Getting Back to Your Yoga Practice After an Injury or Illness
By: Caitlin Evans
There are circumstances in life when working out is completely out of the question. Whether you’ve been away from your regular yoga practice due to illness or injury, returning to your mat is something you should do slowly and carefully.
In most cases, getting out of shape doesn’t happen as quickly as we’d think. While cardiovascular fitness starts to decline after about ten days to two weeks of not working out, muscle strength actually stays around longer.
According to most sources, it takes three to ten weeks for muscle fibers to start shrinking. Of course, this depends on how much you worked out before the time off, as well as the shape you were in. Those who work out more and at higher intensities will probably start seeing a difference in their performance sooner, even though their muscle strength will remain intact for a longer period.
What does all this mean for resuming your yoga practice? Well, it’s a reminder of the fact that, like a machine, our bodies need maintenance. After having been idle for longer periods of time, they will require slightly more effort to boot up.
Fortunately, though, there are things you can do in order to minimize the consequences of having taken time off.
Take things slow in yoga class
If you’ve been away from the studio for more than two or three weeks, it’s best to ease your body back into physical activity. It’s recommended that you take a lower-level class, as well as, taking it easy and not pushing yourself (even if you feel like you can handle it).
It’s not uncommon for people to get an adrenaline rush simply from being able to exercise again, which then makes them less aware of their physical limits. The increased adrenal activity makes it easier for you to maximize muscle power, all the while making you less sensitive to pain. This means that pushing yourself to the limit might just be the tipping point to another injury, which is what you want to avoid in the first place.
Fuel your body
What you eat will have a big impact on how you perform. That’s why you’ll want to pay closer attention to your nutrition when getting back into working out. If you’ve been ill and your body is weaker than it was, the right nutrition will make two things possible. First, it will give you the energy needed to do an entire workout. And second, it will help you recover easier.
Opting for nutrient-rich, versatile foods will be your best bet. Make sure you’re not eating too much nor too little and try to give yourself enough time between your meals and workouts so you don’t push your body into exhaustion right off the bat.
It’s also not a bad idea to include supplementation in your diet. While something as simple as a well-chosen multivitamin will give you some benefits, you’ll do even better if you customize your supplements to give you the exact targeted benefits you need.
Take recovery seriously
Getting back to physical activity can be exciting, and a little addictive. Nonetheless, it’s important to remind yourself to take things slow. Most importantly, you’ll want to give yourself at least a couple of recovery days per week. If you haven’t worked out in months or years, it’s best to limit your yoga practice to two or three sessions per week. Slowly increase the number of sessions as you gain back strength.
On your days off, don’t let yourself become glued to your couch. Go for a 30-minute walk, do some foam rolling, or sweat it out in a sauna.
Furthermore, be prepared to experience some light delayed onset muscle soreness after your first few sessions. Generally, this shouldn’t be an excuse to skip a workout. Rather, it’s a sign to take it easier and to better care for your body in between yoga classes. Taking a hot bath with some Epsom salts, getting a massage, or taking a cold shower the morning after your workout are all excellent ways of helping alleviate DOMS.
Make sure you have a support system
Finally, there’s another very important aspect of getting back into yoga after injury or illness. You will want to provide yourself with a good support system. For the most part, this system should include professionals who will closely monitor your health and advise any necessary adjustments or practices to ensure you’re getting maximum benefits from your yoga practice.
If the reason for your being away was an illness, consult with your doctor, who can give you guidelines on the best way to get back into physical activity. If, however, the reason for an extended break was an injury, you’ll want to also involve a physical therapist. Even more, it’s important that you speak with your yoga instructor so that they’re aware of any limitations that will affect your session.
Returning to yoga is a beautiful experience. And, if you’ve been away from the studio for an extended period, it’s also an important milestone. As long as you listen to your body, exercise patience, and do a few small things on your days off, you are sure to have a happy, satisfying experience while regaining your strength and flexibility.