One of the things I have noticed since I started teaching yoga is the frequency with which people seem to suffer muscle cramps during a class. A muscle cramp is defined as an involuntary contraction of the muscle that refuses to relax. It may last anything from a few seconds to several minutes and once a particular muscle has cramped, it may be prone to doing so repeatedly during the same session. I have found that in yoga cramps often seem to affect muscles that are passively shortened. A good (and frequent!) example of this is the sole of the foot, where the muscles are shortened as the toes are pointed in postures such as cat (majariasana).
Muscles contract as a result of electrical stimulation and relax when this is deactivated. Obviously, during an episode of cramp this system is not working as it should. Cramp is also more common if the muscles have been overworked. If you are prone to cramp it is helpful to make sure you drink plenty of water and base your diet around healthy fresh foods that maintain your electrolyte balance. Sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium are all important in the body to ensure the muscle fibres respond properly to the exercise you are doing and make you less prone to suffering from cramp. Taking magnesium supplements may be beneficial for some people, as studies have shown that a lack of magnesium can make things worse.
Age and genetics also contribute to your risk of getting cramp and of course these are not things we can do much about. It can however be helpful to make a point of regularly stretching out the muscles that tend to be prone to cramping. For example, if you tend to get cramp when you point your toes, get into the habit of stretching the soles of the feet by flexing the ankles and toes. You might also encourage the area to relax by massaging it with a tennis ball – or golf ball if you are feeling brave!
Want to know more? Try this useful article here.