My answer is no. But as simple and as straightforward as that may seem, you might find it to be a hard pill to swallow.
I did. I’ve practiced yoga for almost 20 years now and I’ve had to learn this lesson over and over and over again.
I still have a difficult time communicating to my students why it’s not a good idea. The only opportunity I typically have to do this is when they show up for class in the midst of feeling terrible. No one wants a lecture in that condition.
So here it is. Hopefully you are reading this when you are feeling your best and can tuck it away for the next time you’re not.
Don’t practice yoga when you are sick. Just don’t. Trust me.
Yes, I realize that there are many articles on the internet that will tell you that gentle forms of exercise are a good idea when you’re feeling under the weather, but these articles are likely written by people who may think they understand yoga, but don’t actually practice.
One of the main differentiating factors that separates yoga from other forms of exercise is the intentional use of inverted positions. This happens when your head moves below your heart for an extended amount of time. While most yogis tend to think of inverted positions as being only those that are obviously fulfilling this purpose (Headstand, Shoulderstand, etc.) every time you do Downward Facing Dog or a simple Standing Forward Bend, you are inverting for a short period of time.
Think about it. When you are already suffering from a stuffy head, runny nose, coughing and congestion do you think it’s a good idea to send more pressure that direction? You can learn it for yourself or you can take it from me, it’s not. Usually I get worse AND I end up getting a headache. Not fun.
But what about gentle stretching? Isn’t that ok?
Firstly, gentle stretching is not yoga, it’s just gentle stretching. But I won’t get on that soap-box today. Since there are so many different things that are lumped under the heading of modern yoga (including gentle stretching), I’m going to attempt to give some general advice.
Don’t do that either.
One of the positive effects of stretching is that it releases toxins, a great benefit if you’re feeling healthy. But when your body is already fighting an illness, purposely flooding your system with the release of stored toxins can make you feel even worse and actually lengthen your recovery time.
Your body needs rest. Listen to it. Stop trying to impose your will on the situation and just relax.
As a yoga practitioner you actively seek to subdue violence in all its forms, and sometimes the hardest to identify is when you are being violent to yourself. Practicing when you are sick falls under this heading. You may think you are being disciplined and committed to your practice, but you may still be lacking the sense of surrender necessary to embrace the natural flow of events as they occur in your life.
It’s just as important to be able to set your practice aside when necessary, as it is to stick with it consistently when you’re feeling great. If you are a committed yoga practitioner and you already practice regularly this opportunity to rest is a wonderful time for your body to recover from your daily routine. Plus the detoxification that happens as a natural result of being sick usually promotes progress in your practice anyway.
Lastly, consider that you may well be putting your teacher and other students at risk of catching whatever it is you have. Which brings me to the real reason I am writing this post – I don’t want to be sick anymore than you do.
Stay home and rest. Please!