Yoga practitioners sometimes experience foot and leg cramps during practice - especially if you're a beginner or returning to yoga practice after a break. We've all experienced the painful, involuntary grip of muscle cramp.
If you get cramp during your yoga practice...
Stop and breathe
Take a break from the pose, and take a few deep, cleansing breaths.
Gently massaging the muscle will often help it to relax. You might want to leave your mat and walk around the room a bit.
Moving in to Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and walking the legs can help with leg cramping. Or try sitting in Hero (Virsana), first with the tops of the feet on the floor, and then tucking the toes, to massage and stretch the feet. (If you can't sit on the heels, try placing a block beneath the hips.) Or try moving into into a Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana.) Grab the toes holding them wide and pull gently back. Flex from the ankle. The resistance may help to break the cramp. Once the cramp relaxes, repeat the exercise or posture.
Layering up, rubbing the skin, applying warmth from a heating pad or a having a hot soak can help.
What causes cramp?
The amount of water you take in should equal the amount you lose. If something upsets this balance, you may have too little water (dehydration). Causes of dehydration include:
Low blood calcium, magnesium or potassium
Cramps can be caused by conditions that decrease levels of calcium or magnesium in body fluids. This include:
Deficiencies of thiamine (B1), pantothenic acid (B5), and pyridoxine (B6) may cause cramp.
Numerous medicines can cause cramps. If you're currently taking medications, check the information on potential side effects to see if this is a possibility.
If your bare feet have been crammed in to tight or uncomfortable shoes all day, you may get cramp at the start of practice as you begin to stretch them out.
Cold muscles are more likely to cramp.
Locking the knees while flexing or extending the foot interrupts the fluidity of movement and may put stress on the joints causing cramp. Gripping the toes on the floor in an effort to balance can cause cramp.
Poor circulation to the legs, which results in inadequate oxygen to the muscle tissue, can cause severe pain in the muscle (known as
claudication pain). This commonly occurs in the calf muscles. While the pain feels virtually identical to cramp, the pain does not seem to be a result of the actual muscle seizing up. This pain may be due to accumulation of lactic acid and other chemicals in the muscle tissues. It’s best to see your doctor if you have pain like this.
Ways to help prevent cramp
Stay well hydrated
Drink lots of water, especially before, during, and after exercise. Including a small amount of sodium can help with electrolyte imbalances and fluid retention.
Stay well nourished
The safest ways to increase your intake is through nutrition rather than supplements. Foods like soybeans, tofu, greens, nuts, and seeds are rich in both calcium and magnesium, which help to guard against the tendency to get cramp.
Think about using yoga socks if cramp seems to be brought on by the cold.
Do not lock the knees.
If gripping with your toes in standing balances triggers cramp, explore balancing with your toes relaxed instead.
Wear comfortable shoes