by Charlotte Bell
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 eyebags. I use my own personal mat and bring my own blanket to sit on.
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 eyebags regularly during the cold/flu season. Since I wash my studio eyebags at least once a month year round—more during the winter months—I use eyebags 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 that contain flax seeds and/or herbs, which you have to empty before you can wash them. I love the feel of the flax seeds and use them in my own personal eyebag, but washing 25-30 studio eyebags makes the plastic beads a great alternative.
- Avoid adjusting, hugging or otherwise contacting students until you are fully recovered.
- 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.
Charlotte Bell is a yoga and meditation teacher, oboist and writer living in Salt Lake City. She writes for Hugger Mugger Yoga Products’s blog and Catalyst Magazine, and has published two books with Rodmell Press: Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life and Yoga for Meditators.
If I could afford it, I would not teach, but this is my only income so I teach no matter what. I’ve gone to work with bronchitis, a migraine and kidney stone. It is miserable, but I can’t afford to lose the income. We need some kind of union or something to look out for us.
I can definitely sympathize. I’ve taught while I was sick many times too because I couldn’t find a sub or couldn’t afford to pay someone to sub. But I’ve decided that when I’m contagious I won’t teach. As with everything else, there’s a lot of grey area. At least you can’t give a migraine or a kidney stone to your students!