How to deal with your discomfort and still stay Zen.
It’s no surprise if you feel a little ache-y after yoga—especially if you’re just getting back into it after some time away or practiced postures you don’t normally do. The reason a good yoga practice can feel so wonderful, after all, is because it can deeply stretch certain muscles that you’re not accessing in your everyday life.
“You may think your muscles are active, but some yoga poses will still stretch them in unfamiliar ways,” says yoga teacher Loren Fishman, MD, medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine, author of Healing Yoga, and the creator of the Yoga Injury Prevention program. “Muscles can also become sore because they’ve been overused.”
The soreness after yoga you may be experiencing is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which usually occurs 12-48 hours after exercising. The level of soreness you might feel depends what style you’re practicing, how intensely, and how frequently—as well as your individual body type, says Fishman. And even if you’re experienced in your practice, there’s a good chance you might feel sore from time to time. Though yoga is typically a low-impact exercise, it can still put a big strain on your muscles.
See also 16 Poses to Ease Back Pain
“Yoga is filled with eccentric contractions that cause microscopic injuries to the muscle and fascial tissues,” says Erica Yeary, MPH, RYT, an exercise physiologist and a Yoga Medicine registered therapeutic specialist based in Indianapolis, Indiana. “Our bodies produce an inflammatory response to these micro-tears and this causes muscle soreness.”
But, it turns out this muscle soreness is actually a good thing. “Once your muscles recover, you’ll experience muscle growth and improved performance,” says Yeary, ultimately making you stronger.
Of course, if your soreness after yoga is very painful, see a doctor. However, for run-of-the-mill soreness—which means pain is minimal—there are plenty of smart tricks you can try to ease your discomfort.
Here’s what to do—and what to avoid—to cope with muscle pain and soreness after yoga, according to medical and yoga experts.
See also Anatomy 101: Target the Right Muscles to Protect Knees
DO hydrate, then hydrate some more.
Drink water, not sports drinks, says Amy C. Sedgwick, an emergency medicine doctor and Yoga Medicine certified yoga instructor in Portland, Maine. “We want to help increase our blood volume so this fluid can be distributed more easily to the tissues to allow transfer of nutrition, healing cells and flushing out metabolic waste. Hydration is the way that happens.”
DO get plenty of sleep.
Without sleep and rest, your body can’t “gear down” to allow for the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest mode) to be in charge, says Sedgwick. “Without enough sleep, the neuroendocrine system will not prime the body and tissues for repair and relief.”
DON’T down caffeine and energy supplements.
Unless you’re an ultra-endurance athlete, you are not likely depleting your system so much that you need caffeine, energy drinks, or supplements, says Sedgwick. “This only adds unnecessary calories and other substances to a body that simply needs gentle movement, hydration, and rest,” she says.
Exercise is the best way to relieve soreness after yoga, says Sedgwick. In fact, research shows doing the same muscle movements and sequences you did prior to feeling sore—but in a less intense way—can help relax muscle spasms and allow muscles, connective tissue, and joints to find greater range of motion, she adds.
See also Are Muscular Engagement Cues Doing More Harm Than Good?
DO use a foam roller.
Foam rolling for 20 minutes immediately after working out can reduce tenderness— even if it causes some discomfort, says Yeary. Take it slow and be gentle; you don’t want foam rolling to cause so much pain that it actually makes your soreness worse.
DO eat a balanced meal.
Make sure your post-workout snack or meal includes protein, which repairs and builds muscle, and carbohydrates, which will also speed recovery, says Yeary.
See also What to Eat Before and After Yoga, According to Top Nutrition Experts
DON’T take anti-inflammatory drugs.
It may seem like a smart idea to pop an aspirin to take the edge off your soreness after yoga, but it’s not the best way to help speed your recovery, says Yeary. “Inflammation is how the body responds to any type of injury,” she says. “In order to properly repair any damaged tissue, you must have inflammation. If you take away that inflammation with a drug you are hindering your body’s natural healing mechanisms.”
DO take a hot bath.
Not only does this feel great, but it actualy helps to initiate the parasympathetic nervous system to reduce tension and allow the body to be in a state of healing, says Yeary.
And when you do, be sure to stretch through all planes of motion. This will increase circulation and range of motion while also preventing chronic tension and pain, says Yeary.
DON’T do intense stretching.
