Every two weeks, our resident Yogini will answer any questions regarding yoga that you, our readers, have. Today, she’ll talk about soreness in yoga for beginners, and yoga for your core. Kristin is a 200-hour registered yoga instructor. She was first introduced to yoga in 2008, and had an intermittent practice until late 2014, when she began to crave more. She favors fun, stretchy and fast-paced Vinyasa, and relaxing Yin classes. While she is a certified yoga teacher, she is not a medical doctor. Consult your MD if you are concerned about pre-existing conditions about you and your yoga practice.
Why and When Soreness in Yoga is Normal (and Expected!)
If you are a new yogi (or yogini, for women practitioners) or are thinking about becoming one, you may be concerned about the potential soreness associated with taking up yoga. I once led a student during his first ever yoga practice (at the age of 30) with a very, very gentle and slow Hatha practice and the next morning, he reported soreness. Why did he feel sore and why could you? It wasn’t because of his age. You can experience soreness after your first few yoga classes no matter how young or old you are. While yoga works with the body and can be gentle and restorative, you’re going to be using your muscles. You’ll be twisting, bending, standing, and balancing in ways your muscles have probably never done before. Depending on the class, you may even (gently) open up some deep tissues.
Contrary to what many people think, the asana practice can be a serious workout—one that will make you sweat, tired, and—you guessed it—sore. How sore? Depending on how active you are in general, or your medical history, maybe a lot, maybe a little. A former dancer or gymnast may only feel a little soreness—if any—but someone who is rarely physically active will likely finish their yoga practice with tender and overly-sensitive muscles. Even if you live an active lifestyle, expect to feel the effects of yoga—especially you runners (healthy hearts, but tight muscles). In all liklihood, you’ll be sore after the first few classes. But if you’re still experiencing a lot of soreness after your fifth class, scale back the intensity or frequency. As with any physical practice, make sure you properly hydrate the day before taking class
Once you become a regular yogi, you’ll probably only experience soreness when your teacher deviously announces that they’ll be working on core (or arms) that day.
Yoga For Your Core
Speaking of your core, yoga may quickly become your favorite kick-butt core exercise. Most yoga classes will include some core work, especially since you should be engaging your core throughout the entire practice. But to really tone your bod using asanas, take a fast vinyasa or a power yoga. To bring it even more, try these poses at home within your own practice, or you can request your teacher to add a few into the class. Remember, practicing yoga at least twice a week with these poses will be needed to feel and see any results.
Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana): Start in Downward Dog, lower your forearms to the ground. Bring your big toes together, and come to the balls of your feet. Walk your feet in as close to your forearms as possible, while still maintaining a strong back, sit bones towards the sky. If your back begins to curve, back your feet out a bit. Lift up from the shoulders, and make sure your head is in between your arms—not on the ground or not lifted looking up. Hold for at least 30 seconds, breathing deeply, while engaging the deep core.
Boat Pose (Navasana): This is a really good pose for your deep core. Engage under the belly button, and maintain an open chest (so no rounding of the shoulders). Your legs can be straight (shown below) or bent, and if needed, you can even lightly grab onto your thighs to help you stay up.
Plank Pose (Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana): Essentially a push up, move into this position from your Downward Dog. Make sure your belly button reaches for your spine, with your wide fingers underneath broad and lifting shoulders, and that you’re stable in the balls of your feet. You can have some *fun* with little exercises and variations. Make it a three legged plank, by lifting one leg (and then the other) off the ground and holding for 5 breaths. You can also move into a forearm plank by lowering onto your forearms.
Or, you can try this lovely little exercise I sometimes incorporate in my classes. Go to forearm plank, and hold for 5 breaths. Keeping your hands and forearms the same, just walk your feet way over to the right, maintaining your plank pose. Five breaths. Move back to center, and then all the way to the left, for another 5 breaths.
Crow Pose (Bakasana): A core and an arm balance all in one? That’s crow, which is almost always the intro to arm balances. While the photo below shows the pose with straight arms (which is actually Crane pose), deeply bending the elbows for your knees to rest above is important when learning how to get into Crow. This pose is a bit different from the others, as you will need to find your center of gravity in order to keep your knees on your triceps. That’s the part I love about this pose, as the key to staying up is by using an engaged core.
Chair Pose (Utkatasana): It seems simple, but trust me it’s not. From standing or your Tadasana, bring big toes together, heels slightly apart. If you have back issues, you can separate the feet. On your inhale, sweep the arms up so that the biceps are beside your ears. Bend the knees, as if you are sitting on an invisible chair. Rock your weight more into the heels then in the toes, and make sure that you aren’t sticking your booty out too much—tuck your tailbone in a bit if you have to. Lift from your core, not your legs; it’ll make this pose a bit more bearable. Hold for 5 deep breaths.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose or Low Plank Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana): Basically a plank pose at a hover. Enter this from your high plank, making sure that everything is engaged. The link above has a a nice video with some helpful tips, which I highly recommend.
Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana)): Enter this from your plank pose. There are two sides to this position: the left and the right. Starting with right side supporting, simply tilt the heals to the right, toes to the left, and then open up with your left arm high to the sky, while using your right arm for support. Your legs should be stacked, with the side of the bottom foot (the right on this side) supporting. Really lift up from the ribs. You can modify by bending and setting your bottom knee to the ground, or if you feel stable enough, you can lift the top leg. Make sure you do both sides—one with right hand supporting, and one with left hand supporting
To Help With the Soreness:
Whether you are sore because you’re new to yoga, or because you’ve done a lot of core based poses, there are a number of poses you should do to sooth your muscles, and follow up with after core poses. Here are my top five:
Child’s Pose (Balasana): I wrote about Balasana or Child’s pose a couple of weeks ago, but I’ll tell you again why it is so great. It calms the body, and allows you to reconnect to your breath. With slow and deep inhales, your body has time to cool down, find stillness, and to receive oxygen from your breath. Balasana brings your focus inward, as you are face down on your mat. Plus, with your hands by your feet or hips, it allows the shoulders to take a break.
Thread the Needle (Parsva Balasana): A variation on Child’s pose, this has the same calming benefits. But by threading each arm at a time under the chest, it adds in a gentle shoulder stretch, which is always nice for sore muscles.
Reclining Goddess (Supta Baddha Konasana): Besides being my absolute favorite pose, Reclining Goddess gently opens the heart, hips, and calms the central nervous system. To get into it, lay on your back, and bring the soles of the feet together. Allow your knees to fall open to the ground, so that your legs form a diamond shape. Your feet should be far away from the body. Relax the hands on the belly, on your thighs, or on your mat close to your hips.
Supported Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana): An intermediate to advanced pose shown above, if done safely, you will feel a nice stretch in your back and neck. Laying down, you’ll tuck your shoulder blades under you, and lift your legs straight up. Next, lift your hips up and use your hands to lift and support your lower back. Your elbows will be bent and resting on the mat, so that you are supporting your back with a solid foundation. Your legs should be raised high in the air, feet over the hips. Do this after core poses, as it releases stress and is highly stimulating (in a gentle way) to your thyroid and abdominal muscles.
Locust (Salabhasana): Also a nice follow up to abdominal centered poses, Locust strengthens the opposite side of your spine – the back. Do this pose with just your arms after a strong core practice, and enjoy both a strong front and back body.
Until next time, yogi darlings! If you have any yoga related questions, be sure to comment, below or on Facebook or tweet @LitDarling!