So you just took a yoga class, maybe your first or maybe your fiftieth and you’re scratching your head asking “Why am I so sore after a Yoga class?” After all, yoga has the reputation for being a class to improve your flexibility, so why all the joint pain and/or muscle soreness?
Great question. First of all, congratulations on stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying a yoga class. You’ve discovered a time honored tradition of rhythmic stretches that dates back generations upon generations. These practices were once held in secret, reserved only for men of great wealth and influence. Interesting isn’t it that now in 2016 it has a reputation of being a female dominated choice of workout? Balance. All things, especially energy, looks to return to balance. So no matter where you are at on your yoga journey, welcome to a lifelong exploration of who you are and what being fully present and alive in your own body temple can look and feel like. As the esteemed yogi and writer Pattabhi Jois writes, “do your practice and all is coming.”
One definition of yoga means union, discussing the union of breath and body. When you undertake a yoga practice, you are syncing your breath with your movements. Each pose has both a physical and emotional component. Take note that your body has both a physical and energetic nature. Your physical body is the realm of physical matter such as blood, bones, organs, lymph system, muscles, etc. Your energetic body, however, is the transmission of energy to, through and around your actual physical body. Some may call this your aura, or discuss your chakras (if you’re into the lingo,) or reference your 12 energetic meridians as the acupuncture studies may chart. Consider the word emotion. Emotions are actual Energy in Motion, E-MOTION, ENERGY-in-MOTION. How does that feel when you read it?
Consider a frustrating experience that you may have had recently, a time when you did not feel supported or protected. For illustration, imagine having to pay your bills and not having enough money. This is a first chakra issue, and this particular energy in motion disturbance tends to manifest right in your lower back, causing lower back pain. The energies felt may have been frustrating, defeating, humiliating, exhausting and a plethora of associated energies in motion, your emotions. Without consideration of your energetic body, you may wake up the next day with your lower back singing to you, tight in pain, and you start scratching your head wondering why your lower back hurts? Did I pull it? Did I do something in yoga? Did I sleep funny? Instead, consider that your emotions were not fully processed and your body stored them in your lower back, for a time later when you were ready to fully deal with them.
Now back to yoga. When you are in class, your instructor has prepared a sequence of postures (called asanas) to warm you up, challenge your balance and strength and then stretch out the muscles used in your flow sequence. From power yoga to hatha yoga and even including Buti yoga, the back story is the same; you do your practice and all is coming. Yoga instructors will repeat “breathe,” and “inhale” and “exhale” multiple times during most classes.
They are holding space for you to go within your body find the balance, to match your breath with your movement and to create a very relaxing space where your body can open up and allow your energies in motion to ground and release. Yes, release. This is one of the many secrets of yoga. You can clear out old, stuck, unwanted energies in motion through your yoga sequences and not have to relive those old memories. The incident of not having enough money to pay your bills may come to mind during your yoga class, likely when you are in a first chakra grounding position such as malasana (squat pose) or Vrksasana (tree pose) when you are finding strength through grounding in these Earthy solid poses. Adding affirmations, even if just in your mind, can expedite the emotional work.
Affirmations for the first chakra could include, “I am lovable and capable, I am enough, I am protected, I am safe, I am well provided for, All my bills are paid and I still have all this money.” Thoughts become things and you can create your own reality by choosing the thoughts you think and the words you speak. The beauty is that if your life isn’t created the way you would like it to be, through visualization and spoken affirmations you can re-create it to be just as wonderful as you can envision it to be. You are that powerful.
So what to do about that sore back? Whenever a pain or discomfort arises, consider both your physical and your energetic body. What emotions are you feeling? Where does it hurt? Louise Hayes outlines in a nice chart different dis-eases and discomforts in her classic book “You Can Heal Your Life,” if you would like full chart reference, this book is highly recommended. On the energetic plane, does your throat hurt? What is it that you do not want to say? Sinus infection? Who are you close to that has angered you? Migraine? What has you feeling that you are not good enough, what perfection are you struggling with? Once you’ve considered the emotional culprits, and have written out some positive affirmations to change that energy in motion to a positive flow, now it’s time to look at your physical body.
Are your hamstrings sore? Perhaps a sore shoulder or sore wrists? What is your physical body trying to tell you? Again, consider looking up the emotional component, but then consider your physical form. What exercises are you doing? If you’re not exercising at all, it should not be a surprise that soreness is your reality. You are a living breathing human being, not a human resting, so you must be all you can be to feel as good as you can feel. Choose exercises that challenge you. If the exercise practice doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. So after a good yoga class or exercise practice expect soreness.
General soreness is a nice indicator that you put in some work, and your body is changing. Excruciating pain, however, is a red flag that you need to change your approach. Perhaps, in the case of yoga, it is an issue of form. Sore wrists and sore shoulders can be remedied with hand placement on the mat and some instructions on how to balance your weight evenly into both shoulders for inverted postures, such as downward dog. What about a sore lower back after yoga? This sounds like a form issue to, posture especially, which can be remedied by holding a tight Mula Bahnda. Mula Bahnda is your root lock, which is summed up as holding your abdominal wall in tightly with a tucked pelvis and a nice squeeze through your pelvic floor while performing almost every asana. The pelvic tuck protects your lower back, and engages your muscles properly for utmost alignment.
