I touch other people’s sweat for a living.
I walk in it—I sometimes lie down in it.
And even though I compulsively wash my hands and feet, when a student comes to my yoga class sick, there is a risk that I and my other students will catch whatever it is they have.
Many people exercise ill hoping to “sweat it out”, but this is a myth, an old wive’s tale.
You cannot sweat out an illness.
In fact, overly exerting yourself while your body is trying to heal may make your condition worse or last longer; especially in the beginning stages of the flu or a cold (which is also when people are most contagious).
The first tenet of yoga is ahimsa, translating to non-violence to all beings. When a person comes to yoga class unwell, they are not only putting other people in danger, they are mistreating themselves.
In today’s world of constant connectivity time off seems like the last thing one can afford to take. However, if you don’t slow down when getting sick, your body will find a way to force you to and you may end up worse than had you listened to the signs in the first place.
Rest is nature’s best cure and yoga can actually be preventative medicine.
To begin, practicing yoga lowers cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and one of its primary functions is to lower the immune system and other bodily functions considered non-essential in a danger situation.
Digestion slows and sometimes stops, as blood rushes toward the limbs better enabling the body to fight or to flee. Heart rate and blood pressure increase placing excess strain on the heart. Cell repair and growth are both stunted.
The human body has not evolved quite as rapidly as civilization and while we may not be running from saber tooth tigers, when the body is in distress it still acts as if we are.
Because most of us live in a constant state of stress these days, our bodies continually respond in this way.
Luckily, the practice of yoga, especially slower flow and restorative classes, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous, commonly called our “rest and digest” function. This is basically the opposite of “fight or flight”. When the body is in this mode, blood returns to the major organs, digestion resumes, and heart rate and blood pressure slow. Fertility and immunity are also restored.
So as we approach the winter months, begin taking extra good care of yourself now. Maintain a regular yoga practice, eat food high in prana (life force) like fruits and vegetables, and sleep your minimum 6-8 hours.
And if you begin to feel the onset of a flu or cold, practice ahimsa. Slow down and allow your body time to properly rest and heal. You will be back on that mat before you know it.
Through our yoga practice we learn to love ourselves.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise