Advice on Doing Yoga When You're Sick

Woman with a Cold
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Dear Aunt Yoga,

I go to my yoga class at least three times a week. Unfortunately, I've caught a cold with a cough that's lasted about a week. To be on the safe side, I haven't gone to any yoga. Do I have to wait until my cough is completely gone or can I continue to go to my classes?



Dear E.,

There are really two issue here. Should you do yoga when you are sick and should you go to yoga class when you are sick. Let's take them one at a time.

First of all, kudos to you for your commitment to your consistent practice, which is the key to enjoying the all the benefits of a lifelong yoga practice. However, when it comes to illness, even minor things like colds and coughs, it's best to take the long view. Taking a few days off from asana when you feel poorly is not going to affect your path to enlightenment or even to stronger abs. We're 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. I once had a teacher who swore that a vigorous practice made him feel better when he got sick. I've never found that myself, preferring instead to sleep all day, waking up only to moan pathetically. It's what works for me. As you start to feel better, 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.

Going to class when sick, however, is a personal pet peeve of mine. I cringe whenever I hear students say, "I'm so sick, but I dragged myself to yoga anyway," and expect to be congratulated for their fortitude. Even worse is when I hear yoga teachers say the same thing! You've done well to keep yourself away from others for a week when you have a cough. Generally speaking, you should return to class when you are feeling better, can go 90 minutes without needing a Kleenex, and are no longer contagious. Would you attend a friend's birthday party in your current condition? Go out on a date? Play tennis? If the answers are yes, then it's OK to go to yoga class too. Taking yourself to class when you should be in bed is not doing anyone any favors.

Now, keep in mind that I am not a doctor, only an aunt, so if your symptoms persist beyond the normal lifespan of a cold, you should probably see your healthcare provider.

In the meantime, drink some yogi tea, dear, and get cozy with your TiVo. Yoga will still be here when you're feeling better.

Aunt Yoga

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