[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Nathan Joynt from Gaia]
Arthritis is more than occasional aches and pains. The condition is caused by inflammation of the joints and can lead to swelling, difficulty moving and severe pain. It can affect almost anyone, from children to the elderly, and may cause the simplest activities to become a challenge. Medications are often prescribed to relieve the pain and inflammation, but many health care providers now also recommend yoga for arthritis relief.
Yoga consists of a combination of gentle movements, stretches and breathing exercises. Researchers at John Hopkins University have determined that arthritis patients who regularly perform yoga are likely to experience less swelling, increased mobility and reduced pain. This is because the movements performed during yoga increase fluid around the joints.
There are a few things that arthritis sufferers should consider before beginning a yoga program. A visit to the doctor is necessary to make sure that the individual is healthy enough to perform the exercises and that other conditions won’t be exacerbated by yoga movements. It’s also important to choose a yoga class with a certified instructor, preferably one who is knowledgeable about the benefits of yoga for arthritis patients. There are also chair yoga classes that are helpful for arthritis sufferers who cannot sit on the floor.
A beginner’s yoga class is the best choice in most cases because the movements are easier to perform. Stretching, breathing exercises, or even chanting, may also be done before actual movements begin. These help the body to relax and are an integral part of many yoga routines.
A variety of gentle poses will be performed during the class. Some may be a bit difficult at first, but will become easier as muscles grow accustomed to the activity. Arthritis patients should only perform those poses that they feel comfortable with. A little soreness is to be expected after the first few classes, but any positions that cause extreme discomfort should be avoided.
While classes are essential to learning the proper yoga techniques, relief from arthritis pain is greater if the exercises are also performed on a daily basis at home. There are numerous yoga videos available, including some geared toward arthritis sufferers. Since the condition tends to flare up at particular times, such as during extremely damp or cold weather, it may be helpful to increase yoga exercises during these periods.
Here are a two gentle poses to try at home:
- Cat/cow pose: The cat/cow pose strengthens and stretches your spine. Begin on your hands and knees. For sore knees, use a towel or blanket for extra cushion. For sore wrists, make a fist rather than palms on the floor. Round your back up toward the ceiling, tuck in your glutes, and drop your head. Come back to neutral position, and then lower your stomach toward the floor creating an arch in your back. Keep your head up slightly, look straight ahead. Repeat slowly with deep breaths.
- Side stretch: The side stretch improves balance and stretches your hamstrings. Start by standing with your feet shoulder width apart and take a big step back with one foot. Clasp your hands behind your back, bend forward at the waist and relax your head and hold for a good stretch.
Yoga seems like an unlikely remedy for those struggling with arthritis pain, but it has very real benefits. Not only does it increase relaxation, which makes everyone feel better, it helps to lessen discomfort and increase muscle strength over time. It’s a wonderful way for even those with limited mobility to get moving and find lasting relief.
- Yoga for Arthritis: The Complete Guide by Loren Fishman and Ellen Saltonstall
- Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing by Timothy McCall