Should I practice Yoga when I am sick? Simple answer is “No”. Overall, practicing Yoga and other physical activities develops a strong vital immune system. However, doing Yoga classes when you are in any stage of dealing with a cold or flu will likely result in becoming more sick and being sick for a longer period of time.
When we are coming down with a cold or are in the full brunt force of being sick, our body’s immune system is put into overdrive producing antibodies to combat the viruses that cause the cold symptoms. These antibodies are made partially of proteins and amino acid components. The production of these complex proteins requires energy. The more sick one is, the more energy is required to fuel the immune system. Now consider what happens when we exercise or do Yoga while your immune system is fighting the onset of a cold. The energy highly needed for your immune system is instead being transferred to the muscles to create movement. This energy is depleted from the body either as mechanical energy (movement) or as heat. This transfer of energy strips the immune system of precious energy resources and begins to limit the immune system’s capacity to produce antibodies. What should we do then?
All to often I have students coming to class sniffling and coughing, and we say “Go home”. You do yourself no benefit practicing Yoga while being sick. You will likely worsen the level of your cold and you will end up passing on your cold to others (not mention your teacher). If you insist on practicing when you are slightly under-the-weather, then only do a restorative style practice at home that is predominently gravity-based poses. This approach will have little impact on energy depletion of the immune system and will provide increased circulation aiding the immune system in transporting healing antibodies. If you are full-out sick, many restorative poses should be avoided, especially postures placing the head below the level of the heart and lungs. Sometimes with colds, we encounter infections of the sinus and inner ear. When we place the head below the level of the heart, extra blood pressure moves into the infected inner ear which could lead to serious damage. Inverting the head can also create discomfort with sudden pressure or fluid release coming from the sinus.
Overall, I just recommend that you relax from doing Yoga poses, enjoy a period of non-physicality, explore more savasana (relaxation) and meditation, and listen to the body’s needs. Let your immune system function with full access to energy resources as you temporarily modify your Yoga and exercise routines.