Long, static stretches or over-stretching sore muscles can do more harm than good, says Yeary. “The tissues are already slightly damaged and working on healing.” If you over-stretch your muscles and “wring them out” of all their fluids, you reduce their ability to heal and may even damage them in the process, she adds.
See also 7 Restorative Poses to Stay Grounded During the Holidays
DO continue to practice yoga, gently.
One of the absolute best ways to cope with soreness after yoga is to do more yoga, says Fishman. “Concentrate on the areas that hurt and try to gradually relieve tension and tightness,” he says. “Becoming inactive because activity gives you some soreness is a very poor response to your soreness, and is likely to leave you in even more pain the next time you practice.”
About the Author
Gina Tomaine is a Philadelphia-based writer and editor. She is currently Deputy Lifestyle Editor of Philadelphia magazine, and previously served as Associate Deputy Editor of Rodale’s Organic Life. Her work can be seen in Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Prevention and elsewhere. Learn more at ginatomaine.com.
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How to Use Ayurvedic Psychology to Help You Through Trauma
Find bliss through ayurvedic psychology (not two-day shipping or instagram likes.)
Ancient sages understood that the true path to bliss is the journey inward. That way, established in who you are, you can take aim at your duties and desires from an embodied space of pure intentions. Connected to this place, you are secure, purposeful, and joyful. From the significant stuff, like starting a new relationship, to seemingly frivolous acts like ordering another pair of sneakers, you are conscious of, and clear on, what you add to your proverbial (and literal) cart—and why.
However, because of trauma, injury, or day-to-day stress, it’s all too easy to detach from this center. In Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old sister science of yoga, the word for feeling separate—from one’s self, from others, from the universe’s unlimited source of love—is called prajnaparadha, or “mistake of the intellect,” which is also deemed a root cause of disease. We often lose touch with our inner worlds, where we find true contentment, says John Douillard, Ayurvedic expert and founder of LifeSpa, a Boulder-based wellness clinic and online shop. We trade in our bliss for superficial pursuits instead.
As a result, we compensate by lacing the body and mind with ego—so physique, wit, or career end up defining us; material consumption (two-day shipping) and instant gratification (Instagram story views) are the only activities that spark a pulse of feeling at all.
See also How to Avoid Social Media Blues
“The pendulum in our lifetime has swung in the direction of reward chemistry and being satisfied in a temporary way by some type of sensory stimulation,” says Douillard. “Of course, what goes up must come down. Overstimulation leads to a crash, which results in a deep state of exhaustion and discontent. Then your brain chemistry craves that reward high all over again, since it’s become so addicted and accustomed to the feeling of stimulation.” And so the cycle goes.
Unfortunately, this downward spiral is all too common. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, while 1 in 13 people suffer from anxiety. On the whole, an overzealous desire for more contributes to maya, the “illusion” of reality.
“Everyone is focused externally, seeking or grasping for pleasure, status, and fame,” says Larissa Hall Carlson, an Ayurvedic practitioner and mindfulness teacher. “None of this gives lasting satisfaction or contentment.”
See also 1 in 5 Adults Live with Mental Illness. These Yogis Are Breaking the Stigma
What Is Ayurvedic Psychology?
A vast collection of ancient Indian texts called the Vedas (meaning “knowledge”) outlined spiritual wisdom and rituals, including yoga. Ayurvedic psychology is a modern label for the holistic strategies it provided to dissolve these illusions and addictions, and help lead you back to the joy and bliss at your center.
“The whole point is to stop being distracted by your mind and stop needing to be loved, approved, and appreciated by everyone else,” says Douillard. “It’s about actually taking a risk to be the love, versus need the love, and allowing the delicate petals of your flower to open in order to let out something real, authentic, and permanent.”
This was a common theme in canonized Indian literature, albeit in a vastly different setting, according to Douillard. In the Bhagavad Gita—the iconic story of a warrior, Arjuna, paralyzed on a battlefield because he doesn’t want to face his friends and family in combat—Lord Vishnu materializes as Arjuna’s chariot driver and their conversation unfolds into timeless guidance for self-actualization: confront duty, and abandon attachment to the outcome. “Of course, the battlefield is a metaphor for what’s happening in our minds—fighting against our illusions,” says Douillard.
