Yoga and sickness: Flunited we stand

So, should  you still head to your regular class if you are feeling under-the-weather? 

That would be a hard…no. Let me explain why.

Over Christmas, I was bed-ridden with the flu. You know you have the flu if you spot a £50 note on the floor and simply don’t have the capacity to even think about picking it up. I spent most of my time in my pyjamas in bed feeling very sorry for myself. My body ached, my throat was coarse and my ears were beyond painful.

Two days into flu-gate and I really didn’t feel like I was getting any better despite the R&R and polishing off the best part of a bottle of Benylin (or maybe it was 3 bottles!).

I was also getting increasingly frustrated that I couldn’t do my daily practice, but in truth even if I had managed to pull on my yoga pants I wouldn’t have gotten very far after that.

I of course cancelled all my classes but was certainly feeling the withdrawal symptoms of a physical personal practice.

When I finally did start feeling a bit better, I decided to roll out the mat and take it easy. Some restorative Yin and Yoga Nidra is just what the doctor ordered – only it really wasn’t. I wasn’t feeling nearly as bad as I had previously, but my nose was still blocked and my throat still sore, so forget any consistent breathing.

It felt just…..wrong. Being unable to breathe properly just made me feel really disconnected from my practice, and just rubbish.

I could just about manage a half decent Yoga Nidra practice but to be honest I think that was the medication. Sniffling and coughing your way through even the shortest of meditations just doesn’t have the desired effect and can often make you feel worse.

When you are ill you really need to think twice about attending your regular class.

This is the hardest thing for me when I am feeling unwell or if I am injured – stopping. My practice these days is so disciplined, I just cannot turn it off even if my body forces me to do so. Yes I am sick and yes everything hurts but the worst part is not being able to roll out my mat.

Yoga literally means ‘to yoke’ and to ‘unite’, and when we have a physical practice, a Pranayama practice or meditation session, if we cannot unite our breath with our movement and struggle with our inhales and exhales, then we really have an important ingredient missing from the entire process.

Yet still I have students that attend class when they feel under the weather and even have clients who will still keep their private appointment despite coughing and spluttering the moment I arrive. My group classes are particularly physical, so this really is a bad move if you are not feeling 100%.

I’ve had sick students dash out of the room to grab tissues and don’t even get me started on the consequences of Nadi Shodhana on a poorly students’ nasal passages !(gross emoji?)

When you cannot breathe you cannot unite your breath with your movement and your practice then isn’t yoga anymore, it is something else, something more forced and strained and well, unpleasant.

Even if you try a restorative class or a meditation class, our bodies feel heavy and achy, and our minds clouded when we are ill, and quite often you can leave a class feeling worse than before which is the exact opposite of what we are aiming for when we practice yoga.

Not to mention that the reality is, you are full of germs. Think of other people in the class, while we all like to spread the love in our practice that doesn’t extend to your lurgy.

In gym environments with air conditioning or heated yoga studios this is an environment where germs spread and multiply. Your teacher doesn’t want to catch a cold and neither do your fellow students. When you feel a cold coming on, consider others and skip practice. Respect one another.

I once attended a studio where students were politely asked to leave if they were unwell – and I was really grateful for that rule. As I am my own boss I lose income if I am sick so I try to be extra cautious and while I am sure the sick student wasn’t thrilled at being turned away from class, I was pleased that the studio looked out for its members and teachers. After all they also lose money if they have to cancel a class owing to a teacher being ill. Of course it’s not all about money but it’s most definitely a factor here and it can be frustrating if occasional bouts of illness could be avoided if people were a little more considerate.

B.K.S Iyengar recommends a number of asanas to try when experiencing a variety of different ailments and diseases in his book; Light on Yoga. This handy appendix has often been my go-to when I get students come to me with various issues and problems, but these prescribed asanas do not extend to flu or colds.

If we were supposed to practice asana when full of flu I can’t help but feel Iyengar would have included them in his yoga bible.

I’m not a doctor by any stretch but when you are ill, this is your body’s way of telling you to rest and you need to focus on getting better rather than pushing yourself into a practice that could do more damage than good and even prolong the time it takes for you to get better. It’s just common sense.

Hydrate by drinking lots of fluids and consult your pharmacist for some good over-the-counter medication before resorting to anti-biotics. I personally swear by lemon, honey and ginger, herbal teas and Echinacea as well as my trusty bottle of Benylin (always read the label). First thing’s first – look after yourself with a lot of rest.

An extra intake of Vitamin C won’t do you any harm either, so make sure you have some good juice in the fridge and perhaps some multi-vitamins.

When you start feeling a bit better, there is nothing stopping you trying some gentle postures in the comfort of your own home. There are some awesome yoga classes available online as well. See how it feels, but be truthful with yourself at the same time. Just because you are rushing to get back to the mat, put yourself first. An advanced practice is about self- awareness and honesty. For me, a good rule of thumb is that the postures should feel good – nothing more complicated than that. If you are wishing time away and just doing it for the sake of doing it because you would feel guilty otherwise then you are wasting your time on the mat and you need to take it down a notch.

Relish in the experience of winding down and give yourself some self-love. Yoga isn’t going anywhere – so don’t rush the recovery process and in no time at all you will be fighting fit.

In the meantime – Get well soon yogi!




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