You might expect to feel some aching or soreness after a heavy workout since your muscles are tired from being pushed hard and are working to repair themselves. But it is not only a heavy weight lifting session or cardio that can make you sore. Yoga is designed to work your muscles, sometimes harder than in other workouts.
When done properly, yoga should make you sore as a result of contracting your muscles through stretching and a variety of poses, engaging your muscles in a way you would not normally do. But you should be mindful of this feeling, as soreness can sometimes indicate strain in the muscle from overexertion.
In this article, we will look at why you might be feeling sore after a yoga class, what can be done about sore muscles in the future, and when your soreness might be a bigger issue.
Yoga is a low-impact workout that focuses on strength and flexibility. It can be beneficial to people with aches and pains, stress, and depression. Intensity levels can vary depending on the type of yoga being practiced. These include, but are not limited to:
- Hatha Yoga – this is the most common style of yoga that most people will start with. It involves a mixture of deep breathing techniques, a series of poses, and meditation. This practice is slower, focussing on static poses and breathing.
- Vinyasa Yoga – known also as ‘flow-yoga,’ vinyasa yoga works through a series of poses through deep breathing and fluid motions. Each pose will flow into the next without the need to reposition or stop.
- Bikram Yoga – done in a hot room – 105° F (41°C) and 40 percent humidity – this practice follows a set of 26 poses that are the same in all classes. Hot yoga is thought to increase oxygenation of the blood and help to release toxins from the body. The warm environment is believed to help to achieve deeper poses by increasing flexibility.
- Ashtanga Yoga – this physical practice requires the student to learn a series of 6 poses. These poses are done at the pace of the student, in time with their breath. Each pose is held for 5 breaths before moving onto the next. This can be much more physical and not the best practice for beginners.
- Power Yoga – a more intense practice similar to ashtanga yoga, power yoga is more open to interpretation. Combining a mixture of slow and power yoga, this practice is often used to help build muscle.
- Restorative Yoga – the slowest form of yoga, this practice is helpful when looking for a way to de-stress. Each pose is held for a minimum of five minutes, with the help of pillows and straps. This practice is focussed on relaxation, and it is not uncommon to fall asleep on your mat.
No matter the type of yoga practicing, your teacher should help to guide you through a number of poses. These poses are designed to stretch, engage, and strengthen certain joints, muscles, and areas all around the body. Through repeated practice, you should see an improvement in your overall strength and well-being.
Yoga promotes well-being through breathing techniques, stretches, and meditation. Though it may look slow, you will likely find that you are engaging deep muscles during your practice that are generally not worked in other activities.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is usually felt after some kind of workout and is often not present until a day or two after activity. You should be able to tell whether you are feeling sore, as opposed to in pain, as it will feel less intense or sharp.
A few things to look out for when assessing soreness:
- Muscle fatigue
- Stiffness in the muscle when moving
Generally, you should not feel any of these symptoms until hours later or even the following day. DOMS is common amongst even elite athletes and can be brought on by an increase in intensity or trying out something new. For beginners, your muscles will not be used to the exertion, and soreness is not uncommon when starting a new routine.
DOMS can be felt because it is believed that in working your muscles, you are causing tiny tears in the tissue. Your body fixes this damage by expanding blood vessels to allow for blood flow to the affected area. This can cause stiffness and soreness.
It is important to note that any soreness or pain felt during and immediately after a workout could be the sign of something more serious. Rest the affected area and if the pain continues, consult with your doctor.
If you are new to yoga and looking for a beginner class, starting with the slower hatha practice will help to make your yoga experience far more enjoyable. Jumping into hot yoga right away will likely be too much and leave you exhausted, possibly injured, and unlikely to continue.
Whether you are a beginner or expert, a good yoga practice should involve stretching and engaging your muscles, as well as a focus on your breathing. The idea is to move into a pose as deeply as your body will allow, holding that pose while tensing and releasing your muscles to promote strength and muscle growth.
While working through poses, your instructor will ask you to hold position as you breathe. In doing this, you will activate specific muscles, and over time, strengthen them. Sometimes, you can work muscles that usually lay dormant, such as the muscles in your glutes and hips. These would not usually get a workout in day to day life, and certain poses, like the Crescent Lunge, can help to target these weaker underused muscle groups.
Whether your practice involves static poses or a flow approach, yoga often reaches muscles that cardio exercises do not. As these muscles contract, micro-tears form, damaging the muscle fibers. This is normal in exercise, and your body knows how to heal itself. But it is these tears that cause soreness after yoga practice.
Of course, soreness can also be the result of going too far. Over-stretching will result in more tears and strain on the muscle. This kind of soreness will feel different, and you will need to rest between practice.
In hot yoga particularly, the warmth and the humidity can enhance your flexibility and lead you into deeper poses. This is not always a good thing, as you can push yourself too far, resulting in chronic soreness and pain.
It is important to take your practice seriously and try to be consistent. If you push too far one day, rest for a couple of days and assess how you feel. DOMS should not last more than a few days, and you can do gentle practice during this time. But if you have strained something, you will need to listen to your body and possibly take a break.
Feeling sore is a natural part of muscle recovery. The more you practice, the more you will understand how it feels and how you can proceed. Once you have begun a routine, you will find that the soreness dissipates as your body becomes stronger. It will take new poses and more intense practice to feel that soreness again.
The good news is, you can still practice yoga if you feel sore. In fact, it’s recommended. If you went overboard in a tough class, a gentle, 15-minute practice could help to loosen up your muscles and promote healing. If you are new to yoga, start out slow. Practice once or twice a week until your body gets used to the new movement, and then you can take things further if you’re feeling strong enough.
