A gentle yoga practice is an ideal type of movement for sufferers of arthritis because of the mindful nature of the practice. An estimated 46 million Americans suffer from at least one of the more than on hundred types of arthritis with two most common types being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Movement is essential for those afflicted with arthritis, but doing too much activity may result in more pain. Often, those afflicted with arthritis tend to be more de-conditioned, perhaps avoiding movement because it results in more pain. Yoga, practiced with attention to breath and a slow progression of movement can help decrease pain and improve joint range of motion, as well as increase muscle strength helping to make it easier to perform daily activities.
Arthritis is a condition linked to inflammation and yoga and meditation have been shown in many studies to reduce markers of inflammation. The American College of Rheumatology recommends yoga as a safer alternative to more strenuous types of exercise for those suffering from arthritis and its complications. Yoga can be done in a group setting or at home with a teacher or self directed after learning an appropriate practice. Studies show that practicing yoga postures, or meditation, or a combination of the two help arthritis sufferers reduce pain and stiffness in the neck and back and showed improvement in other chronic conditions. Mood is also enhanced with yoga practices, helping people to better manage their emotional states.
Yoga helps to switch the body into a state of rest and relaxation and out of the stress response. Any condition that brings about chronic pain can be exhausting to the body and the mind. Pain is usually associated with muscle tension and decreased movement as the person tries to decrease any movement that causes pain and triggering the sympathetic nervous system and its the stress hormones. Yoga practices such as deep breathing, meditation and gentle asana (postures), signal the body to switch from fight or flight and into rest and relaxation (parasympathetic), and the release of calming neurotransmitters.
As with any new activity, consult your physician before starting a yoga practice. There may be certain limitations that your doctor may tell you about depending on your medical history. There are many types of yoga practices, not all of them appropriate for arthritis sufferers, so look for an instructor that has been trained in a more gentle or therapeutic style and also that has experience winking with people with arthritis. It may only take as little as 5 minutes a day to begin to see positive results! A well trained therapeutically oriented instructor will be able to guide you into a practice that fits your needs and adjust it along the way as needed.
Kristy Manuel is a YogaFit Senior Master Trainer and Director of the YogaFit Therapy Program. She is an experienced yoga teacher, certified fitness trainer and wellness specialist with over 25 years experience in the fitness industry.