Monday, May 28, 2012

Do you practice when you are feeling under the weather/feeling unwell?

This morning, I did my usual practice (full primary plus second up to Ardha Matsyendrasana) even though I was feeling under the weather. For the last couple of days, I had been having this flu (runny nose, sore throat, feverish/clammy feeling, intermittent coughing). Yesterday (Sunday) was my designated rest day (I rest on Sundays rather than on Saturdays), so it was a good time to give my body a break from the practice. But this morning, I decided to practice anyway, because I figured that getting the prana flowing would be good for me.

I was right. I am feeling a lot better now. My throat isn't half as sore as it was yesterday, and that clammy/feverish feeling is pretty much gone. I still have a bit of a runny nose, but I think I'll live :-) But because of my less-than-physically-perfect condition, there were some interesting and possibly even comic episodes during practice this morning:

(i) Somewhere in the third Surya B, I started feeling a little winded, probably because I was taking in less oxygen through my partially blocked-up nasal passages. As a result, I had to slow down a little, and try to take longer/deeper breaths.

(ii) A couple of times during primary, I had to get up and blow my nose, as the nasal blockage was making it impossible to breathe.

(iii) In Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana on the first side, bringing the right knee into the left hip crease induced a big coughing fit. I'm not sure why this happened: Maybe whatever caused the cough had something to do with whatever internal organs that are located in the left side of the stomach. In any case, the coughing caused the knee to bounce up and down in half-lotus. Which would probably have looked quite ridiculous, even hilarious if somebody had captured this moment on video. On the other hand, it could also have been dangerous if one were suffering from some kind of knee issue. Fortunately, this was my stronger knee.  

(iv) Despite feeling under the weather, I actually managed to grab both my ankles when I went into Chakrabandhasana/Tiriang Mukhottanasana after the third drop-back. Over the last week or so, I had been making steady progress towards being able to steady my breath in this very challenging backbend, so that I no longer pop back up like a jack-in-the-box. This morning, for instance, I actually succeeded in holding the ankle-grab on both ankles for five breaths before coming back up to standing. However, when I came back up, my nose was so blocked up that I had to stumble across the room to get some tissue paper to clear my nose before going into Paschimottanasana. Trying to walk (even for just a few feet) immediately after coming up from Chakrabandhasana is definitely not fun. 

Other than the above incidents, the rest of the practice went well. Talking about practicing while feeling unwell also brings to mind a few things about this topic that I have learned from my teachers over the years.  Over the last few years, a couple of teachers I have studied with have recommended that one should practice to the best of one's ability even if one is not feeling well/feeling under the weather. This is what these teachers have to say about practicing while not feeling well/feeling under the weather:

(1) David Williams: At a workshop I attended in Gainesville, Florida, a few years ago, Williams recommended that if one is able to get out of bed, one should try to do a few Surya Namaskars (or as many as one's physical condition allows), and then quickly bundle oneself under thick blankets and go into Savasana. The prana flow stimulated by doing however many Suryas one is able to do functions to enable the body to heal faster from illness.

(2) P.J. Heffernan: I studied with P.J. for a year when I lived in Milwaukee. I once asked him about practicing while not feeling well/feeling under the weather. His response was pretty much the same as Williams': Do whatever practice your body allows you to do on that day, and then rest. He also added that the only condition (other than being deathly ill, in which case you would probably have bigger things to worry about anyway) in which he would recommend taking a break from practice is when one is suffering from diarrhea and/or nausea. He did not explain further, but I'm guessing it's because it would be too much of a hassle to have to race to the bathroom every two minutes (not to mention the messy/stinky consequences if one were to, ahem, lose control of mula bandha on the mat...).   

Well, I hope you find these recommendations by Williams and P.J. useful. Actually, come to think of it, this may be a good time to do something I haven't done in a while: Conduct a poll! On the top-right-hand corner of this blog, you will find a poll on this topic. Please take a moment to answer it. And if you have any personal experiences/views to share on this topic, I'll also love to hear from you. 


  1. Great job on Chakra bandhasana. When you're fully healed, you'll probably grab your knees.
    Darby once told me a story about his wife Joanne who came to Guruji after being up all night with a sort of sickness that is common when people go to India. (nausea, diarrhea, etc.) She said, "Guruji, I'm sick. I can't practice." Guruji put is hand on her forehead and said something like "No fever. You do." So I guess it is contraindicated to practice with a fever. Other than that, you gotta show up! Get well soon!

    1. Thanks, Erica :-)

      Interesting. So Guruji actually holds that it is contraindicated to practice with a fever. Or maybe this is only true of Joanne Darby?

  2. I actually had to abort my practice one day not long ago, because of overwhelming dizziness. I came into the shala (I was in America and had the luxury of going to one for a while) and felt a little unbalanced, but thought practice would sort me out. It was really weird, the world spinning, and after I almost fell on my face out of Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana the teacher agreed with me that it just wasn't worth it, so I quickly did some of the basic seated postures and a backbend and called it a day. I guess that's a condition in which it's a bit complicated.

    I'm impressed by your Chakra Bandhasana too - it sounds like one of those things I never think I'll be able to do, although I've been catching glimpses of my heels maybe one day!

    1. Practicing while being so dizzy does sound dangerous indeed. I think it was good that you stopped the practice when you did.

      A few years, I didn't think I would be able to do Chakrabandhasana either. But with constant work, anything is possible :-)

  3. Hey Nobel:) Sorry to hear u were not well:) I asked the very same question to my soul sistah, Kiki Flynn when I was ill and here's her take on it straight from Guruji:) Basically if u have no fever, just a "short practice" only standing, then last 3 finishing, if u have a fever, then no dice, stay in bed , drink broth and water and rest. I followed her advise, it really helped me:) feel better soon:)

    1. Interesting. I have now at least two people reporti8ng that Guruji contraindicates practicing with a fever. Will try to remember this. I think I probably push myself too hard most of the time.

      Great to hear from you again :-)

  4. Hi Nobel,

    Great to hear you are getting the solo chakra bandhasana, what made the difference do you think?

    I am very motivated to practice, as in I am more likely to practice when I shouldn't then vice versa. So if I am sick and I don't feel like practising, I don't. If I feel like practising I do as much as I feel like, if I start thinking that I should do more, I now know that's nonsense and I call it a day. So I don't have any rules about type of illness etc, I just listen to what I feel. It works for me. It took a while to learn this though!

    1. Hello Helen,
      I don't really know what made the difference in my finally starting to get the solo chakra bandhasana. I have this quirky theory that perhaps some of the shit that has been hitting the fan in my life recently has gotten to my back, making it more pliable and backbendy. But you'd probably have to be some kind of an ultra-neo-Freudian (no offense to any Freudians out there) to even think about taking this theory seriously...

      It's great that you seem to have mastered the art of listening to your body so carefully. I'm still working on this...

  5. Hey Nobel!

    I remember David Williams saying that at the workshop in G-ville. I'm definitely in that camp when I'm feeling icky. I'll do whatever practice I can and then rest. It's interesting that a couple people mentioned fevers as that is the only time that I opt out of practice completely. It just feels like heating the body up when I already have a fever is too takes a lot to keep me away from any practice at all though!
    Love the new Mysore rug, btw!! ;-)

    1. Good to hear from you, Christine! Glad to see you didn't get eaten by those zombies :-) (Or is this the zombie version of you commenting?...).

      Interesting about the fever issue. I actually have this quack theory that heating the body up burns up whatever it is that caused the fever, and is thus good for the body. But of course, this is just my own quack theory...