So You Have the Flu. Practice, Anyone?

Rest, drink fluids, take it easy. Standard operating procedure for the inevitable this time of year; it’s conventional wisdom, what your doctor will tell you, and exactly what you feel like doing. Yes, that’s right. You’re getting sick.

Cold, flu, sore throat—what have you—the basic care instructions are the same.

But, what about the practice?

It often doesn’t matter how bad you feel, there’s always that tug of obligation that tells you you’re missing practice.

If I’m not mistaken, conventional wisdom in Ashtanga says you are go for practice, unless you have a fever. Maybe a few teachers can chime in here, but that’s what I was told. And frequently–if by “frequently” you mean “always”–I ignored this advice. I take great swaths of time off when I’m sick. But what I always heard was to avoid practice only when you had a fever.

That can be a very narrow amount of time in the three-week-long-plus-recovery-time span from that crud that’s going around the office lately. When every fiber of your being just wants to curl up around a box of Kleenex until next Tuesday, fever or no: Synchronized breath and movement does not sound appealing at all.

I’ve been in a lot of Mysore rooms this time of year where it’s me, the person next to me, and a pile of wadded up tissues surrounding us like tiny, damp bunnies, going through our practice. Sniff, suppressed sneeze, sniff, pose. I’ve even seen one person stuff tissues up the nose and leave them there, trying to stem the tide. Dude, why are you here?

That, then, has been my criteria for when not to practice: Will my sickened state disturb my fellow practioners? Will I at any point be forced to say, “Sorry!” when one of those stealth sneezes launches over their Manduka? Yes? Home I stay.

A cough plume. Yes, really. Via live

Another contributing factor:  I teach college freshmen. When one of my students shows up for class and looks like one of the walking dead, and is in fact a walking Petri dish, I say go back to your dorm and take your germ friends with you. I profusely thank students who let me know they’re not coming to class because they’re sick. Thank you, I say, on behalf of my fellow mortals and your peers, for staying home. I honor your wisdom and exceptional courtesy.

It may seem to us sometimes that our teachers are indestructible and nearly super-human, but I’ve seen my fair share of them sneaking off to knock back some Emergen-C and blow their noses. They get sick just like we do, but they can’t stay home. So, if I feel I might make my teacher sick, I skip practice.

At the moment, I have a home practice, and also bronchitis. (I’m prone to this problem from a childhood bout with tuberculosis, so I’m a pro—this is, like, the nth time I’ve had it.) Any of the wide variety of winter microbes will give you a similar range of symptoms—stuffy/runny nose, shortness of breath, coughing; in other words, it’s hard to control your breath when you look like a goldfish that just plopped unexpectedly out of the bowl while you practice. Gasping for air isn’t conducive to focus, stability, and lightness. A home practice gives me the luxury of self-pacing, of slow recovery–it’s free, and I can walk out of the room if I can’t take it. But: In general, I wait until I can breathe before I even attempt mat time.

So the emphasis shifts, part of the ebb and flow of Ashtanga over time. I practice, as much as I can, patience. I let my body fight the battle. I breathe. Sure, that makes me cough. But that’s a good thing, too. Coughasana.

When I feel I can, 3 suryanamaskara A and B. Then we’ll take it from there.

Posted by Bobbie


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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

5 thoughts on “So You Have the Flu. Practice, Anyone?”

  1. Personally, when I’m sick, I’ll do a very gentle, non-vinyasa routine. It doesn’t take much energy but getting the kinks out makes me feel much better.

  2. My intention is to always practice (unless fever), but to be kind to myself. Get on the mat and see what I can do, even if it’s just Balasana! However, It usually feels good to move once I start. I don’t think you need to go to a shala and get everyone else sick. You can take practice at home or anywhere. Also, the real practice is self inquiry and awareness, so even if you’re too ill to get on the mat, and you contemplate that – you’re still practicing!

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