Is It Ok To Do Yoga With Sore Muscles? (Plus 8 Tips To Ease Pain)


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It is normal to have sore muscles a day or two after yoga, especially if you haven’t practiced for a while or if it was your first yoga class. Many of my newer students tell me about their aches and pains after their first few classes. And I hear the same from students who took some time away from their yoga practice.

A question I hear a lot from all my students is whether it is ok to practice yoga with sore muscles.

Yoga can feel wonderful as we get to stretch parts of our bodies that may not be used to being stretched. However, this can lead to muscle pain the following day. It is recommended to practice yoga with sore muscles, and focus on the areas that hurt in order to slowly relieve the tension.

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Continue reading for my 8 top tips to relieve muscle pain after yoga.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

According to WebMD “exercise physiologists refer to the gradually increasing discomfort that occurs between 24 and 48 hours after activity as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and it is perfectly normal.”

The level of discomfort depends on how often we practice, how intesne the pacice was and also what style we practice.

I teach Ashtanga yoga and when a new student comes to class I tell them they may feel slightly stiff the following day. And especially with beginners to yoga, they always come back and tell me how stiff they were after class. And that is to be expected!

Ashtanga yoga, like Vinyasa flow, is a physically demanding practice. And so if our bodies are not used to this type of movement, then it is only normal to expect sore muscles a day or two afterward.

I remember I had one new student come in for her second class telling me that after the first class she couldn’t even put her bra on, her arms were that sore! And surely enough, after practicing a few more times her body adapted, and then the pain went away.

Why do we feel pain after yoga?

Any given yoga class will most likely involve a great deal of muscle stretching. So let’s first have a look at why we stretch.

Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, something that helps to maintain a range of motion in the joints. It is a long-term process that needs to be done consistently and over time. 

According to a panel of experts convened by the American College of Sports Medicine, healthy adults should do flexibility exercises for all major muscle-tendon groups at least two to three times a week (neck, shoulders, chest, trunk, lower back, hips, legs, and ankles).

And so interestingly, each stretch results in very small tears of the muscle fibers. Scientists believe this damage, coupled with the inflammation that accompanies these tears, causes the pain.

There was an article in the New York Times very cleverly titled Work Out Now, Ache Later discussing this very issue. They pointed out that: “No one knows for sure exactly what does cause muscle soreness. But many scientists now think that the delayed pain is caused by microscopic tears in the muscles when a certain exercise or activity is new or novel. These tiny tears eventually produce inflammation, and corresponding pain, 24 to 36 hours later.”

And they went on to say that: “The good news is that as these little tears repair themselves, they prepare the muscles to handle the same type of exercise better the next time.”

And that is the very reason that once you start practicing yoga consistently, your body and your muscles adapt and the pain stays away. That is, till the next time you take time off from your practice or if you try out something new.

According to the NHS, this post-yoga muscle pain typically lasts between 3 and 5 days and can range from mild to severe.

Eight Tips To Ease Post-Yoga Pain

Try one or try them all. They are most likely going to help ease the pain and help you feel back to your normal self.

1. Drink lots of water

Our bodies are made up of about 50–65% water, so it would make sense that being hydrated is important for muscle function.

Indeed, as BodyBuilding.Com pointed out: “Water is needed to transport nutrients to your cells and transport waste out of the body. Water helps form the structures of protein and glycogen. In order to move and flex your muscles, you need water. If your body is dehydrated, your muscles will be deprived of electrolytes and cramp.”

And if you are wondering how much water to drink, according to HealthLine: “Health authorities commonly recommend eight 8-ounce glasses, which equals about 2 liters, or half a gallon. This is called the 8×8 rule and is very easy to remember”.

2. Get enough sleep

Sleep is very important as it gives our body time to heal from any stress and damage. Indeed, according to Healthline: “You may not realize it, but the amount of sleep you get can affect everything from your weight and metabolism to your brain function and mood.”

A Sleep and Recovery manual for athletes pointed out that: “The recommendation of eight hours of sleep for humans is not recent.
Before any scientific studies on sleep, there was “common knowledge”
that sufficient sleep was critical to the functions of daily life. We now
understand that elite athletes, training multiple times per day need even
more sleep to overcome the increased levels of stress on body systems.”

If you would like to find out more about how long you should sleep, you may like this article by Healthline: How to Calculate When You Should Go to Sleep

3. Get a massage

There has been some debate regarding the effectiveness of a massage on post-yoga muscle tightness and DOMS.

A massage immediately after a yoga practice can help reduce DOMS. One 2017 review article examined 11 studies that researched this very topic. They pointed out that: “The potential effectiveness of massage therapy is proposed to increase skin and muscle temperature, blood and lymphatic flow, and parasympathetic activity. Subsequently, the effects include then relief of muscle tension and stiffness, reduction of muscle soreness, and increased joint range of motion”.

