If we are practicing yoga asanas with attention and care, we should be able to avoid most, if not all, injuries. However, some muscle and soft tissue soreness is a normal part of the process of working with the body in this way. As we proceed patiently and intelligently, our body will unfold and blossom, much like the ancient symbol of the lotus flower, so closely associated with yoga.
In the meanwhile, it important that we develop a "gift bag" of sorts. A set of things we know will help to nurture and support the recovery and growth of our body. Here are my Seven Ways to Sooth Sore Yoga Muscles:
1. Take a word from the master, and take it easy.
The yogic sage Patanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutras, Sthira Sukham Asanam (the posture should be strong/steady and light/comfortable.) So, first and foremost, we most always begin by practicing with kindness and ahimsa (non-harming) towards ourselves. As the adage goes, "an ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure!"
2. Be constructive...rest.
If you suffer an injury the first thing you must do is make room for yourself to heal. This means making time to heal, and this is a hard one for those of us in Western societies to grasp. Our credos tell us, "No Pain, No Gain," and so we are conditioned to push through, thus injuring ourselves further. The human body has miraculous healing abilities, but it needs constructive rest in order to accomplish this, so don't be afraid to take the time to let yourself heal, and learn to rest when you are becoming fatigued, so that you can avoid injuries in the first place.
3. RICE...it's not just for dinner anymore.
If you have ever taken a basic first aid course, you know this acronym well: Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate.
R = REST: see number two! Love your body, let it heal.
I = ICE: ice is the MOST amazing healer I have ever come across. You really can't go wrong with ice, and it is especially critical to use it the first 24 hours after an injury. Often we tend to lean towards heat because it seems more soothing, but you can get yourself into a bit of trouble with heat, it can actually add to inflammation. Use ice packs on the injured area, ten minutes on, ten minutes off, for the first 24 hours. After that you can alternate ten minutes of ice, with ten minutes of heat. This alternating technique, and the application of ice alone, both help to reduce swelling and flush the area with new blood which promotes healing.
C = Compress: Compression helps to reduce swelling, pain and provides support. The most common method of compression is to wrap the site lightly in an ACE bandage. If you feel throbbing, or see discoloration, the bandage is inhibiting circulation and needs to be removed and re wrapped more loosely.
E = Elevate: Elevation also helps to reduce swelling. Elevation is most effective if you can raise the area above the heart. You can use pillows or bolsters to aid in elevation.
4. Drink lots of water.
This one is pretty simple. I hydrated body, is a healing body. If your cells and tissues are not well hydrated it makes it very difficult for them to heal. Drink lots of pure filtered water, and seek out pure vegetable and fruit juices (juice them yourself if you can!), as these will add heaps of vital nutrients to your system in an easily digested and assimilated form.
5. Massage and Bodywork
Touch is a great healer. There is a type of body work out there appropriate for every injury. Find an experience chiropractor, massage therapist, Reiki master, Positional Therapist, or other professional in a healing modality NOW, before you are injured. Put the names and numbers of these people in your "gift bag" so you are ready to take care of yourself if you have an injury. It can be challenging to have the energy to seek help, when you need it the most.
6. Create a care bag.
Create a literal "gift bag" of healing tools. Here are a few I keep in mine:
Muscle Treat: this massage lineament from one of my favorite companies, Heritage Products, contains: Light Petroleum Oil, Mineral Oil, Olive Oil, Witch Hazel, Tincture of Benzoin and Sassafras Oil; which come together to provide and oil that goes on smoothly and soaks into the skin quickly. I use it twice a day over an injured site and find it helps significantly reduce pain, swelling and even bruising. Another thing I like about this lineament is that it has very little scent, just the fragrance of the natural oils, and like all of this company's products, all of the oils are of extremely pure and high grade. It is also suppose to be very good for use on varicose and spider veins (pat on gently, don't rub.) Benzoin oil is well known for its ability to strengthen and heal skin.
Microwave Heating Pads: I have several of these in different shapes and sizes and they are terrific for applying heat once the site is ready for that treatment. I also use them after an injury has reached the point where I am ready to slowly move back into practice. I apply the heat packs before my yoga sadhana to warm the soft tissues, making them more pliable and ready for the stretching elements of asana.
Leg Warmers: Don't laugh! I am so serious! I have a couple of pairs of legwarmers and I find them so useful. I put them on toward the end of my practice, or when I am teaching a class, before sivasana so that my legs will retain the heat of practice and the muscles won' be shocked by cold air (especially in the Winter when I am going out to a cold car.) The tighter variety can actually do double duty by providing a little bit of compression and support. Try them out and you will see why dancers swear by them.
Healing Meditations: visualization is one of the most powerful healing tools we have available to us. The healing power of our minds is unlimited when use it to tap into our spirits and the prana which permeates us. Try lying down in a comfortable place with a blanket over you, and an eye pillow or small towel covering your eyes to encourage pratyahara, or sense withdrawal. Visualize your body healing on a gross and subtle level. Imagine it right down to the very cellular structures of your body. See yourself as already well; radiantly health and whole.
If you need help getting started with this sort of meditation, try my Progressive Relaxation Meditation, or my Sivasana Meditation. Both are available as audio downloads, for only $2.95, from yogadownload.com.
7. Return to activity slowly and with intelligence.
When we return to activity after an injury it is natural to want to jump right back in, and pick up from where we left off. Unfortunately, this is not right mindedness on our part. If you have been laid up with an injury for 6 weeks, it will take at least that length of time to get back to your pre-injury level of practice; it may take double the amount of time you have been on constructive rest, or longer. This is a time for the utmost practice of patience and compassion towards ourselves. Take your time, go slow, remember the words of Sri Patabhi Jois, "Practice, practice, all is coming." You will beyond where you left off in your practice in no time if you proceed in this way.
May your lives be filled with radiant health, May you honor your body, mind and spirit with lovingkindness and compassion.