Feeling Sick? To Teach or Not to Teach Yoga

This entry was posted on Feb 23, 2015 by Charlotte Bell.

How to Know Whether to Teach Yoga When You’re Not Well

Yesterday morning I woke up with a sensation that’s all too familiar, a little scratchiness at the back of my throat. That’s how a cold/flu/sinus infection always starts for me. I’ve been throwing some herbal defenses its way and it doesn’t seem to be getting worse, but it’s not getting better either—yet.

By far the most stressful part of being ill—besides the misery of the illness itself—is making sure my yoga classes are covered, especially when it comes on suddenly. I’ve always been a “trooper:” If I can stand up, I can work. However, it’s different when your work is teaching yoga (or anything else). Soldiering on may not be in everyone’s best interests.

I’m fortunate to have a competent pool of subs, but they’re not always available at the last minute. So what to do? I think it depends on the nature of the illness.

When Is It Okay to Teach Yoga When You’re Not 100 Percent?

With many maladies, like sore throats and sinus infections, the most contagious period is early, often before symptoms surface. In those cases, you’re usually safe to teach when you feel strong enough to do so. Even so, sinus conditions are messy, and I avoid direct contact with students. I also avoid handling the props in the space where I teach, especially the eye pillows. I use my own personal mat and bring my own blanket to sit on.

Inform Yourself

It’s important to be informed as to the nature of the illness you’re dealing with. If you aren’t seeing a doctor, call your local health department and describe your illness. They will likely be aware of the illness du jour in your area, and can give you a good idea as to when you are no longer contagious.

For example, there are common illnesses, such as norovirus (the violent digestive malady that appears in waves every few years), that are highly contagious for several days after you stop having symptoms. Most people assume that once they feel better, they’re no longer contagious. Lots of people end up with this nasty gombu because neither they nor their friends/family members realize they are still contagious even when they feel pretty good. The last thing a yoga teacher wants to do is give something like norovirus to his/her students, so be informed about what’s going around.

In a Nutshell

Here are some guidelines for when to teach, when not to and how to keep students safe when you do:

  • Find out the nature of your illness, from your doctor or from the health department, so you know when you are contagious and when you are likely to be safe.
  • Don’t teach yoga if you think you might still be contagious. Just don’t.
  • If at all possible, don’t teach yoga until you feel strong enough to give your students your full attention and energy.
  • Keep your hands off publicly used props until you are fully recovered.
  • Wash your eye pillows regularly during the cold/flu season. Since I wash my studio eye pillows at least once a month year round—more during the winter months—I use eye pillows filled with plastic beads. You can soak them in a sink of hot, soapy water and hang them to dry. They’re way easier to wash than the ones with flax seed filling and/or flax seed and herbal filling, which you have to empty out and wash just the covers. I love the feel of the flax seeds and use them in my own personal eye pillow, but when you’re washing 25-30 studio eye pillows the plastic beads are a great alternative. Our Piccolo Eye Pillows (with flax or herbal filling) are easy to wash regardless of their filling. They have a removable outer cover that you can wash by itself without having to empty out the filling.
  • Avoid adjusting, hugging or otherwise contacting students until you are fully recovered.
  • Use PUREMAT Mat & Gear Wash to clean your mats and blocks, and encourage your students to clean the studio mats they use after class.
  • Take care of yourself! Give yourself plenty of time to recover. Do some Restorative practice. Dragging yourself through a class is no fun. Your students would rather see you healthy and vibrant.
About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. Her third book is titled Hip-Healthy Asana: The Yoga Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting the Hips and Avoiding SI Joint Pain (Shambhala Publications). She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.