The results of their review found that massage therapy could actually be effective for alleviating onset muscle tightness.

4. Drink coffee

For all the coffee lovers reading this article, here is some good news!

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that drinking coffee before a workout can in fact reduce post-workout muscle soreness.

More specifically, they found that: “The primary findings of this study demonstrate that a dosage of 5 mg·kg−1 bodyweight of caffeine has a beneficial effect on the perception of muscle soreness, perceived exertion, and performance in the days after maximal resistance exercise. This has practical implications in that daily caffeine consumption can enhance resistance training performance and yet decrease soreness after resistance training despite doing more work.”

The amount of coffee they recommend is about 2 cups before your next practice.

As a little note, I have a teacher who doesn’t like his students drinking coffee before practice. He said: “I want to teach you, not your caffeinated version”. So perhaps consider trying the pre-yoga coffee before practice only if you haven’t practiced in a long time to help reduce muscle tightness and DOMS.

5. Eat a balanced meal with plenty of protein

Consuming protein may be able to help with muscle tightness and DOMS. According to Livestrong: “Eating protein almost immediately after exercising can help your body to recover from activity. Your body uses the protein to rebuild torn muscle fibers in your body, which helps to minimize muscle soreness.”

And yet it seems the jury is out on the effectiveness of protein intake for muscle soreness, as Harvard Health discussed a 2019 article which found that protein intake had no effect on post-workout muscle soreness.

If you are looking for healthy tips and recipes to try out before and after yoga, you may like my article: What to Eat Before and After Yoga (Plus Yummy Recipes)

6. Enjoy a hot bath

Hot baths can feel like a little slice of heaven. And now there is even science to back uo the effectiveness of a hot bath on muscle tighness.

According to Healthline: “Applying heat immediately after exercising can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. One 2013 study pointed out that: “Heat has been used therapeutically for thousands of years. It offers immediate pain relief and can increase circulation to speed the healing process after injury. For this reason, it is popular for use on many types of pain including joint and muscle pain as well as soft tissue damage.”

And so their study did indeed find that moist heat was shown to offer even more pain reduction when compared to dry heat.

7. Practice yoga

It is completely normal to want to avoid a yoga practice when our body is in pain. And yet, it may be the best thing you can do and a gentle practice can help to relieve and built-up tension and any muscle tightness.

According to Healthline: “Performing stretches on a regular basis may improve your circulation. Improved circulation increases blood flow to your muscles, which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness”.

Any given yoga class can help to improve our flexibility.

Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. Therefore it is no surprise that a study carried out in the US found that flexibility is the main reason people start yoga. In fact, more than 78% of respondents said they were motivated to improve flexibility. It is true that the regular practice of yoga will indeed help practitioners get into postures.

And so given the strogn empahsis on stretching in yoga classes, we are likely to suffer from DOMS, especially when we first start practicing. 

I remember as a beginner saying to my yoga teacher that I didn’t come to class as my muscles were so sore. And her response surprised me. She said, with a smile, oh then you really should have come to class! And now I know why!

8. Foam roll

Foam rolling can feel like a welcome treat when our muscles are tight. It is a form of self-massage that can help with muscle tightness and DOMS.

Several studies have pointed to the effectiveness of foam rolling on muscle pain. For example, a 2013 study found that foam rolling after a workout can relieve muscle soreness. It may also help improve our following practice.

According to Healthline, here are some benefits to foam rolling:

  • Alleviates soreness
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Increases blood flow and elasticity of muscle tissue, joints, and fascia
  • Promotes relaxation

Below is a video explaining how to use the foam roller for recovery.

Conclusion

In yoga, we encourage students to listen to their bodies and not push boundaries.

Take it nice and easy at first, so as to give our bodies time to adapt and gradually build up strength and flexibility.

I remember a teacher telling me that it is better to practice a little bit every day rather than one long practice once a week. And the reason for that is that if you practice once a week it is almost like you are starting again from the beginning each time.

And so build up gradually, listen to your body and try to stay away from pain in your practice. And if you do experience muscle soreness and DOMS, then try out one or all of the recommendations in this article I really do hope you feel better!

Alexia Koletsou

Alexia Koletsou is a Level 1 Authorized Ashtanga Yoga Teacher with a Ph.D. in Science Communication. She received her blessing to teach Ashtanga Yoga in 2019, from the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, where she has had the honor of practicing with R. Sharath Jois multiple times over the years. She is the owner of her own Shala in Greece and now shares her knowledge on yogamyoldfriend.com and her YouTube channel Alexia K Yoga.

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