Yoga When You’re Sick: Stretches and Recovery Guide

Dean PohlmanBlogs, From Dean, Workouts, Lifestyle & Wellness1 Comment

yoga when you're sick

Being sick sucks, but it doesn’t mean you have to avoid yoga or exercise altogether. In fact, there are times that a light stretching routine can help you recover from illness faster, keep your body free of aches & pains, and even sleep better.

In the blog, I’ll cover when you shouldn’t exercise, when you should, and which postures are best so that you don’t feel worse. Even if you aren’t sick, these postures are great for winding down from the day, as well!

Here’s what we’ll cover:


Are You Too Sick To Exercise?

A consistent workout routine is important to building a strong and mobile body, but sometimes life has other plans and you get sick. It’s important to listen to your body and understand when you can continue to lightly exercise and when you should stay in bed. 

How can you decide whether or not you’re up for exercise? Here are some things to pay attention to:

  1. Symptoms above the head – congestion, runny nose, sneeze, dry cough
  2. Wet / Chest Cough
  3. Body aches.
  4. Motivation Levels
  5. Energy Level
  6. Mental State – ability to focus

when to do yoga when you're sick

If you’re feeling under the weather, but not terrible.

If you just have a light cold or are just a bit congested then it’s safe to have a light workout or do a restorative yoga routine. Essentially if the symptoms of your sickness are above the neck, then it’s still okay to do a light yoga flow, but it’s not okay to do an intense weighting training session. Even though you don’t feel awful it’s still wise to get the rest you need to recover quickly.

Feeling worse? Better skip it.

On the other hand, if you have the flu, are running a fever, or have body aches, it would be wise to skip your normal workout. Working out in this state won’t just feel awful, it’ll be putting a tax on your body — prolonging your illness. Having the “sweat it out” mentally here would be more harmful than beneficial for you in this case.

Essentially, if the symptoms of your sickness are below the neck, the only reason I would recommend doing some exercise is to help facilitate a nap. Sleeping is the best way to get better, and even taking a light walk or doing some easy stretching can be enough to help knock you out and into a restorative rest. 

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My 8 Go-To Stretches When I’m Sick

Remember, if you’re feeling light-headed or nauseous, stop what you’re doing! These stretches and poses are easier than many poses found in yoga, but it all depends on your fitness level and how sick you are. The goal is to help you feel better, not make you sicker.

During this time, I would recommend you avoid a typical yoga routine. Almost every yoga video has a downward-facing dog or a forward fold, and any inversion like this is bound to make your head pound.

If you prefer a written description, check these out. Alright, now let’s do those stretches!

Exercise 1: Child’s pose

Child's pose modified - yoga when sick

This is an all-purpose pose meant to stretch, relax, and release tension in your spine, back, and hips. Many people sit all day when they’re ill, so Child’s pose is great for relieving stiffness in the spine.

Technique:

  1. Start on all fours with shoulders over hands and hips over knees. Widen knees slightly wider than hip-width apart, and touch big toes together.
  2. Shift your hips back toward heels as far as you comfortably can. Keep torso as long as possible. 
  3. Keeping hips pushed back, walk your arms forward on the floor to stretch your back, and place hands shoulder-width apart. 
  4. Lightly squeeze arms and shoulders toward one another, and firmly press hands into the floor. 
  5. Tighten lower abs, and draw ribs in. 
  6. Hold the posture, inhaling to expand your chest and fill lungs, and exhaling to tighten abs and draw ribs in.

Pro Tip: The position can be modified with blocks to bring the ground closer to you.

Exercise 2: Cat/Cow

Cat/Cow

This slow gentle movement from an arched to rounded spine is one of the best exercises you can do for your back. Use this yoga pose to mobilize your spine, release kinks or stiffness in your back, and help your back feel better as you recover from illness.

Technique:

  1. Start on all fours with shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. (Toes can be tucked or untucked.) 
  2. Position knees and ankles parallel to each other, hip-width apart.
  3. Form an L-shape with your index fingers and thumbs.

Cow: 

Cat/Cow

  1. Inhale as you arch your spine, pulling your chest forward and lifting your tailbone toward the ceiling. 
  2. Lengthen the front side of your torso, and maintain length in your mid- and upper spine. 

