With low-impact movements, stretches, and periods of rest and mindfulness, yoga appears to be an easy and gentle exercise. However, many people are surprised to experience pain, discomfort, or soreness during or after a yoga class.
Yoga stretches the body in unfamiliar ways and engages muscles that aren’t accessed every day. That’s why even people who exercise regularly and are otherwise fit may feel sore from yoga.
Soreness During Yoga Class
Yoga involves poses that double as deep stretches. If you are new to yoga or haven’t practiced in a while, you may feel muscles you didn’t know you had in poses that look easy.
Yoga can be more challenging than you’d expect. Focusing on your breath can help you maintain difficult poses, but if you struggle, your teacher can offer modified postures.
In every pose, only go as far as your body feels comfortable. If you start to feel any pain or discomfort that is hard to breathe through, go back to a neutral pose.
With time and regular practice, each class should get easier. If you experience lasting or debilitating pain during yoga, see your doctor, who may recommend a physical therapist.
Once the source of the pain is treated, return to yoga. In fact, the American College of Physicians recommends yoga as a first-line treatment for chronic back pain,1 and additional studies show yoga is an effective non-drug treatment for short-term and intermediate-term pain relief.2 3
Many people come to yoga expecting to feel great afterward. But when you are first starting out, you’re likely to experience soreness in the hours—and possibly days—afterward.
Like any exercise, holding yoga poses causes muscle contractions that result in microscopic tears to the tissue. This prompts the body’s inflammatory response, expanding blood vessels to allow more healing blood to flow to the injured tissue. As the body repairs itself, the muscles, tendons, and fascia will grow stronger. If you keep practicing yoga, you will start to feel the benefits.
Relieve Yoga Soreness
The most common type of soreness after a yoga workout is known as delayed-onset muscle soreness. This typically occurs 12 to 48 hours after exercising. This soreness usually goes away on its own, but there are a few strategies you can use to speed healing and reduce pain.
When you sleep, your body repairs damaged tissues, so resting after yoga will help you feel better sooner. Try to get a full eight hours of sleep a night and consider taking a nap after class to give your body time to heal.
If you planned on doing yoga every day or several times a week, it may be wise to hold off for two or three days before your next workout or try a gentler form of yoga before taking another strenuous class. Try to avoid pushing through the pain in workouts, and instead give your tissues time to recover.
Keeping the body hydrated before and after yoga can help prevent and relieve soreness. Though the National Academies of Sciences suggests that women drink about 2.7 liters of water from all beverage and foods each day and that men get approximately 3.7 liters daily, many fall short of that.4
Drink 8 to 16 ounces of water about an hour before yoga, but not in the 30 minutes leading up to class. After class, continue to drink water to enable your body to flush out metabolic waste and toxins released during your session, which can cause soreness.
Take a Bath
A warm bath or hot tub will ease muscle tension and soreness. Adding Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) to a warm bath may have additional benefits.
Soaking in an Epsom salt bath is one of the most effective ways of absorbing magnesium into your body. Magnesium is an electrolyte that helps ensure proper muscle, nerve, and enzyme function, reduces inflammation, and relieves pain.
Apply Ice or Heat
If the soreness is bothersome or impacting your ability to do daily chores and activities, you may feel better after taking a 20-minute break to ice or heat the area. Heat is typically the go-to remedy for chronic injuries or sore muscles, and many people find using a heating pad or hot-water bottle effective for easing the pain. Moist heat, in particular, is helpful for loosening tight muscles.
Ice is usually recommended for acute injuries, though some people find ice helpful for post-workout soreness as well. Applying ice to an area for a few minutes will prompt what is known as the hunting reaction, which increases blood flow to the area and helps tissue heal.
Some people find ice therapy may increase soreness, however. If you continue to feel pain or the pain increases after a few minutes of icing, switch to using heat.
Always use a cover or towel between your skin and a heating device to avoid burns, and if the therapy feels too hot, add another layer between it and your skin.
Be careful not to apply ice directly on the skin. Use a towel as a barrier to protect your skin from an ice burn.
If the pain is not too great, some light stretching can help reduce stiffness and improve range of motion. Be sure to warm up muscles with another form of gentle exercise, like walking, before you stretch.
Use a Foam Roller
Practicing yoga results in microscopic tears to the muscles, tendons, and fascia. Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release stretching technique that helps reduce muscle tension and promote recovery after an intense workout.
According to a 2015 review of relevant literature, foam rolling may be an effective intervention for post-exercise muscle performance and can also increase range of motion.5
Get a Massage
Getting a massage may also help ease sore muscles after yoga, as rubbing the area will help to bring blood to the tissue. Topical pain relievers, such as the homeopathic remedy arnica, certain essential oils, and drugstore pain creams (e.g., Biofreeze, Bengay, and Icy Hot) can also help you feel better.
Take BCAA Supplements
Many fitness experts recommend branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) for reducing post-workout pain. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and BCAA refers to the chemical structure of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, taking a combination of BCAA and taurine before and after exercise can help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness.6
Researchers founds that taking a combination of 3.2 grams BCAA and 2.0 grams taurine, three times a day, for two weeks before and three days after exercise may to reduce exercise-related muscle damage and soreness. Additionally, eating foods rich in BCAA, such as eggs, meat, and dairy, can help to speed muscle repair to help you feel better faster.
Take Pain Relievers
If the soreness is very bothersome, an over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen), can help reduce inflammation and soreness. People with stomach ulcers, gastric bleeding, liver disorders, or heart disease should discuss the benefits and potential risks of NSAIDs with a health care professional prior to use.7
When to See A Doctor
If you experience sudden and immediate pain during any workout, stop immediately. If the pain does not subside with a few minutes of rest, you may have pulled a muscle and should speak to your healthcare provider or chiropractor. If your post-workout soreness is very painful, prevents you from doing daily activities or progresses to muscle spasms, you should also see your doctor.
A Word From Verywell
If you continue to do yoga consistently, you will likely discover you experience less soreness each time. To maintain your progress, practicing yoga three or more times a week is ideal. While doing yoga once a week or less is still great for relieving stress and clearing your mind, you may feel some degree of soreness afterward.