My top three tips to reduce soreness after a physical yoga practice (or post-workout in general):
1) Work out regularly / Practice yoga daily
If your legs hurt too much to climb stairs today, you are probably thinking “not fair! too late!” about this tip. The truth sometimes hurts (pun intended), but daily practice (yoga, or activity in general), with variety, is THE Best Way to Prevent soreness. The more regularly you work out in general, the more prepared your body will be to handle the more working out. It’s a catch 22, so if the prospect of being sore stops you from exercising, know that you can start out on the path to a committed, regular exercise routine gently. (A home yoga practice is great for many reasons, my favorite being that it meets you exactly as you are that day.)
2) Stay hydrated and fed (include essential electrolytes)
If you are dehydrated before a workout, your body will have to put forth much more effort to maintain homeostasis, including a steady internal temperature, therefore your movements will be much less efficient. Muscular effort also creates waste products that need to be flushed out via urine or sweat. Electrolytes are something to consider replacing if your workout will last more than one hour or if your nutrition is poor (don’t let it be! lack of protein can also increase muscle soreness, so eat before or after).
3) Keep moving
The worst thing you can do when you feel post-workout soreness come on is to heed the call of the couch…to stop moving completely. Walk as much as possible, stretch, get on a bike and slowly weave around your neighborhood and take the stairs instead of the elevator. Heck, maybe even go for a run. Circulation is the body’s mechanism for transporting healing factors to the parts that need it most.
Like movement, there is a mounting body of evidence that massage helps to increase circulation and transport inflammatory markers out of the muscles and anti-inflammatory goodness back in. You might not be able to drop $60-100 cash (+ don’t forget to tip) for every workout, especially if you follow my above advice about frequency, but you can probably afford a $15 foam roller or a $30 Theracane. These self massage tools are a common part of the home exercise prescriptions I give my physical therapy patients — for good reason. They work.
Finally, know that a little (non-debilitating) soreness is GOOD! It often means you’ve used a muscle in a way it hasn’t been engaged in a while, or that you’ve played at the edge of your capacity. Powerful athletes can be sore after a moderate yoga class, for example. Varying the types of physical activities you do increases your general stability, decreases your risk of injury. So if you don’t get sore at all, amp up the effort. In yoga, that’s stira, the steadiness, like an uphill climb, with the sukha, or sweet ease of knowing when enough is enough.