However, if you are finding the soreness is not going away, take a break. Let yourself rest for a few days and see how you feel. You may find that you need a gentler practice to start with, working your way up as you build your strength. Try taking walks and keeping active other ways before returning to the mat.
If you are doing it right, you should be contracting muscles during yoga sessions. However, that does not mean you have to feel sore in order to get the most out of a class. There are a number of things you can do to help prevent feeling sore after practice:
- Start slow. If you are new to yoga, or returning after a break, start out with a gentle practice once or twice a week. Allow your body to unwind and your muscles to slowly get used to the practice before you look into more intense classes.
- Stay active off the mat. Going into yoga practice when you are out of shape can be difficult. Whether you are just starting on your health journey or almost done, it is important to stay active outside of the yoga studio. Walking, swimming, pilates, anything physical will help to promote muscle growth, muscle healing, and overall health.
- Stay hydrated. Before, during, and after practice, you should be drinking water. Dehydration causes fatigue, lowers energy levels, and can cause headaches. Being well hydrated regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, and helps to flush toxins from the body that can be released during your session.
- Warm-up. Many instructors will start class with a warm-up, but some like to jump right in with the first poses. To be sure you are warm and ready for class, do some small stretches or take a walk before class to get your blood flowing. This will help to reduce muscle tension during your session and can help to prevent DOMS.
- Be consistent. For whatever reason you are choosing yoga, you should find that the more you practice, the less sore you will feel. If you can commit to a routine, you can exercise your muscles and strengthen them, making poses easier. Over time, you can slowly add to your practice, upping the intensity slowly as your muscles become stronger.
If you find yourself sore after yoga practice, there are a few things that can help alleviate the discomfort.
- Rest. Sleep allows your body to completely relax and recover. Some goals in working out are to improve cardiovascular health, endurance, and promote muscle strength. None of this can happen if you do not get enough sleep. A good night’s sleep gives your body time to repair and rebuild the muscles, as well as conserve energy for the following day. Without it, you will likely feel sore and lethargic for longer.
- Take a bath. Soaking in warm or hot water can help to ease muscle tension and soreness. The heat will encourage blood flow and help sore muscles to relax, and adding Epsom salts can increase the benefit greatly. An Epsom soak is an effective way to absorb magnesium into your body. This electrolyte has been proven to reduce inflammation and help to relieve pain.
- Massage. Gentle massage of the sore area will bring blood to the tissue and reduce the tightness. In addition, essential oils massaged into the skin can also help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Peppermint oil has a cooling effect on sore muscles, where sandalwood oil can help to alleviate muscle spasms and tension. Finding the right mix of oils will help to combat both soreness and tension.
- Use a foam-roller. Foam rollers are great for locating and alleviating more sensitive areas in sore muscles. It can be done after your workout, using pressure and movement. Should you find a trigger point, hold for 30 seconds to help reduce the pain before continuing the movement.
As mentioned, there is good and bad soreness related to working out. The good kind is usually dull and manageable. It should not last more than a few days, and you can normally work through the discomfort.
The difference between good soreness and bad soreness is the level of discomfort and possible pain. If you feel pain during your practice, stop immediately. It is possible that you over-stretched or pulled a muscle, and you need to rest. If you are unsure, consider the following:
- Pain, tenderness, or weakness – a pulled muscle will almost always hurt right away. If you feel real pain during your practice, as opposed to a dull ache, chances are you have over-stretched and pulled a muscle. You should stop and rest until you no longer feel weak.
- Swelling or bruising – typically, sore muscles will not swell or bruise. This is a clear sign of a deeper issue. In this case, put ice on the affected area to reduce the swelling and the pain. Rest is vital in this case, and you should elevate the area and monitor the swelling to ensure it does not get worse.
- Cannot bear weight – if you have injured a limb, you might find that you cannot put pressure on the injured area – meaning you cannot stand or rest on your wrists. With soreness, you should feel some aching when weight is borne, but if you feel pain, it is time to stop.
- Cramping or spasms – muscles tend to cramp as a sign of excessive use or damage. It could be a sign of fatigue or dehydration, but if the cramping continues, it might be a sign of a serious strain.
If you feel soreness in your muscle, it is best to let that muscle rest. However, if after a few days, you are still feeling discomfort or even pain, you should take steps to help in the healing, and possibly look into visiting your doctor.
Some pain medications provide anti-inflammatories which, when coupled with rest, heat applications, and possible elevation, should provide relief while the injured area is working to heal itself. During this time, it is best not to practice yoga. Instead, work slowly at home with gentle stretching and careful movement, to prevent stiffness and to encourage circulation.
If you have been in pain for more than a week, can’t bear weight, feel numbness, or still have swelling, it is best to seek medical attention. They can provide stronger medications and suggest physical therapy, depending on the extent of the injury.
It is normal to feel some soreness after practicing yoga. In holding poses and engaging your muscles, you are causing micro-tears inside the fibers of the muscles. In order to fix these tears, your body increases blood flow to the area, which can cause soreness.
Staying hydrated, warming up, and being consistent in your practice can all help to prevent soreness after a session. Still, it is not uncommon and can be managed with hot baths, massage, and rest.
However, if you feel pain or excessive soreness that would not go away, you may have over-stretched the muscle and may need to visit your doctor for further evaluation.
- NHS: A Guide To Yoga
- Yoga Medicine: Types of Yoga
- HealthLine: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
- Very Well Fit: What to Do When Yoga Makes You Sore
- Yoga Journal: Baptiste Yoga
- Livestrong: Sore Muscles After Yoga
- WebMD: Epsom Salts
- Wikipedia: Electrolyte
- Boston Magazine: How To Use Foam Rollers
- Healthline: 18 Essential Oils for Sore Muscles
- Healthline: Muscle Strains
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