You are deep in your Eka Pada Rajakapotasana /Pigeon Pose: using your Ujjayi breathing, taking that breath right down into your hips, relaxing your shoulders, releasing your jaw, when all of a sudden your hamstring cramps! It sneaks up on you, but once it’s there, there is no denying it, and usually nothing to do, but come out of the pose. That’s okay, do it! Massage that hamstring, go into a Forward Bend or Wide Leg Forward Bend until it releases. You are definitely not the only yogi to experience some type of cramp during your yoga practice.
The most common places to experience a cramp are in the toes, calf, or hamstring. Some yogis experience abdominal cramping in a Forward Bend. Why? Well, there can be a number of reasons.
Often the number one culprit is dehydration. Perhaps you’ve had a busy COVID day: getting the kids off to school, walking the dog, working in your home office (aka – dining room table), prepping dinner, and you settle in for yoga practice without having properly hydrated through the day. When you are sweating out more water, sodium and potassium than you are taking in, those losses can make the nerves, that signal your muscles to contract or relax, extra sensitive. Remember that no matter what you do during your day, you need to drink your H2O. Women need about 2.7 litres of fluids per day and men need about 3.7 litres per day. We can get about 20% of our daily fluid intake from the food we eat and the rest, from clear and non caffeinated fluids. When I was teaching yoga in a hot yoga studio, I always had water beside me to sip throughout my practice. Now, teaching from home on Zoom, I still continue that habit – you should too!
Another contributor to cramping muscles is the stretching component of yoga: we are often stretching muscles that we typically do not stretch or stretching the muscles in ways that they are not used to. Even if you are an experienced yogi, your foot may cramp in Virasana/Hero pose resting on the top of
each foot, stretched out long, by your hips; or your toes may curl up in a knot when holding Toes pose, which is a squat where you keep your toes curled under and sit back on your heels – a very intense toe and plantar fascia stretch! Dynamic stretching at the beginning of a yoga practice is important to warm up muscles and get them ready for more intense stretching, AND, if you have a particular muscle that cramps on a regular basis you may need more frequent stretching of that muscle throughout each day.
- If your toes cramp, see – The Best Remedies for Toe Cramps
- If your calves cramp, try these stretches – Stretches and Treatment for Tight Calves
- And, if it is your hamstrings, try these – 20 Ways to Stretch Your Hamstrings With Yoga
Muscle cramps can also develop due to imbalances in various body salts. These include sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Talk with your medical professional or holistic nutritionist to find out if supplements or changes in eating habits might help.
Persistent cramps despite intervening with stretches and fluid may be due to an underlying nerve or circulatory issue, so if in doubt see a physiotherapist or doctor to have a thorough assessment.