Looking forward to the day you can head back to your favorite yoga class, even if it means wearing a face covering? Here’s what you need to know about considering yoga with a mask, which mask makes the most sense, and some incredibly important words of advice from a physician.
Deciding what mask type is best for yoga
If you’re wondering what type of face mask to take to yoga, it’s always a good idea to check with your gym or studio for their requirements. Otherwise, take a peek at the pros and cons of three popular face coverings and how they stack up during yoga.
In some areas, N95 respirators are in short supply, and their accessibility to healthcare workers is a priority. (The general public shouldn’t be trying to secure them.) But if you have an N95 respirator around from an old DIY project, you may be tempted to bring it along to yoga or when you exercise.
However, this type of covering may not be the best choice for physical activity—even if what you’re doing is mild. N95 respirators protect against coronavirus because they can filter about 95% of very small particles from the air. But, in doing so, they also reduce the amount of airflow getting through. And that difference in oxygen can be significant.
Some estimates show N95 respirators reduce oxygen intake by nearly 20 percent. When exercising or doing yoga, you breathe fully. As activity level picks up, muscles demand more oxygen and your respiration rate increases, so your blood can carry that oxygen where it needs to go. That means you need more air—not less.
Surgical masks don’t provide as much protection as N95 respirators. They fit loosely to the face and are designed to protect against splashes and larger particles (not aerosolized viruses). Like respirators, surgical masks are also needed by healthcare workers. Plus, even if you have some around, they tend to slip easily. For some people, it’s hard to keep them from sliding down the nose, even with normal movement—any type of physical activity makes this even harder and can lower their efficacy even more.
The CDC recommends cloth masks for the general public. (You can get guidelines and sewing instructions here.) While cloth masks won’t block COVID-19 respiratory droplets, they help remind us to stay distanced and not to touch our faces—two things that can mitigate spread.
Plus, cloth masks have the advantage of being soft enough to withstand movement. With elastic tailored to fit most faces, they stay in place better than some alternatives—which is much more comfortable as you turn your head or go through your yoga flow.
Words of advice on masks and yoga/exercise from a physician
You should follow CDC guidelines and talk to your healthcare provider about what’s best for you and whether or not it’s safe for you to wear a mask during exercise. But also be sure to pay extra close attention to your body’s cues while doing any physical activity.
Hormonely spoke with Dr. Orlena Kerek, MD, on how she plans to advise clients who want to get back to the gym or studio and exercise with a mask on. She says, “Pay attention to how you feel. Masks can make you feel hot and uncomfortable. Remember it’s better to stop and rest than to pass out.” If you notice overheating, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or other symptoms, take a break and don’t push to start back up too quickly.
Words of caution on heading to yoga while a mask is required
Getting back to some semblance of normalcy is something we’re all hopeful for. But not everyone should be returning to the gym or studio while masks are needed. In some situations, wearing a face covering at yoga can be unsafe, and you might be better off continuing to exercise at home.
Hot yoga with a mask
As long as masks are needed in studios and gyms to help limit the spread of coronavirus, it’s my opinion that hot yoga shouldn’t be offered. Studios are generally small, enclosed spaces. When intensely heated, humidity levels can reach up to 60 or 70 percent. High humidity makes breathing more difficult. It’s not uncommon to have otherwise healthy students become more exerted and slightly short of breath in hot yoga. Any type of face covering exacerbates that.
Like Dr. Kerek mentioned above, masks can make you feel hot and uncomfortable. Women in menopause are especially susceptible to vasomotor symptoms. Even in a cooler yoga class, wearing a face mask might create enough internal heat to trigger a hot flash.
Respiratory and other health conditions
Anyone with chronic health conditions or who is immunocompromised should automatically check in with a primary-care physician or specialist. You’ll want to ask about your COVID-19 risk and the safety of exercising in any type of mask. This especially goes for respiratory conditions, such as asthma, COPD, and emphysema.