What if you are just sore head to toe after a vigorous class? Good question. First of all, consider the physical body and the emotional body. Did you overdo it? Did you push too hard? Did you try to get into a pose that was far out of your realm (such as headstand) and now have both a migraine and a sore neck and shoulders because you wanted to nail a pose too soon? For every yoga class there are modifications. Take the modifications and use the props provided to work your way up, to and through postures. If the instructor is flying through a vigorous sequence and your body is telling you that it’s tired, take child’s pose. Take the rest posture and watch what is being offered, and join back in when you are ready. See what is available in your class, knowing that you do not have to do each pose. Challenge yourself only to your level, and only you know what you level is for that day. Pick classes that you cannot finish, knowing that you are set up for growth just by being there and taking it all in at your level. Pick other classes where you can fine tune your form, perhaps going slower or faster than your normal preferred rhythm, and get the poses into your muscle memory. Please do not beat yourself up mentally when you cannot complete a pose or class. You are here for practice. You will improve. You are getting stronger. “Do your practice and all is coming.” At Wicked Fitness especially, you are safe in a judgement free zone, and that means talking nicely to yourself too in your mind. You are lovable and capable. You are deserving. You are enough.
Remember above all else, that your body is both physical and energetic, and what you feed it will create the body that you have to operate within. When you are doing energetic work, like exercises and yoga, please feed your body lovingly. Choose foods that grew in the sun, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose foods that have one word ingredients, such as: apple, banana, kale, spinach, rice, potato, orange. Your energetic body is fed by live foods. Processed baked goods with dairy whipped sugar beverages surrounding a yoga experience is a great way to promise yourself soreness. As a matter of fact, fast food, sugar, corn syrup and negative thoughts all wrapped together is a guarantee for sore muscles. Keep it up, and you can invite depression, desperation and sickness into your reality.
Dear loved one, please drink water. Water cannot be overstated. Your body is made up of water more than any other element, and drinking plenty of clean water is the road to flushing out toxins and wastes. You may see yogis walking around town or in television shows carrying either coconut water or a green drink; why do they do that? Coconut water is an excellent hydrating beverage, delivering more electrolytes than any red drink could ever imagine. Your body can rehydrate effectively and quickly with coconut water. Did you know that back in World War 2, when blood products were unavailable for wounded soldiers that coconut water can and was used intravenously instead? It’s molecular make up is so close to that of human blood plasma that it is a viable substitution. So indeed, drinking coconut water can get you feeling perky with a quickness, especially great for when it is hot and you are sweating. Thank the wise Universe for putting coconut trees readily available in very hot areas. What about the green drinks? Green drinks are a fun, easy and tasty way to consume some good alkaline type foods, such as your kales and wheatgrasses. Fresh pressed juice, from a specialty store or juice bar delivers wild wide open energy in an easy to digest form, sippable through your straw. All the goodness of sun grown vegetables in your 16oz easy to carry cup, it’s a little miracle, actually. Being alive in 2016 means that you can actually buy some green drinks of fresh pressed juice, (no, we are not talking Shamrock Shakes) from big stores such as Kroger’s or Whole Foods. The local Kroger’s in Garden City now stocks a brand called “Suja Uber Greens” that can be found in the cooler of the produce section. A 46oz bottle costed $9.99 and is delicious on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, (perhaps before your Tuesday 6AM Vinyasa class) or later in the day between meals as a ‘pick me up.’ This brand is loaded with cucumber, celery, grapefruit¸ lemon, kale, green chard and more, all in one convenient bottle. Of course, in a perfect world you would have a gorgeous juicer and a gorgeous live in cook that would juice the fresh juice for you each morning. Perhaps work on your affirmations to create a reality like that.
Finally, consider the power of Epsom salts. Your body needs magnesium. You likely do not get enough in your food, based on current farming practices and depleted soils. Supplements taken orally won’t cut it, they are not properly absorbed. The best absorbtion for magnesium is through your skin. There are topical magnesium creams if you are interested but a relaxing way is to add a cup or more of Epsom salt (magnesium salts) to your bath at night. (Be mindful to get plain Epsom salts, as some brands have added in artificial fragrances that can cause headaches and skin irritations. They may read ‘therapeutic’ but know that the synthetic fragrances do not have healing or therapeutic properties. Yucky.) Allow your skin to absorb the healing properties of the magnesium salts. Do you know what the sign and symptom of magnesium deficiency is? Sore muscles. Yes, sore muscles. Do you know that when you’re engaged in energy moving practices such as yoga, you burn up your magnesium? Yes, you do. So treat yourself to a loving bath, maybe add your affirmations and a nice cold glass of coconut water and enjoy the fact that you had a wonderfully challenging yoga practice, you are growing, you are becoming stronger, you are releasing old emotions and old thought patters, and you can sleep sound knowing that each day you are better than the day before. Treat yourself right. You are worth it. You are enough. Your body is your greatest teacher. What is it telling you today?