Practicing Yoga While Sick

Can I practice when I’m sick?

It’s a question we get at the studio often. As with most yoga-related questions, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

First and foremost, if you have something contagious, please stay home and keep it to yourself. We once had a student undergoing treatment for a persistent MRSA infection practicing at the studio for four months without telling us.

Lucky for all who were practicing at that time, our sweat contains powerful antiseptic petides in dermcidin. The best feature of dermcidin is that it attacks the microbes’ cell walls, not something to which a microbe can develop resistance.

Can you guess how many students have contracted MRSA at our studio? You’re right. None. The sweat-effect is amazing and powerful. With that said, the chance of transferring a few microbes on the door handle as you leave just isn’t worth the risk.

As a general rule, we say, “From the neck up, come to class. From the neck down, stay home.”

If your symptoms are sneezing, post-nasal drip, cough, even a head ache, you should be okay to take class. If your symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, body aches, and chills, you’re probably better off in bed. Or at your doc’s office.

Why you should practice.

  • Circulation: The “miracle cure” of yoga lies in it’s direct stimulation of the circulatory system. Through tourniquet-like compression and release of tissues in the body, we encourage and improve the movement of blood through the body, helping the human body’s systems to do their jobs better. Chronic stress and lack of movement can limit circulation to “non-essential” systems like the digestive, immune, endocrine, and reproductive systems. Yoga helps to restore circulation to better-than-normal levels. This improves your ability to heal.
  • Lymph: One of our most important components of the immune system doesn’t have it’s own pumping mechanism. Our lymph nodes circulate lymph and white blood cells, filter invading microbes and mutant cells, and remove edema from the body. This powerful system only works if you move your body. Through postures that flex and extend the trunk and the hips, we directly palpate the lymph nodes and facilitate the movement of lymph throughout out the body. The great news is that this movement doesn’t need to be intense or strenuous to get the desired effect. Gentle movement is enough to produce benefits.
  • Breathing: Breathing exercises also have positive effect on the lymph nodes. Simple abdominal breaths where the belly rises and falls can move four times more lymph than chest breathing. Most common colds and flus also include symptoms that restrict the breathing or allow mucus to settle in the chest. The deep and rhythmic breathing practiced in a yoga class can help to keep the bronchi clear. Don’t be surprised if breathing exercises make you cough. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Decongesting: Chronic congestion can lead to ear or sinus infection. Postures that invert the head can help to drain the sinuses and eustachian tubes. Many students find postures like Rabbit or Separate-leg stretching cause a sense of clearing. For students with an active sinus infection, theses poses might be torture. The moist, humid air of a hot yoga class is the only place many students recovering from a cold or the flu can actually breathe for a few minutes a day.
  • Mood: Being ill, especially chronic illness, can do a number on your mood and outlook. Yoga has been shown to improve levels of the “happy hormones” like dopamine, GABA, serotonin, and oxytocin in practitioners. A preliminary study at Mass General in Boston shows a direct negative correlation between numbers of classes taken and reduction in depression symptoms. Not only will your hormones get a boost, you’ll get out of the house and be around a community of healthy people who can offer you emotional support and even a few laughs during your recovery.

Why you should stay home.

While we appreciate the concept of sharing-is-caring, when it comes to disease, we don’t buy it. If you have something contagious, please don’t share it with your yoga friends. Just like in school, if you’ve vomited in the last 24 hours, stay home and wash your hands a lot. Meningitis, MRSA, lice, TB, flu, strep, and stomach bugs are just a few of the highly contagious diseases you should enforce a self-quarantine over.

Next, we get into the questions. Are you a chronically over-scheduled person? Are you over-worked, under-slept, and over-trained? For some of us, the most compassionate thing we can do for self-care is to stay home, make a cup of tea, and binge watch Shameless on Netflix.

What about chronic illness and fatigue?

You sweet, suffering yogi. You have all of my compassion. I know how difficult it is to suffer day-after-day with no end in sight. Living with chronic disease and adapting your life to this “new normal” while simultaneous searching for answers and cures is exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In my experience both as a teacher of students with chronic illness and as a patient suffering from chronic fatigue, I don’t think you can afford to cut yoga out of your self-care routine just because it makes you tired and is hard.

At the request of my doctor, I cut yoga out of my life for one week during my recovery. I rested, ate well, walked, and took my supplements. Each day, I felt worse than the last. It was a wonderful wake-up call for me. When I returned to class, I didn’t feel good or strong. I wasn’t even able to string more than two poses together in a row. After class, I didn’t get the yoga high I was used to, but I didn’t feel as terrible as when I didn’t have yoga in my life.

Practicing yoga with a chronic illness requires a radical shift in how you view yourself and your practice. Yoga is a healing modality. Yoga has the ability to support your body, your mind, and your healing. It also has the power to deplete and exhaust you. The difference is in how you approach your practice.

