So you've attended your first yoga class, or at least perhaps the first in a while. Maybe you've stepped up the pace and joined a more intense, dynamic class just to see what it's like? And now, the day after... your muscles....YOUR MUSCLES! Did you even know you HAD most of those muscles?! Where did they all come from?!
Are you questioning everything you've heard about the calm, Zen-like benefits of Yoga? Are you cursing your teacher?
Never again you say! But hear me out, please.
I've mentioned in past blog posts something that my own teacher said to me; 'The only way out - is through'. To relate this to yoga, we need to see that asana practice taps into the bodys muscles just like any other sport or excersise. As we grow and develop our bodies through yoga, perhaps to correct bad posture, rehabilitate injuries, become more flexible, we should understand that if we are looking to amend or develop our bodies, there is to be some resiliance. When we change habits, it takes practice. When we endure change, we have to adapt and accept that it takes time to see results, and it may be an uncomfotable transition along the way. To get to the 'otherside', we should accept how our body is feeling, acknowledge the process of change and persevere to reach our goals.
Understanding our Muscles
Commonly known as 'DOMS' (delayed onset muscle soreness), when we practice yoga (or other), we are tensing and stretching our muscles more than we are used to; causing micro-tears to muscles and a small amount of swelling.
I know, it sounds terrible, but this is how we train our muscles to be stronger and leaner.
The uncomfortable feeling of sore muscles can last anywhere from 1-5 days, depending on how far you have pushed yourself. (Let me note here that in yoga, we should be working to a level that feels slighty challenging, but not straining ourselves and stressing our bodies unnecessarily.)
There is a difference between sore muscles (DOMS) and muscle strain, sprain and injury. If you experience any sharp pains during practice, you should stop immediatley.
By starting slowly, accepting your own levels and listening to your body, you will be less likely to feel DOMS following your practice. Of course, if you are using muscles that haven't been activated in a long time, you're likely to feel them the next day. You will learn to recognise which muscles are being used in each pose eventually and work with them and your body during practice.
The tricky part is understanding your limits in the beginning. A little ache is ok. If you don't nudge your boundaries, you will not reach your goals - however if you nudge these boundaries too far, you can cause injury which will leave you sore for a lot longer, possibly doing you more harm than good.
If you can't get on your mat (or even walk across the room to retrieve it...) you have pushed yourself too far. Give yourself a rest day (or two) and start slowly on your return.
Try to vary your practice. If you are feeling DOMS in your legs after a strong practice, take your focus from your legs and work on strengthening your upper body instead. Direct your focus and intention for each class on gaining strength, flexibility, stamina (or which ever your personal intention may be) and alternate to allow your body to recover but still benefit from ongoing practice.
If you have suffered or are suffering from DOMS, it is important to allow your body to rest. As menitoned above, re-direct your focus to other parts of the body or if you feel you have pushed yourself too far, take a day off and when you come back to your practice, take it slowly. Even without DOMS, our bodys have days when they are more capeable than others. Don't be hard on yourself. Listen to what your body is telling you and work with it.
Perseverance, practice and patience will all lead to acheiving any goals we might have.