It is normal to feel stiff or sore from time to time, especially after a strong yoga session. DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) can affect you whether you are a sofa lover who signs up for a yoga class then makes sudden changes, a sportsperson who trains hard, or someone who is active in more moderate ways.
“You may think your muscles are active, but some yoga poses will still stretch them in unfamiliar ways. Muscles can also become sore because they’ve been overused.” -Loren Fishman [i]
WHAT TO DO?
When I get sore muscles, a hot water bottle applied to my limbs feels good. Sometimes I alternate with some ice every five minutes or so, but mostly I prefer heat only.
Massage is good. I also find yoga nidra (see photo below) great for releasing tension, muscle by muscle.
HEALTH STORE HELP
According to one small study, taking a combination of taurine and branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) helps with sore muscles.[ii] The research was carried out on 36 men after intense movement classes that included squats and exercises to lengthen and contract their muscles. The study had physical elements in common with yoga. The researchers looked at the impact of taking BCAA before and after an exercise programme and found that it helped to reduce muscle damage.
I give self-proclaimed ‘experts’ with zero clinical training a wide berth. As for stress in the body, supplements that enhance our natural coping mechanisms (such as BCAA) might be beneficial to some, but caution is advised. I do not promote the idea of taking endless supplements and vitamins. We talk about big pharma and the over-use of medication. We also need to see through the ‘health industry’ nonsense when it comes to supplements.
Have you ever enjoyed a lot of rich food for a special occasion with friends and family, along with a few glasses of wine, pints, or spirits? Then you probably know how it can feel next day! Over-indulgence can bring on indigestion or a banging hangover as the body struggles to processes all the feasting and alcohol.
When we feel ‘off’, it is often due to a combination of things. Just as all that we eat and drink reacts in the body to put it under strain, so too can supplements and vitamins. Charlatans advertise wonder pills that can be unhealthy if over-used or mixed up in the wrong way. I believe in a holistic approach to life: there is no ‘one size fits all’ remedy for wellbeing. Be prudent. Anyone who is on medication can have adverse reactions to so-called ‘health products.’
Whatever you like to eat, fresh food is the best source of nutrition by far. Here in Ireland we are lucky that so many organic vegetables are available, and supermarkets have a range at affordable prices.
If I am concerned about anything related to nutrition or wellbeing, I see my doctor. Blood tests are the only way to be sure of what is going on in the body when it comes to vitamin and hormone levels. Now, back to those aches and pains…
Here are three simple tips to care for your body if it is aching after a strong yoga class.
1. GET PLENTY OF SLEEP
Going to bed early and having good quality sleep is effective on so many levels. Without winding down and having a restful night, your body’s neuroendocrine system will not be able to prepare the body and tissues for repair. Sleep will bring your body into ‘rest and digest’ mode, which is the prime state for relief from muscle aches to happen.[iii]
2. DRINK MORE WATER.
Water is life! Always aim to keep hydrated. Drink even more on the days that you feel tender. Water will aid your recovery.
Even though it might seem like the last thing you want to do if you are full of aches and feeling stiff as a plank (pun intended), movement can ease physical tightness. Just keep it very gentle. More yoga will limber you up.
There are endless robust studies showing the benefits of yoga. It can reduce pain and disability. Even in people patients with chronic low back pain it can be practiced safely[iv]. The key word here is ‘safe’. Slow and steady is best, and always listen to your body. For example, if get a sharp pain anywhere, stop. Don’t push into extremes. Bí curamach.*
So now you know the story.
It is common to feel tight or sore in your muscles after intense activity. Sleep supports the body’s healing mechanisms.
If you are getting more physically active, taking BCAA and drinking plenty of water before your hike / yoga / training / exercise can be helpful. It is important to drink lots of water the day after any high impact yoga or exercise too. Keeping well hydrated is always a good idea.
If you feel tender or uncomfortable a day or two after yoga, don’t sit still as if you are seizing up. Get moving, but take it easy: practice yoga for a shorter period. Keep it very gentle.
Kathryn Crowley is a yoga teacher and writer based in Kerry, Ireland. Get in touch for research and writing commissions.
[i] Author of ‘Healing yoga’, MD, and medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine.
[ii] Song-gyu et al (2013), ‘Additional effects of taurine on the benefits of BCAA intake for the delayed-onset muscle soreness and muscle damage induced by high-intensity eccentric exercise’, Advances in experimental medicine and biology, pg. 179-187.
[iii] Advice from Amy C. Sedgewick, emergency medicine doctor / Yoga Medicine certified instructor.
[iv] Chang et al (2016), ‘Yoga as a treatment for chronic low back pain: A systematic review of the literature’, Journal of orthopedics & rheumatology.
* Bí curamach, pronounced ‘be coor-am-och’ is the Irish phrase for ‘be careful’.