Cat:

  1. Exhale as you round your spine, pulling your forehead toward your hips.
  2. Press down through your hands to lift the upper back toward the ceiling. 
  3. Tuck your chin to your chest. 
  4. This is one rep. Continue to alternate slowly from Cat to Cow, inhaling as you move into the full extension of Cow, and exhaling as you move into the full flexion of Cat. 
  5. Lengthen each breath as much as possible.

Pro Tip: Lightly squeeze legs toward one another to keep your core engaged and protect the spine.

Exercise 3: Lizard

Lizard pose

You’re probably sitting a lot when you’re sick, so this pose aims to open up the hips, release tension in your back, and decrease soreness in the lower body to reverse the negative effects of prolonged sitting.
Technique:

  1. Start in Plank with your shoulders over your wrists and your core engaged. Form a straight line from head to heels.
  2. Step your left foot to the outside of your left hand. Align left knee over the ankle. 
  3. Keep core engaged and hips level. If this movement from plank is difficult, rest your knees on the floor, then step the foot up.
  4. Lower your right knee to the floor and untuck your toes. 
  5. Shift left foot forward and to the left a few inches until you feel a deep stretch in the right hip. 
  6. Inch your right foot back to extend the right leg as far as you are able. 
  7. Lift your chest. Maintain a flat or slightly arched back. 
  8. Hold the posture, inhaling as you lengthen and lift the spine, and exhaling as you sink hips deeper. 
  9. Repeat on the other side.

Pro Tip: The position can be modified with blocks to bring the ground closer to you.

Exercise 4: Reclined Twist

Reclined twist

Great for opening up your lower-back. It’s a basic yoga twist that is essential in keeping your back happy, since you’re mostly laying down or sitting when sick. 
Technique:

  1. Lie on your back. 
  2. Lift your knees directly over your hips. Bend your knees and relax your legs. 
  3. Extend arms directly out to the sides with palms facing the ceiling.
  4. Lower your legs to the left, keeping the legs stacked. 
  5. Place left hand on the right knee. Use your core to twist, and pull your ribcage toward your core to deepen the stretch in your back. 
  6. Press the crown of your head away from your shoulders, and turn to face the right. 
  7. Hold the posture, inhaling as you maintain your position, and exhaling as you squeeze your core and deepen the twist. 
  8. Repeat on the other side.

Exercise 5: Bridge

Bridge pose

We don’t want to do too many backbends, but I put this in here to help you stretch your hips & chest, activate the muscles in your core and back, and help you breathe more deeply. Perfect for restoring balance to the spine after prolonged sitting.
Technique:

  1. Lie on your back and rest your arms at your sides, palms facing up. 
  2. Bend your knees and plant your feet hip-width distance apart, no more than a few inches away from glutes. 
  3. Tighten abs and engage core as you prepare to lift your hips.
  4. On an exhale, lift your hips slowly but firmly away from the floor. 
  5. Squeeze the hips, glutes, and core to form a straight line from shoulders to knees.
  6. Reach your tailbone toward your knees to lengthen the spine. 
  7. Hold the posture, inhaling as you lift your hips higher, and exhaling as you tighten your core.

Pro tip: It can be modified with a block.

Exercise 6: Happy Baby

Happy baby

This is a great stretch for your groin to help relieve lower-back pain. This posture is also perfect for when you want to move but don’t feel like exercising — yoga when sick.
Technique:

  1. Lie on your back. 
  2. Grab the outside of your left foot with your left hand, resting your elbow inside the knee.
  3. Grab the outside of your right foot with your right hand, resting your elbow inside the knee. 
  4. Flex your feet by reaching your toes toward your shins. 
  5. Press your feet up into your hands, and pull your feet toward the floor with your hands, creating opposing forces to deepen the stretch in your groin. 
  6. Squeeze outer hips to drive knees outward. 
  7. Relax your head, shoulders, and back, slightly tucking chin to keep neck and spine neutral. 
  8. Hold the posture, inhaling to maintain the position, and exhaling to deepen the stretch.

Pro Tip: It can be modified with straps if you can’t reach your toes.

