Yoga for Arthritis
Today’s media images of Yoga bring to mind pretzel-like poses requiring considerable strength, balance, and flexibility by circus performers. In reality, Yoga classes with simple, gentle movements will gradually build strength, balance, and flexibility for all participants and skill levels. The non‑impact practice of Yoga also emphasizes postural alignment and endurance, while incorporating breathing practices and relaxation techniques. A regular Yoga practice has been found to enhance respiratory endurance, increase mental energy, improve range of motion, and reduce stiffness and inflammation. These physical and psychological benefits are especially helpful to those with a chronic illness such as arthritis.
According to the treatment guidelines of the American College of Rheumatology, physical activity is an essential part of effective treatment of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Early studies of the benefits of Yoga for arthritis have shown improvements in joint health, physical function, and emotional wellbeing. It was also found that people with arthritis enjoy Yoga more than traditional forms of exercise. Exercise enjoyment is an important predictor of adherence to a non-sedentary routine.
More recent scientific studies show a regular Yoga practice helps arthritis patients to reduce joint pain, improve joint flexibility and function, and lower stress and tension to promote better sleep. These recent studies involved clinical trials by John Hopkins Arthritis Center, resulting in new evidence of Yoga as safe, feasible, and enjoyable for people with arthritis. The physical and mental benefits were documented for those who practiced Yoga regularly. The Yoga poses used in the 8‑week clinical trials included gentle forward folds, backbends, twists, and balances in standing, seated, and reclining positions. After the 8‑week trials (1 hour 3 times a week), participants saw improvements in physical health, flexibility, pain levels, walking capacity, and depression scores. The fact that the clinical trials were designed and conducted by medical professionals is important, as those professionals had previous concerns that Yoga may not be appropriate for those with vulnerable joints. Translation: Western medicine is getting onboard the Yoga train.
To start your Yoga practice, ask your Yoga Instructor to guide you with safe and healthy poses, and to offer alternative poses for any limitations you may have. Props such as blocks, straps, bolsters, blankets, and chairs are available in most Yoga Studios to modify all poses. Yoga can be gentle enough for most people to practice every day.
- Start slowly and tailor the poses to your limitations
- Listen to your body and avoid any pain or discomfort
- Focus on the area you are stretching to notice sensation, not pain
- Do not over-tax a joint that may be flaring up on any particular day
- Be careful not to over-do it
- Breathe deeply with each pose to connect movement with the breath
You are not adapting your body to Yoga — You are adapting Yoga to your body.
Julie Hunt-Juneau, RYT 200
Yoga By Water