According to treatment guidelines published by the American College of Rheumatology, physical activity is a key component to the treatment of osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Regular exercise is recommended for people with arthritis, as it increases muscle strength, physical energy and endurance. Being sedentary can increase pain and lead to greater disability. The psychological benefits of regular exercise are stress reduction, less depressive symptoms and increased immune functioning.
Why Is Yoga Recommended?
The slow, mindful movement of joints is helpful for Arthritis patients. It improves the blood circulation in the joints and limbs. Yoga also helps detoxifies the body and boost the immune system which is very important for people with (RA). Because movement can sometime be painful, many patients do not get enough exercise. If they do not move because of the pain the situation worsens.
Even though drug treatments have improved for OA and RA there is still a need for exercise to reduce pain, disability and manage the challenges that arthritis may have on their lives. Scientists at John Hopkins Arthritis Center have concurred that when combined with a program of good medical care, yoga may provide important additional physical and psychological health benefits for arthritis patients.
Yoga is the antidote to arthritis, write Loren Fishman, MD, and my esteemed yoga teacher Ellen Saltonstall, who wrote "Yoga For Arthritis: The Complete Guide". Their book is a comprehensive guide to using yoga to treat this painful and often debilitating ailment. They explain that arthritis is caused by the inevitable pounding, grinding and bumping the body experiences, which add up to damaged cartilage between the joints. The result is joint pain and instability as well as reduced flexibility. Their book is highly recommended by Yoga Journal. Loren and Ellen present a medical overview of arthritis, and an introduction to yoga history, philosophy, and physiology. The book also includes descriptions and photographs of asanas (yoga poses)-such as variations on Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)-considered therapeutic for people with arthritis.
I am currently working one on one with two students who have rheumatoid arthritis. They have both experienced a marked improvement in their health and general well being with the additional of regular yoga classes in their lives. They have both expressed feeling less pain and stiffness and also much more energetic.
As with any new activity, it is very important to consult with your doctor. Ask is there are any specific restrictions and see if you can even get this in writing to give to your yoga instructor. The best option is to study privately with a qualified teacher who has experience teaching yoga for arthritis. Yoga is therapeutic and beneficial only when practiced with precise alignment, proper modifications and careful guidance. Some teachers and studios offer classes specifically for individuals with arthritis. If you were planning on taking a group class this would be the best scenario. Another option would be a gentle beginners class. It is best to research the type of yoga you will be practicing as some beginner's classes can be extremely challenging. *
Again, your teacher should be qualified and experienced and be able to guide you safely through modified poses. In very large group classes you may not be able to get the proper attention that you need, so please be very careful and selective about where and with whom you study. If your doctor has advised you as to specific restrictions or limitations you need to advise your teacher about these before the class begins.
References: American College of Rheumatology
Yoga For Arthritis: The Complete Guide
The John Hopkins Arthritis Center