Yoga for Arthritis
According to the American College of Rheumatology, physical activity is an important part of an effective treatment plan for arthritis sufferers. Regular physical activity helps to improve muscle strength, endurance and energy levels in those who suffer with arthritis, as they tend to live sedentary lifestyles due to joint pain. Additionally, the mental health benefits of exercises help to decrease stress, anxiety and depression, and help to improve overall well-being. This is why yoga for arthritis has many benefits.
If you suffer from arthritis, practicing yoga may be a simple, low-impact activity that you can participate in to help to relieve some of your arthritis symptoms. It can also improve other aspects of both physical health and mental health.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a type of exercise that focuses on the mind, body and spirit to foster a feeling of connection between an individual and their surroundings. The root of yoga is spiritual in nature, helping individuals to experience happiness, enlightenment, or freedom. However, there are other positive effects of participating in yoga including improving both physical and mental health.
Most types of yoga classes include three components that provide benefits to those who have arthritis including:
This allows you to be aware and in control of your breathing to influence your feelings. When you are having a flare-up of arthritis symptoms, focusing on your yoga breathing can help you deal with the pain and decrease your stress response.
Improve Strength, Flexibility and Balance
These movements help to keep the muscles around the affected joints in your body flexible and strong. Additionally, you are learning to keep your body in proper alignment, which helps to relieve excess pressure on the joints of your body.
Regularly using relaxation techniques can help to reduce stress, which can help reduce muscle tightness when you are feeling pain or stress.
Types of Yoga
There are various types of yoga that include these components so it is important to choose a type of yoga that will help relieve arthritis symptoms. Below are types of yoga classes that are commonly offered in yoga studios, that are known to help people with arthritis.
This type of yoga focuses on proper alignment of the body and precise body movements. It is commonly recommended to individuals with arthritis because the poses are easily adapted to accommodate for limited joint movement. Additionally, assistive devices such as ropes and blocks can be used to perform more challenging poses.
This type of yoga occurs in a room that is at least 90F. The idea is that the heat can help to loosen up the muscles of the body and make the joints of the body more flexible, allowing you to flex and bend.
Bikram yoga, which is a specific type of hot yoga, occurs in a room that is at least 105F and includes two breathing exercises and 26 postures that occur in the same order for each class. Bikram yoga does not include certain positions such as the plank or downward-dog, which makes it a good choice if you suffer from arthritis of the hands or wrists.
While losing excess weight can be challenging with arthritis, it can be achieved with a proper diet and safe, gentle exercise to improve symptoms.
This type of yoga is slow-paced and focuses on breathing and stretching of the body. The stretch poses may be held for a lengthier period of time, between 45 seconds and two minutes for a beginner. This type of yoga can feel good for those with arthritic joints as it allows you to stretch the soft tissues of the body without putting too much stress on the joints. This type of yoga is a good choice for those with arthritis who want to reduce stress, tension and anxiety.
This is a popular type of yoga and is often used as an umbrella term to describe various types of yoga. While a beginner class of hatha yoga may be appropriate for those with arthritis, it is best to call the yoga studio ahead of time to determine what you should expect when you attend a class.
This type of yoga uses a flowing pattern of poses that focus on matching breathing to movement. Certain poses in this type of yoga require that weight be placed on the hands and wrists, while other poses require lunging, making it a type of “power yoga.” While this type of yoga is good for maintaining and building muscle mass to support arthritic joints, it is not recommended for beginners.
Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is safe and effective when performed correctly and has numerous benefits including:
- Increasing muscle strength
- Increasing flexibility
- Improving cardiovascular endurance
- Improving balance
- Increasing energy levels
- Decreasing pain
- Improving mental health (decreased anxiety, depression and stress)
Studies have shown promising results for individuals with arthritis including an improvement in joint health, physical function, mental health and quality of life. Studies have also revealed that individuals who suffer with arthritis tend to prefer yoga over more conventional types of exercise. This is important, as enjoyment is a key factor to adherence to an exercise program. This is particularly important for those with arthritis as it has been shown that on average about 50% of sedentary individuals will stop exercising within six months of starting a new physical activity.
Lastly, a review of literature has found that serious injuries to individuals who participate in yoga are rare, when extreme positions are avoided and when participants are supervised by qualified instructors.
Finding the Right Practice for Your Needs
When you first start doing yoga, it is best to find a qualified instructor who has experience working with individuals who have chronic health conditions, especially those with arthritis. Yoga Alliance and International Association of Yoga Therapists allow you to search for certified yoga instructors in your surrounding area.
Additionally, you can do some of your own research by looking at reviews of studios online, talking to your family, friends and doctor to see if they can recommend anyone in particular. Make sure you contact the studio beforehand to make sure that they are confident working with someone who has arthritis. Questions to ask include:
- What type of yoga do you offer?
- Are you instructors qualified?
- How long have your instructors been teaching?
- Do your instructors have experience teaching individuals with arthritis?
- Do you offer gentle yoga classes, or classes specific for arthritis?
Once you decide on a studio, be sure to speak to the instructor before the class begins to let them know what joints are affected; they should be able to modify poses for you during the class.
Starting yoga can be both exciting and challenging. It’s important to keep in mind that yoga stretches the muscles of your body and can be uncomfortable at times. Start slow and listen to your body. If you experience joint pain during or after yoga, it may be your body’s way of telling you to take things a little slower.