Yup, feeling sore after your yoga class is normal! Soreness is a natural part of the process of muscle recovery. It might happen following your flows if your muscles have been taxed, and is a sign that your muscles are trying to repair and rebuild. Although it’s a natural process, it’s important to be in tune with our bodies to understand what is causing the soreness in the first place, and to be able to distinguish the difference between good soreness and bad soreness.
What Causes the Soreness?
Many different things can cause your muscles to be taxed in a way that they are not used to. Trying a new pose, for example, will work different muscles groups than you might be used to from your normal physical activity routine. In addition, many yoga poses require engagement of muscle groups that are not typically used in traditional exercises— think piriformis, psoas, gluteus medius and minimus, and many other sneaky muscles!
Many yoga classes are a combination of strengthening and stretching poses. We all know that strengthening exercises can cause soreness, but stretching can cause soreness too. Have you ever done 108 Sun Salutations for a solstice? The first time I took a solstice class, I went into it thinking that my shoulders and back would be the most sore from the 108 Chaturangas. Wrong! The next day my hamstrings were unbelievably sore from the (at least) 216 forward folds.
Your muscles are made up of many individual fibers that can contract (squeeze together), which strengthens the muscle, and also relax (loosen away from one another), which stretches the muscle. When a muscle repeatedly contracts, it will become taxed, and feel sore the next day. The same process occurs when a muscle is repeatedly stretched.
Soreness could be a sign that you are “muscling” through poses without using the most efficient alignment. If you’re always sore in the same place after a certain type of class, talk to your instructor after class. You might need an adjustment to your form.
When is Soreness Considered Good? When is it Bad?
Typically you don’t want to work the same muscle groups two days in a row because it doesn’t give the body enough time to repair the muscles. So soreness can be bad if it is chronic: your muscles don’t have time to repair, and this could lead to muscle exhaustion, injury, or burnout.
People often think that sore muscles are a sign of a good workout, and they can be. Soreness is fine as long as it goes away within a day or two, and you give yourself enough recovery time.
But it is important to be consistently active throughout the week rather than to go really hard on one day and be so sore that it prevents you from doing another yoga class or other exercise routine.
It’s also important to recognize the difference between soreness and pain. Any sharp, shooting, acute sensation, or anything that makes you say, “ouch,” is pain. Pain is never good. It’s your body telling you to please stop what you’re doing before you injure yourself.
Tips to Cope with Sore Muscles after Yoga
The only true way to cope with sore muscles is to give it time! If you’re sore, your muscle fibers are damaged and just need time to knit back together to become stronger and more stable. But here are a few techniques that have relaxing effects and may assist with easing muscle tightness:
- Epsom salt bath soak
- Self-massage with essential oils (any combination of wintergreen, camphor, peppermint, ylang ylang, blue tansy, and blue chamomile will soothe and cool)
- Plenty of sleep
- Moderate walking.
The Good News
The good news is that your body adapts fairly quickly to new movements, and the same yoga session at the same intensity will make you less sore over time if you keep up that practice. So to manage soreness and grow in your practice, just keep listening to your body, observe your personal limits, and honor where your body is at. Recognize patterns of feeling sore and feeling good, and learn to find balance in your practice.
Image credit: Drinie Aguilar