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Doing #yogaeverydamnday may sound like the most dedicated approach to your practice, but there are times when it’s actually better to skip it.
“Yoga is an ancient healing art that is lived as a journey on and off the mat,” says Erika Maxie, yoga instructor and founder of Core Fitness in Atlanta. Just because you don’t make it to your mat today doesn’t mean you aren’t honoring your commitment to the practice. If you are too tired or unwell, skipping your asana may be a form of ahimsa—non-harming.
When should you take a pass? Here are some situations to consider.
When you’re sick
When you’re feeling under the weather, deciding whether to keep or cancel your yoga plans depends on whether your symptoms are above the neck or below. If you have a runny nose or a mild sore throat, unfurl your mat, but modify your practice (at home, of course), according to advice from the Mayo Clinic. But watch out for symptoms that occur below the neck—think fever, muscle aches, stomachache, cough or chest congestion. They may be a signal to cancel your practice and rest.
When you’re sore
Feeling achy a day or two after a vigorous workout is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). A little twinge is normal, but when you can barely get out of bed, your body needs a break. Research published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that if you’re super sore, you should reduce the intensity and duration of your practice for a day or two. Overloading muscles that have already been maxed out can lead to injuries and even lasting damage. In fact, research found that an ultrasound couldn’t distinguish between DOMS and a grade 1 strain. So it makes sense that trying to power flow with extremely sore muscles isn’t the healthiest choice.
When you’re stressed
When you’re tense or overwhelmed mentally or physically, your body releases cortisol, the stress hormone. Over time, this repeated surge of cortisol can lead to health problems like headaches, digestion problems, and heart disease. While a low-intensity practice can help bring cortisol levels down, one study shows that high-intensity workouts may increase cortisol levels. So strenuous exercise on top of severe emotional or physical stress could leave you feeling even more tense. Maxie suggests skipping your usual practice and focus on the benefits of mindfulness through breathwork, mediation, and practicing the yamas and niyamas. If you want to spend time on the mat, practicing yin or restorative yoga may be better than power flow.
When you’re injured
If you notice sudden or persistent pain in a specific part of your body—say, your shoulder hurts or your ankle swells after every yoga class—skip your practice and see your doctor. These are signals that something is off physically. When injuries like tendonitis or muscle strains are repeated, you can end up with permanent damage.
“This can be a time to focus on restorative poses and poses outside of your normal routine while you allow injured body parts to rest and heal,” says Debra Bennett, a certified mind/body personal trainer and wellness coach. “Focusing on breathing practices and pranayama are also positive ways to keep the commitment to your practice when taking a break from active asanas.”
When you haven’t slept
If you feel like you’re moving through quicksand to drag yourself to your mat, extra sleep may be more beneficial than your practice. Some research suggests that if you’re already exhausted, exercise is unproductive. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says if you’re not getting at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep or you’re feeling exhausted (not just tired, but zombie-like), it’s best to delay vigorous exercise until you’re rested. On the other hand, practicing restful poses like Balasana (Child’s Pose), Uttanasana (Forward Fold), or Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose) can help you relax for better rest.
When it comes to deciding whether to hit the mat or skip it, Erika Maxie says, “Embrace your unique transitions and choose what works best for you.”