Practicing When We Are Unwell
Should we get on our mat even when we’re not well? I believe, and have been told by my teachers, that the answer is yes.
First, let’s talk about the exceptions. If you are so injured or sick that you cannot safely get out of bed, then you should stay there! Please keep in mind that I’m talking about mild to moderate afflictions like the common cold or a mild sprain, not serious ones like influenza or massive injuries. And of course, you should consult your doctor, teacher, and common sense when deciding if you’re healthy enough to practice.
But back to the point.
As I see it, there are at least two very good reasons to practice through illness or injury:
The first reason is that one of my patterns of behavior is laziness. I think this is true for many people. My tendency is to make excuses to avoid doing hard things. Pretty much everyday, my mind looks for a reason to play hooky from my duties, asana practice included. "Oh, a sore throat? An achey knee? Better sit this one out!" The more often I give in to that temptation, the stronger that tendency becomes. To free myself from this samskara, I have to diligently work to build grit and perseverance, and asana practice is a perfect vehicle for doing so. I must practice through sickness to strengthen the qualities in myself that I wish to grow and to combat the ones that do not serve me.
The second reason to practice when you're sick or hurt is that, when done appropriately, it is therapeutic. Trust me, I’m not churning out a ninety minute body-slamming asana practice regardless of how I feel. I listen to my body and take it as easy as I need to. When I'm not feeling well, I tone down or completely remove the intensity from my practice. I emphasize softness and gentle movement. For my body, light practice is just what I need to feel a little bit better. It relieves stiffness, improves circulation, helps clear sinuses, and perhaps most importantly, lifts my spirits a bit! For injuries, I avoid anything that causes pain and work to strengthen the weaknesses that may have led to the injury in the first place. Done intelligently, asana practice can help our bodies heal more quickly, comfortably, and completely.
In my humble opinion, being sick or injured is not a good enough reason to avoid your mat. I first learned this from my teacher Kino MacGregor, and honestly I thought she was nuts for saying it. But, for once, I was a good student and took her advice. As it turns out, my personal experience has proven her right. You really should practice everyday that you are physically able. Be determined, yet wise. Be gentle, yet steadfast. Every time we fulfill our commitment to practice, we take a step further down the path of yoga.