The beauty of yoga is that you can tailor each class to your exact abilities on that day.

The first phase in my healing was the mental shift. It took a long time and a lot of work to ignore the voice in my head who said, “It doesn’t matter how you feel. Keep going.” That powerful voice of perseverance that had helped me through so many challenging times in my life, was now destroying my health. If I pushed too hard in class, I couldn’t do anything for the rest of the day. I’d get shaky and my teeth ached.

I learned to treat yoga as a “get to” (not a “have to”) and class-after-class struggled to let go of my long-held view of myself as someone who is strong, tough, and steady. I learned to use yoga as my therapy and to tread gently with my tenuous health and strength.

I heard from many specialists, loved ones, teachers, and friends during my recovery that maybe I should stop practicing Hot Yoga. I heard that Bikram Yoga was too Yang, too Pitta, too much internal fire. People told me it was a depleting practice.

Trying not to be pig-headed, I tried heeding their advice, but my experience did not match their hypotheses (which, I must add, were based on conjecture, not science). Luckily for me, at the same time I was suffering from Post-Viral Syndrome and heart damage, I also had two students with serious illnesses practicing by my side. One woman suffered from Chronic Fatigue linked to Chronic Lyme and another woman suffered from Adrenal Fatigue after major life stressors and breast cancer treatment.

We were all told the same things. Each of our doctors told us to stop practicing Hot Yoga. As each of us tried limiting our practice or cutting it out all together, we each returned to the hot room feeling no better and looking for answers. Not-practicing didn’t heal any of us. It didn’t calm our inner fire. It didn’t balance our Yang and promote healing. It just took away our yoga. I took strength from those women, my compadres in suffering, to continue on the path that felt right for me despite the unfounded advice of our physicians.

A good first step for yogis with chronic disease, chronic fatigue, lyme, adrenal fatigue and the like is to start by practicing only one set of each posture. For Type-A yogis, this will not be easy, so you’ll need to solicit help from your teachers. My teacher (husband) used to stop the class until I sat down. That was the kind of loving-firmness I needed to take my health seriously. It only took holding back the class twice for me to self-regulate.

When you reflect back on all of the “reasons to practice” when you’re sick above, they’re all aspects of healing that you need during chronic illness. You simply must be more gentle, kind, and less demanding of yourself. There is no way to bully your way through chronic illness.

You can use yoga as a tool in your compassionate healing.

Sara Toe Street



Sara Curry is the owner of a Bikram Yoga studio in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She has been teaching yoga since 2003 after her recovery from herniated discs ignited a desire to share the healing power of yoga with others. She is also Vice President of Seacoast Area Teachers of Yoga in Action, a local non-profit making yoga accessible to at-risk and high-needs populations on the Seacoast of NH and ME.


On 15 Years…

Fifteen years ago today, the first hot, therapeutic, 26/2 class opened in Portsmouth at 9 am. Over 20,000 classes and tens of thousands of students later, the greatest compliment is that many of the students who practiced that first week in 2002 are still with the studio today.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had an out-pouring of thanks and gratitude in cards and emails from students. You’ve shared your stories and your thanks for our time, our teachers, and our community. When the first card came in, I told Nel I didn’t know if I could survive two whole weeks with my heart on the outside every day.

Years ago, Ariel and Laura and I sat together in a teachers’ meeting and talked about creating community. In what type of place did we want to work and practice? What were the qualities of a yoga community that we admired? What kind of teachers did we want to make of ourselves?

At that meeting, all of the dreams and hopes and intentions we set were YOU. When I look around the studio before, after, and during class, all I see is everything we ever dreamed we could create together. You are my dreams come true.

We wanted to create a place where everyone felt safe to be themselves. A place where you were met each day with a smiling face. A place where you could come on your best day and your worst. Where you could practice the morning of your wedding and the day after your sister died. A place where sweat, tears, and laughter all belonged in the same room. A place where you could quietly do your practice or share your stories with others. A place where we lift each other up. A place we learn over and over again that we are all the same on the inside.

I had one of my most profound experiences of that unity, that Namaste, in a music class a few months ago during the chorus of Guns ‘n Roses, Livin’ on a Prayer. In the class were students from age 16 to 71, of all different political affiliations and religions, with massive income disparity and differing gender expressions and identities, of all different phases of health and wellness. In that room was everything that could divide us outside these hot room walls, but instead, 53 voices swelled in song together, “Oh! We’re halfway there. Oh-oh! Livin’ on a prayer. Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear.” G-N-F-N-R. Bringing people together since 1986.

In the beginning, Laura and Ariel and I had to do the work of establishing that community ourselves. With each new student, we made sure they were okay. Gave them the low-down on acclimating to the heat and where to buy a cheap yoga mat. We talked to them about hydration and emotions coming up during camel.

