(Note: yoga instruction is best on a one-on-one basis with a qualified yoga instructor, particularly if you have not practiced yoga before. Consult your rheumatologist before starting a new exercise program.)
These days, yoga is all over place; celebrities are doing it, schoolteachers are doing it, dogs are apparently doing it. But if you have rheumatoid arthritis, you might be one of the seemingly few not doing it. Luckily, having RA doesn't mean you can't. There are still ways to reap the benefits of a yoga practice even if your range of motion is limited and your joints are misbehaving.
A good place to start if you are returning to your yoga practice is to remember the three P's: Props, Pace and Poses.
In the past, you may have practiced yoga with just you and your mat. That might have worked before, but if you are dealing with RA or any other physical issues, then props are your new best friend. Some props that you will want to have near you are yoga blocks (try to find solid, sturdy blocks as opposed to foam blocks that offer less structure and support), a belt or strap, blankets and a yoga bolster or firm pillow. They will make everything easier and allow you to get the most out of your practice. You can sit on blocks during meditation and you can use them as a stopgap between the floor and your hands in many poses. Blocks will help you keep proper alignment and will bring the floor up to meet you where you are. You don't have to struggle to get your hand all the way down to the floor in a pose like triangle. Remember, practicing yoga isn't about looking a certain way, so let go of any prior expectations of how you are supposed to look (or how you used to look) in each pose. Straps are helpful in many restorative poses, such as legs up the wall. By using a strap to keep your legs from sliding apart, your leg muscles can completely relax, allowing you to get more out of the pose and do less unnecessary work. Straps can also be used to extend your reach in certain poses.
Blankets, bolsters and pillows can be used to make your yoga practice feel more like a spa treatment. You can sit on them during seated poses to ease stress on your hips and hamstrings, and you can use them to support different parts of your body during restorative poses so that you can fully relax.
I was a fan of props before my RA, but now I consider them indispensable.
Many types of yoga, such as vinyasa, ashtanga or flow yoga, keep the body in continuous motion and use the breath as a link between different poses. This way of practicing can be quite vigorous and aerobic. It may still be an appropriate way for you to practice depending on the state of your joints and your stamina, but as many of us know, what used to be invigorating can now be just the opposite with RA.
In coming back to my own practice, one of the key changes I made was to slow down. A lot. Rather than jumping in and going strong for an hour or more, I now begin my practice by meditating for ten minutes. It helps me take my own mental and emotional temperature so that I can assess how I'm feeling that day. Do I already feel tired? Is a part of my body struggling just while I'm sitting down and breathing? Or, do I feel pretty good and ready to move? Taking the time to check in with yourself before you even begin to move is crucial in making sure you practice yoga in a way that makes sense for you that day.