If you're taking or considering taking yoga, you're definitely not alone -- participation in the practice has seen major growth in the past decade. But that also means that you're increasing your chances of getting sick if you practice yoga at a studio or community center, as opposed to having a solo yoga routine at home. Rather than avoid yoga classes, though, take steps to keep clean. Doing so will help prevent the spread of fungi, bacteria, and viruses that could knock beginners, and even expert yoga practitioners, flat. Here's why you need to be careful and how best to stay healthy.
Sharing Is Not Caring in This Case
Yoga involves lots of contact with other people. Even if you aren't touching each other, you're walking over the same floor and in some studios using community mats that other people used in previous classes. That means that if someone brings in a pathogen, you risk picking it up. And even if you don't get sick, you could transmit the pathogen to others near you as you move through the room. If the room is hot, either because of the type of yoga or the weather, the risk is increased because the heat increases the number of pathogens.
Facing the Bare-Feet Facts
Yoga is best done in bare feet for a few reasons. One is that having bare feet helps ground you and make you feel more connected to the room and the planet, even if the room is several floors up in a building. Another is that removing shoes keeps the floor cleaner -- you're not tracking in dirt. Yet another is the fact that removing your shoes signals to your brain that it's now time to concentrate on class, rather than anything else in your life.
But that means anyone who has a pre-existing and contagious foot condition, like plantar warts or athlete's foot, can spread that virus or fungus to the floor, where other bare-footed people can pick them up. If you have a foot condition like that, or you don't want to risk picking one up, look into special yoga shoes made specifically for the practice. Ask your instructor how often the floor is cleaned and how it is cleaned so that pathogens are killed and removed. All floors, carpets, and mats should be cleaned multiple times per day.
Keep in mind that if your instructor orders you to be bare-footed and claims that yoga will prevent you from ever picking up another illness, find a new instructor. While yoga can help make you stronger and healthier, part of that strength and health relies on being clean.
Sick? Stay home. Don't spread the cold or flu you have to your classmates or instructor. If you go to class and see a sick classmate, and the instructor isn't making that person go home, you go home. And possibly look for yoga lessons elsewhere.
Keep in mind that allergies can mimic a cold, so it's possible that other person isn't actually sick and contagious. But find out first -- don't assume the sniffling is hay fever.
Mine, Mine, Mine!
Bring your own mat, and clean it after each and every class. Soap and water, vinegar and water -- there are a number of preparations you can use. Ask your instructor what he or she recommends.
If you'd like more information on staying healthy when taking yoga classes with other people, talk to yoga schools in your area and go with the one that takes the most practical steps to keep everyone safe.