I've done a yoga class and I'm in pain. Why should I go back?
Yoga is often advertised as a gentle, low-impact discipline accessible to all, regardless of ability or background in exercise and sports. People are also often drawn to yoga's calming and meditative aspect. The well-known therapeutic elements of yoga appeal to those who have suffered from injuries or postural imbalances - lower back pain, herniated discs, frozen shoulders, scoliosis and so on. If you are elderly, you may sign up for yoga classes in hope to get fitter without getting lost among a crowd of youngsters with boundless energy. If you suffer from a chronic illness, perhaps you want to try yoga to help you manage your pain or assist you in recovery.
In a nutshell, yoga is a popular choice for folks trying to ease their way into physical activity, sometimes after a long period of not doing much at all and having little or no history of exercise - and here lies a bit of a problem.
While a yoga class can certainly be gentle and low-impact, newcomers are often in for a bit of a surprise when it comes to their first experience. Even if it doesn't seem that way, yoga can demand much from the body. It will tax your balance, flexibility, coordination and core stability. You will be asked to use muscles you didn't even know you had, and move in ways you probably never have before. Back-bends, forward bends, twists, lateral stretches - imagine an endless combination of these. Add to it standing with your feet (very) wide apart, balancing on your toes, leaning on your hands, sitting on your heals and squatting. Oh, and I forgot leaning on your hands - a lot.
If you are not careful, the potential to do too much when you are starting out is actually quite high. You might develop aching wrists, pain in your lower back, or even aggravate your existing condition, whatever that may be. Please do not blame your yoga teacher or yoga in general. Your teachers have an entire class to handle, and as much they may try, they will likely not be able to anticipate and meet most of your needs for adjustment and individual guidance.
How to recover after a yoga class
Here is a little SOS plan for after-class care if you feel you've done too much:
1. Follow the RICE principle - rest, ice, compression, elevation. Alternate ice with heat for better results.
2. Take an Ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory medication - or better, make a nice curry with lots of turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and garlic, all of which have great anti-inflammatory properties, without the nasty side-effects, and they taste great!
3. Try to remember whether you had an intense sensation or pain during class and in what yoga pose, and write it down. Contact your teacher and ask how to modify the pose or movement.
4. Where possible, stay active and keep moving. Bed rest is a no-no, especially for back pain - you will recover quicker while up and about. Your GP will confirm that.
5. Add very simple exercises to your daily routine, such as a cat curl, or hugging your knees to your chest while lying on your back. It is important to mobilize your spine on regular basis and allow it to get accustomed to regular movement. Little and often is the key here. If your fitness levels aren't brilliant, once you feel better try to ramp up your physical activity - lots of walking, swimming, cycling and other simple low-impact exercise will help.
6. Provided your pain is of musculo-skeletal origin and not an acute injury, if it persists or becomes worse, book a session with a chiropractor or an osteopath. Their help will likely be quicker and more effective than if you were to go to your GP who would probably give you more pain killers and/or refer you to a physiotherapist - more waiting for you. Chiropractors and osteopaths concern themselves with the body as a whole and work on restoring overall alignment, so your whole body will be treated as opposed to just one part. See it as a bit of a musculo-skeletal MOT. It's worth every penny and can shave weeks or even months off your recovery time.
And the last thing - please be patient. Yoga is wonderful, but like any new physical activity, has the potential to cause a few problems, especially if you are frail, ill or generally unfit. When done wisely, however, yoga is a brilliant tool for therapy, as well as getting into the best shape of your life - the only thing you need is a good teacher and willingness to listen to your body closely along the way.
If your pain persists or you experience additional problems, please consult your medical practitioner for advice.
How to find a yoga class near you
If you're looking to join a local yoga class, it's easy to find one on Yoga Class Near You. Just enter your postcode to see what yoga instructors are available in your area. Alternatively, if you are using an iPhone, download the NearYou App to see the classes and events in your local area. Once you have found a suitable class, it's easy to book or contact the instructor.