a cold, you should probably see your healthcare provider.)

Americans have been conditioned to think that illness shows weakness, and the admirable thing to do is to push through as if nothing is wrong. Yoga shows us another way by teaching us to prioritize how we feel in our bodies.

Let that be your guiding principle. When you're ill, rest. As you start to feel better, especially if your symptoms are above the neck only (sneezing, congestion), it's fine to get out your mat at home for a bit of gentle movement. Something like this daily stretch routine would be appropriate.

Attending Yoga Class When You Have a Cold

Going to class when sick is different from practicing at home. It's just not fair to your teacher and fellow practitioners. Keep yourself away from others when you have cough and cold symptoms. That goes double for all-over or below-the-neck symptoms, such as fever or vomiting.

As you begin to feel better, consider: Would you attend a friend's birthday party in your current condition? Go out on a date? Play tennis? If the answer is yes, then it's probably OK to go to yoga class too.

Generally speaking, you should return to class when you are feeling better, can go 90 minutes without needing a tissue, and are no longer contagious. If you're still a little congested, inversions may be uncomfortable, and you may need to elevate your head and neck with a bolster during savasana. Always modify your practice to make it work for what your body needs. A restorative class can be a good way to ease yourself back into your yoga practice.

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