See also Yoga Transformed Me After Depression
Similarly, Dhanurveda (Bow Knowledge) is a Vedic text that is sometimes considered literally as a military science. In fact, it is a spiritual archery that calls on us to adopt a state of restful awareness, says Douillard, which he describes as being both the eye of the storm and the winds of the storm.
“If you’ve got that bow string pulled back, you’re moving it around, and you release the arrow, you have no idea where it’s going to land, which is dangerous,” says Douillard. “But if you pull back that bow from that inner place of composure and calm, in heightened awareness, you take transformational action when you shoot the bow. You take your true self into your actions throughout your day, and that is a permanent experience of satisfaction that is owned by you.”
See also 5 Ways to Radically Love Yourself Today
The Three Maha Gunas
Training yourself to operate from the eye of the storm first requires an awareness of your current state of being. You can start with an understanding of the three maha gunas, or “great qualities”—tamas (inertia, heavy, dark), rajas (dynamic, agitated), and sattva (pure, balanced).
See also 200 Key Sanskrit Yoga Terms
The gunas exist in all matter on earth and in everything you experience, including food, entertainment, the weather, and your thoughts. To get a deeper sense of them, consider how they may play out in water. A pond, opaque, stagnant, and thick with algae, is tamasic. Choppy rapids, relentlessly plowing down a river, are rajasic. A calm bay that produces a mirrored surface is sattvic.
“The maha gunas are not good or bad. They can be in a supportive state or they can be in an excess or a deficient state,” says Carlson. “The path is very much about clearing out the excess rajas and tamas that keep us stuck in patterns, so we can get to the truth and move through our lives from a place of interconnectedness.”
The Five Koshas
There is a road map to the bliss and love at the core of who you are. The five koshas are sheaths that encircle your soul like nesting dolls: annamaya kosha (physical body); pranamaya kosha (life force body); manomaya kosha (mental body); vijnanamaya kosha (wisdom body); and anandamaya kosha (bliss body).
The journey inward is a deep exploration and purification of each layer, which ultimately allows you to access your true self. But first, you must recognize your tendencies and eliminate imbalances of tamas and rajas in your outer layers.
See also 6 Simple Ways to Clear Negative Energy
“In the physical body, tamas can show up as feeling grounded and steady. Because it’s an inert, heavy energy, it helps us stay asleep and keeps us still on a meditation cushion,” says Carlson. “However, too much tamas shows up as heaviness and lack of physical motivation.”
On the other hand, rajas in the physical body helps us pop out of bed and head out for a hike; in excess, it ramps up the system, leading to clumsiness and restlessness. “We want to get to a balanced state, so we feel grounded and steady and also energized and active in our lives,” says Carlson.
See also 6 Poses to Open Your Energy Channels & Boost Prana Flow
This similar balancing act takes place in the remaining outer koshas. “When there’s too much tamas in the life force body, there isn’t enough of a sense of pep or aliveness flowing through the energetic channels, so people feel sluggish,” says Carlson. On the flip side, extra rajas results in jittery, uncontained energy—crashing into quiet gatherings like a tsunami.
Finally, in the mental body, too much tamas looks like mental dullness or an inability to process information. “The mind won’t be interested or curious. Instead, it’ll feel dull and intellectually blah, getting stuck watching reruns or having the same conversations,” says Carlson. The mind spinning with a surplus of rajas, however, jumps from topic to topic, unable to focus or complete tasks.
See also 12 Yin Yoga Poses to Awaken Dormant Energy and Recharge Your Practice
“In Ayurveda, there are different treatment protocols. One approach is to, rather than worrying about rajas and tamas, focus on boosting sattva,” says Carlson. “The other approach to working with the maha gunas is to counter excess tamas with a little bit of rajas or to reduce excess rajas with a little bit of tamas.”
Once you balance your outer koshas by using food, lifestyle modifications, and yoga practice (such as the sequence on the following pages) you can begin to propel prana (life force) not only throughout your physical body but into your mental body as well to create a heightened state of consciousness.
“Once you have an awareness of the behavioral patterns that aren’t serving you,” says Douillard, “you can take transformational action based on your real, true self, which lies on the other side of the great barrier sheath, the vijnanamaya and anandamaya koshas—wisdom and bliss.”
See also 5 Practices Energy Healers Use to Clear Themselves
Want to disrupt patterns and find bliss? Join John and Larissa’s six-week online course, Ayurveda 201. Learn more: yogajournal.com/ayurveda201.
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