Exercise 7: Reclined Figure 4

Yoga when sick - Reclined figure four

Very simple, relaxing, but effective pose for keeping your hips stretched and your back happy. This one targets your outer hips, which, when tight, can cause major discomfort in your lower-back. Say goodbye to back discomfort with reclined figure 4.
Technique:

  1. Lie on your back. 
  2. Lift your knees directly over your hips, and cross your right ankle over your left thigh to form a figure-4-shape with legs. Relax your arms. 
  3. To protect the right knee, flex your right foot by reaching your toes toward your shin.
  4. Interlace your fingers behind your left thigh. 
  5. Rotate your right hip outward so your inner thigh faces you. 
  6. Gently pull the left thigh toward your chest. Squeeze the right glutes for a more active stretch. 
  7. Keep your back, neck, and head relaxed on the floor by tucking your chin and pressing navel toward the floor.
  8. Keep back flat by lightly engaging your core and tucking chin toward your throat. You may only need to pull the thigh in slightly to feel a stretch.
  9.  Hold the posture, inhaling as you maintain the position, and exhaling as you deepen the stretch. 
  10. Repeat on the other side.

Pro Tip: The position can be modified by putting your foot against a wall.

Exercise 8: Reclined Strap Stretches 

These restorative stretches are for releasing tension in the outer and inner thighs. This is essential for anybody who sits for long periods, and it’s quite easy to do when sick.

Technique:

  • Lie on your back. 
  • Position a strap on the arch of one foot, and hold the ends of the strap with both hands. Rest the other leg on the floor.
  • Straighten your strapped foot toward the ceiling until you feel a stretch in the back of the thigh.

Outer-Thigh Strap Stretch:

Reclined outer thigh strap stretch - yoga when sick

  • Flex the strapped foot to feel a stretch in your calves.
  • Slowly pull your strapped leg across your body until you feel a stretch in the outer thigh. Keep the other leg flat on the floor. 
  • Relax your shoulders, head, and back on the floor. Slightly tuck chin to keep neck and spine neutral. 
  • Hold the stretch, inhaling as you maintain the position, and exhaling to deepen the stretch by further straightening leg, or bringing it more across your body.

Inner-Thigh Strap Stretch:

Reclined inner thigh strap stretch - yoga when sick

  • Maintaining tension on the strap, slowly let your strapped leg fall to your outside until you feel a stretch in the inner thigh. 
  • Keep the other leg flat on the floor, actively pressing knee toward the floor. 
  • Relax your shoulders, head, and back on the floor. Slightly tuck chin to keep neck and spine neutral. 
  • Hold the stretch, inhaling as you maintain the position, and exhaling to deepen the stretch by releasing strapped leg closer to the ground or pulling it closer toward your head.

Hamstring Strap Stretch

Hamstring strap stretch - yoga when sick

  • Keeping one leg flat on the floor, straighten the strapped leg. 
  • Reach the toes of your strapped foot toward your shin and press the heel up to stretch your calf. 
  • Engage your inner thighs, and relax your shoulders, head, and back on the floor.
  • Slightly tuck chin to keep neck and spine neutral. 
  • Hold the stretch, inhaling as you maintain the position, and exhaling as you deepen the stretch by pulling the leg closer to your chest. 

And After Your Workout…

It’s important and even more so when you’re sick to stay hydrated when you exercise. The body is already using extra fluids to rid your body of toxins, so sweating during an exercise can lead to dehydration. Therefore, staying hydrated is going to keep you feeling better and stronger to fight off your sickness.

Doing yoga when sick can help you recover, but remember that the most important thing is getting the rest and nutritions that your body needs to make a quick recovery.

Cheers for a speedy recovery,

Dean


Additional Resources

You might be interested in learning more about restorative practices or just learning how to breath deeper. Check out these 3 blogs!

 

About the author, Dean Pohlman, Founder & CEO of Man Flow Yoga, Author of Yoga Fitness for Men, Expert on Yoga Fitness for Men.

Dean Pohlman is an E-RYT 200 certified yoga instructor and the founder of Man Flow Yoga. Dean is widely considered to be an authority on Yoga for Men. He has worked with physical therapists to create yoga programs for back health and spinal recovery. His workouts and programs have been used by professional and collegiate athletes, athletic trainers, and personal trainers; and have been recommended by physical therapists, doctors, chiropractors, and other medical professionals.

Dean is a successfully published author through DK Publishing (Yoga Fitness for Men), selling 35,000 copies worldwide in English, French, and German; in addition to being a co-producer of the Body by Yoga DVD Series, which has sold over 40,000 copies on Amazon since its release in 2016.

Man Flow Yoga has been featured in Muscle & Fitness Magazine, Mens’ Health, The Chicago Sun, New York Magazine, and many more major news media outlets.

Dean And DogFeb 14 is also the day we got our dog, Tron!


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