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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tip of the Week: Sore Legs After Starting Yoga

Yoga poses can challenge your leg muscles. Photo Credit Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

Starting a yoga practice can give you a discipline for increasing your flexibility, mindfulness, balance and endurance. It's natural to experience sore legs after yoga, particularly when you're learning new exercises. Yoga combines stretching and strength training; many yoga poses involve supporting your body weight with your legs. This aspect of yoga practice strengthens your leg muscles. Warming up, cooling down and caring for your sore muscles can reduce leg soreness.

Leg Muscle Workout

Increasing the workload on your leg muscles results in microscopic tears. The healing process, called muscle recovery, causes muscles to grow and become stronger. Muscles repair themselves between workouts. If you're new to yoga and performing exercises daily, you might need to rest for a day between yoga sessions to allow time for recovery. Stretching farther than your body is ready to stretch also causes soreness. Many yoga poses call for stretching the body in unaccustomed ways. Using your muscles differently and increasing your range of motion can put strain on ligaments and joints in addition to causing muscle soreness.

The Good News

Muscle soreness from starting yoga is generally a temporary and harmless condition. As long as you don't push yourself too hard or stretch beyond the point that's a slight challenge, you can continue to make progress. The soreness is a sign that you're becoming stronger and more flexible. People older than 40 who practiced yoga for more than five years had significantly lower blood pressure and resting heart rates compared to a sedentary control group, according to research published in 2003 in the "Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology." Sore legs at the start of a yoga practice is a small price to pay for significant long term health benefits.

Minimize Muscle Soreness

Sore leg muscles aren't a badge of honor so minimize the discomfort by smart practices. Warming up by walking or similar light cardiovascular exercise prepares your body for exercise. A warmup pumps blood to your muscles and increases your heart rate. Warming up before every yoga session can help reduce the risk of injury. Paying attention to your body as you practice yoga helps you keep from overstretching, or challenging your legs too much, too soon. Many classes and DVDs offer modified poses for beginners. A yoga teacher can recommend exercises to prepare you for any pose that's too advanced for you. Yoga improves your posture and alignment; as you continue your practice, you'll experience less soreness.

Soothing Soreness

Applying ice packs to your sore legs for the first two days helps to relieve the muscle soreness. After the first 48 hours, soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salts helps ease any remaining soreness. Applying arnica, a plant-based remedy for muscle soreness, can help, according to "Yoga Journal" magazine, which also suggests Tiger Balm, a traditional Chinese remedy in salve form. Tiger balm creates a strong, warm sensation and helps to relieve muscle pain. Talk to your doctor if there's acute or persistent pain — and get her approval before using any herbal remedy to self-treat any condition.

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