One day, as I sat at the front desk at the old studio, I heard Dede’s voice over the top of the ceiling-less women’s room walls talking a new student through what she’d just experienced in class. “I felt like that, too, my first class! What you’ll need to do today is be sure to hydrate and if you wake up sore tomorrow, come to class. Don’t take a day off. You’ll feel so much better…” Holy crap. Our community was starting to wrap new students in welcome like we’d done for them. When you treat people with kindness and compassion, it ripples far beyond the initial contact.

Jaylon and I are overwhelmed by the out-pouring of love and gratitude from everyone this month, each week, last night. We want to be sure that we are clear on one point. We work our asses off. We love this community. It is our studio, our home, our life’s work, our passion. We give a lot of ourselves so that we can make this community a place you want to return to day after day, but none of that would matter if it weren’t for every single face that walks through that door. Every single person in this community is what makes it special. We are not the only ones working our asses off. Our effort is a reflection of yours.

I made me so proud to see the reception for each of our teachers at the celebration class when they stood to speak. In case you weren’t sure, they love their jobs and they love you guys. They think about you after class and do research on your weird knee problem and they notice when you’re having a rough day. They take their commitment to their work far beyond expectations. Of the dozens of teachers who have graced this podium, I am proud to call each one my colleague, my teacher, my peer, and my friend. From long-lost faces like Amy, Glenn, and Kirk to our newest additions of Lunny, Kat, and Todd.

We’ve reminisced a lot lately about the old days and the first students to practice here. My first class at BYP, I remember Nicole calling out, “Glicka, lock your knee!” Jonny P steaming carpets. Jamie taking pictures. Standing on Heather’s hips during camel. Taking class with Molly, Kristen, Monique, Amy, Cory, Teri, Jenn, Tim, Bill, Lolo, Spidey, Michelle, Maeghan, Julie, Norm, and Weezie. It’s amazing to have Wanda back after 12 years and that Chris came back after leaving for back surgery. We have spent so much time together through sweat, tears, middle fingers, and laughs. We have built a history that has bonded us as a community. We have lost members of our community and we have mourned together.

Those veteran yogis have built the foundation and the web that welcomes every new face into the family. I can’t list all of your names because there are literally thousands of people who have made an impact on this community. From Dick, Glenn, and Jack-in-the-back to Rachel, Jes, and Ainsley.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I thought, “How can I love this child as much as I love Bella?” My heart was already full of that sweet, little girl. When Judah was born (the day after that headstand picture), I realized how as my heart grew bigger to wrap him inside.

That’s how our community works. As each new student joins us, the community grows bigger to wrap them inside. We send each new student a postcard that says, “Welcome to the family!” and we mean it. Like it or lump it, you’re a part of our yoga family now. Life and years may carry you to and from the hot room, but we’ll always be here for you, whatever state you return in, to welcome you with sweaty arms.

Last night, as we celebrated with Nel’s Greatest Party Ever, we did all of the things. We laughed. We cried. We danced. We reminisced. We supported each other. We did the ultimate act of public intimacy: sweat-soaked, half-naked hugging.

As Elissa started to sing, and then Stef, and then Chris, my heart grew three sizes like the Grinch. If we can sing together. If we can cry together. If we can sweat together, then goddamn it, we can change the world together.

I have one request for you this week. As you go about your day and your week, is there any time you can bring a piece of this feeling to someone outside the studio? That your presence in their day made it the tiniest bit better? That they aren’t alone in this struggle called life?

I promise to do my part.



June “Haps”

Wow- Is it already July??

As another month begins let’s take a moment to reflect back and enjoy some of our favorite memories from June!

First off… How fun was the music class we had! To kick off the month we had a Queer Culture Music Class- and it was rocking. With everyone dressed to the 9’s in pride apparel could imagine a better way to celebrate Pride Month?? To top it all off nearly $500 was raised!


While we are on the topic here are a few great photos we had from the pride parade.


We also kicked off a great event in June- #WHYYOGA

We wanted to hear it- What gets you to the mat??

All month we had posts flying in– all little jigsaw pieces fitting together to complete the puzzle of Bikram yoga. Not only did we hear great individual stories, but the posts were refreshing and great motivational boosters.

If you want to get sucked into Instagram and check out some of the posts, just search the #whyyoga hashtag.. – You’ve been warned once you start looking you might lose an hour.. Or two haha

We also released some BIG NEWS!!!!

This September we will be launching Commit to 90 which is a three-month challenge designed to help you make permanent changes in your life to heal injuries, manage chronic disease, improve your relationship with food, and address issues that prevent you from being your happiest, healthiest self.

We are counting down the days and can’t wait to embark on a new journey with our students! Want to learn more about it? Sign up? Have questions?  Look no further


What to look forward to in JULY!!!

POM-Spine Twisting

Music Class- Techno-glowga (going to be so cool- don’t miss your chance to sign up today!)