Tips to make your first Yoga class with a chronic illness a good experience.

Do you long to go jogging/to the gym/play netball/go hiking etc. but find these activities aren’t realistic for you at the moment?  We still need to find ways to move our bodies with a chronic illness and yoga is a gentle way to do this.  If you have the capacity to attend a yoga class I hope the following information will help you feel more ready to try.  Your mind and body benefit in endless ways from getting the blood flowing, the muscles and joints moving, and tuning into your breath.

Like with a lot of new things, the hardest part about starting yoga can be walking into a class for the very first time (or the first time since you’ve been ill).  When you have a chronic illness you may not be sure how your body will respond, or quite what your capacity for exercise is.  Your body may function differently to how it used to, your muscles may be stiff and tight and you may fatigue more quickly.

Part of the philosophy of yoga is to do what is right for your body at the time.  A good teacher will offer modifications for those with particular needs such as if they don’t have the flexibility or strength to do the next pose correctly.  Modifications are also offered to pregnant women as well as those with back problems.  While modifications aren’t typically voiced for those with chronic illness and symptoms like low energy and general aches and pains there is room to work within your boundaries.

It can be a good idea to meet the teacher before your first class in person, or you could email or phone  them.  If you want, you could print out some information for them about how your chronic illness might affect what you can do in class.  At least make some notes so you have decided how you might answer any questions.  You will most likely be asked in any class you try if you have done yoga before and if you have any injuries or things they should know about.

Do your research if you are likely to have some choices about which class you try.  It can be nice to take a friend along and share a smile or a grimace with someone who knows your situation on the next mat.  I go to a great gentle class at my local community center that is held during the day.  Most of the women are middle aged or older and there are also some younger stay at home mums.  There are also classes at the gym nearby that are more vigorous and quite a few other classes that are at night.

Get a feel for what is right for your body.
You will probably need to make choices during class in response to listening to your body and stop and start as you feel you need to that day.  Work out how you can pace yourself through the class so you don’t crash afterwards and so you can make it back to the next weeks class.  This is one of the hardest things to do but is so worthwhile.

Have a think about what things you might find challenging during class and how you might adapt.  Is it exertion? standing for a few minutes at once? balance? strength? Is it being different if you can’t do everything or need to rest? Reframe your thoughts so you can avoid feeling too embarrassed or self-conscious.  Think about why you are going to class and what benefits you hope to get from it.

When there is a repetitive movement, you could stop at 3 repeats and have a breather, if the class is still going after resting join in for a couple more.  I recommend counting what you do especially if it is moving one side at a time, then you can do the same number of repeats on the other side.

Child’s pose (pic below) is great for resting when you need a break. With your head tucked in you can block out the rest of the people in the class a bit and have a breather till you feel ready to join in again.

Sitting cross legged or on your knees to do some poses instead of standing with the rest of the class like arm or neck stretches or eye exercises helps conserve some energy and is especially useful if you have low blood pressure or POTS.

You may find you get sore from yoga like you would with any stretching if your body isn’t used to it.  Really listen to your body and don’t push it too hard so you can minimise the soreness.  Don’t do anything that hurts, you don’t want to injure yourself.

If the floor is hard, take an extra blanket to lay over your mat, move it off when you are standing or need good grip.  Yoga classes are often one hour with the last 10 minutes of relaxation.  If your class does relaxation or meditation sitting up you could organise to lay down on your mat instead.

Clothing Tips
-Wear comfortable clothes and layers that you are happy to take off as you warm up.
-Don’t feel you have to get a brand new outfit or official active wear.
-You can wear the same outfit each time you go to class, make it your uniform.
-Put some clothing layers back on as the class winds down and your body begins to cool.
-Be wary of leggings that go see-through when they stretch- think downward facing dog with your undies on show.  Hold your leggings up to the light and stretch them to check or wear ‘sensible’ undies.
-Be aware of the little zip pockets at the lower back of many gym pants, they aren’t usually very comfortable to lay on in class.
-take your socks off standing up or when they could cause you to slip.

Yoga doesn’t need to look Instagram worthy.  Be proud for showing up, for achieving something physical, for moving your body- stretching, strengthening, and relaxing.  Maybe you will make connections with others and feel like you belong to a group of like-minded people.

I’d love to hear your experiences with yoga and how you go if you take the plunge and go to your first class.  Comment below or get in touch via the contact page.

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2 Replies to “Tips to make your first Yoga class with a chronic illness a good experience.”

  1. Great post, thanks. I actually started yoga after I was sick, I found a restorative class specifically for chronic illness which was great at teaching me to really listen to my body. I can’t go to that class now, but felt confident to do a yoga Nidra class and restorative class nearby. I’m often lying down while others are doing standing poses but both classes are predominantly lying down anyway.

    1. Thanks Em,
      Lovely you have had some good experiences with yoga since you have had a chronic illness. Learning to listen to your body with organised classes is a really big hurdle to overcome, glad you have had the chance to develop this and feel able to lay down when you need to. xx

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