What to Do When Yoga Makes You Sore

Young woman practicing iyengar yoga at home in her living room

 

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Yoga involves stretches, poses, and breath work. On the surface, this low-impact exercise appears easy and gentle, so you may expect to feel great afterward. You certainly may. But particularly if you are new to yoga or haven't practiced in a while, you may be surprised to experience soreness in the hours—and possibly days—after your workout.

Yoga stretches muscles that aren't accessed every day. We normally go about our days repeating the same set of motions over and over, neglecting many muscles and tendons. Yoga poses stretch the body in unfamiliar ways. So even if you exercise regularly and consider yourself fit, yoga may leave you feeling sore.

Why Yoga May Leave You Sore

Like any exercise, holding yoga poses causes muscle contractions that result in microscopic tears to the tissue. This prompts the body's inflammatory response, expanding blood vessels to allow more healing blood to flow to the injured tissue. As the body repairs itself, your muscles, tendons, and fascia will grow stronger, and if you keep up your yoga practice, you will start to feel the benefits.

The most common type of soreness after a yoga workout is known as delayed-onset muscle soreness. This typically occurs 12 hours to 48 hours after exercising. This soreness usually goes away on its own, but there are a few strategies you can use to speed healing and reduce pain.

Easing Muscle Soreness From Yoga

The good news is post-yoga soreness will pass eventually and the more you practice yoga, the better your body will feel. Here are some things you can do to reduce body aches and speed repair.

Rest

When you sleep, your body repairs damaged tissues, so resting after your yoga practice will help you feel better sooner. Try to get a full eight hours of sleep a night and consider taking a nap after your practice to ensure the body has time to heal.

Start Slow

If you planned on doing yoga every day or several times a week, it may be wise to hold off for two or three days before your next workout or try a gentler form of yoga before taking another strenuous class. Try to avoid pushing through the pain in workouts, and instead give your tissues time to recover.

Drink Water

Keeping the body hydrated before, during, and after yoga workouts can help prevent and relieve soreness. While most adults should drink eight, 8-ounce servings of fluid (ideally, water) a day, many fall short of that.

Yogis advise drinking 8 to 16 ounces of water about an hour before your workout. This will help to increase your blood volume, making it easier for blood to bring nourishment and healing cells to tissues, and to flush out metabolic waste that can cause soreness. 

Drink even more water in the hours after your workout to ensure that your body continues to flush any toxins released during your session.

Take a Bath

Many yogis swear by Epsom salt baths to reduce soreness, though its effect on muscle pain is not scientifically known. Epsom salt contains magnesium, which helps to relax muscles by flushing out lactic acid. 

Regardless of whether Epsom salt provides any additional benefits, soaking in a warm or hot tub will ease muscle tension and soreness, and help you to feel better.

Apply Ice or Heat

If the soreness is bothersome or impacting your ability to do your daily chores, you may feel better after taking a 20-minute break to ice or heat the area.

Heat is typically the go-to remedy for sore muscles, and many people find using a heating pad or hot-water bottle is effective for easing the pain. Moist heat, in particular, is believed to loosen tight muscles.

Ice is usually recommended for new injuries, however, some people find ice helpful for post-workout soreness as well. Applying ice to an area for a few minutes will prompt what is known as the hunting reaction, which increases blood flow to the area and helps tissue heal.

Some people find ice therapy may increase soreness, however. If you continue to feel pain or the pain increases after a few minutes of icing, switch to using heat.

Safety First

  • Always use a cover or towel between your skin and a heating device to avoid burns, and if the therapy feels too hot, add another layer between it and your skin.
  • Be careful not to apply ice directly on the skin. Use a towel as a barrier to protect your skin from an ice burn.

Try Massage

Getting a massage may also help ease sore muscles after yoga, as rubbing the area will help to bring blood to the tissue. Topical pain relievers, such as the homeopathic remedy arnica, certain essential oils, and drugstore pain creams (e.g., Biofreeze, Bengay, and Icy Hot) can also help you feel better.

Take a Pain Reliever

If the soreness is very bothersome, taking an over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers, such as Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen), can help reduce inflammation and soreness.

Try This Supplement

Many fitness experts recommend branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) for reducing post-workout pain. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and BCAA refers to the chemical structure of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Eating foods rich in BCAA, such as eggs, meat, and dairy, or supplementing with a powder from the health food store, is believed to speed repair of damaged muscles and help you feel better faster.

Stretch It Out

If the pain is not too great, lightly stretching the sore areas can help reduce stiffness and improve range of motion. Be sure to take it easy, and warm up muscles with another form of gentle exercise like walking before you stretch.

When to Stop and See Your Doctor

If you experience sudden and immediate pain during your workout, stop immediately. If the pain does not subside with a few minutes of rest, you may have pulled a muscle and should speak to your healthcare provider or chiropractor.

Likewise, if your post-workout soreness is very painful, prevents you from doing daily activities or progresses to muscle spasms, see your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

If you continue to do yoga consistently, you will likely discover you experience less soreness each time. To maintain your progress, practicing yoga three or more times a week is ideal. While doing yoga once a week or less is still great for relieving stress and clearing your mind, you may feel some degree of soreness afterward. 

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