The rise of yoga as an accessible health practice for people all over the world has been a dramatic ascension! With a ream of benefits both physical and psychological, people of all ages are realising the benefits of stepping onto the mat. For our readers experiencing the discomfort that comes with arthritis, yoga could offer a fantastic tool to calm your symptoms, increasing your quality of life and sense of well being.
What is Yoga?
Yoga finds its origins in ancient India as a physical, mental and spiritual practice which has made a meandering evolution through time and cultures, to its position as the hugely popular activity that we see in almost every gym and wellness centre today. Modern yoga places greater emphasis on the physical elements than its ancient counterpart, but psychological aspects are still an important part of the practice, as we focus on connecting with our bodies through awareness of movement and breath, and often a guided meditational element within each class.
For people who have never been to a class, images of springy, athletic types contorted into strange positions might dominate imaginations, but when joining a low-intensity yoga class we can actually expect a series of simple, achievable movements. Yoga is fantastic for men and women alike, starting from any level of fitness or flexibility. In other words, it’s perfect for you!
The three main components of western yoga classes are poses (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayamas), and relaxation. Specific focus on meditation or chanting is less common, but we can choose a class and style of yoga in line with what we enjoy most and feel will be most beneficial for us. Physical poses will be practised individually, or in short sequences when the controlled movement between postures are performed in rhythm with our breath.
What Benefits Can I Expect?
In recent years, studies looking at the potential benefits of yoga for those managing arthritic symptoms have given very promising results. Yoga is considered a safe way to engage in exercise, and participants experience a reduction in joint pain and an increase in mobility, paired with improvements in mental health and an overall sense of well-being.
- Increased muscle strength
- Improved balance
- Greater joint flexibility
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved cardiovascular fitness
- Reduction in pain experienced
- Increased energy
- Better sleep
- Resilience to stress
- Reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety
An American study, looking at a group of sedentary adults with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis, found that their participants were experiencing benefits after only eight weeks of yoga practice. Impressively, when they reconnected with the participants years later, they found that many had continued their practice after the trial. The enjoyable and highly rewarding nature of yoga suggests the reasons behind its vast appeal.
What Should I Take Into Consideration?
Before undertaking any new physical activity, it is always wise to check in with your doctor to ensure you are fully aware of any physical limitations you might need to be wary of, and your doctor feels confident that your chosen activity is a wise idea. In turn, the more informed your yoga instructor is about any pre-existing physical condition, the better able they will be to tailor your practice to your benefit, so when you visit your doctor, make some notes or ask your doctor to write down important points for you.
Cover with your doctor which joints are especially affected by your arthritis. Are any of your joints damaged, inflamed, or at particular risk of injury? Do certain joints have limited mobility that may dictate that certain movements or positions should be controlled or avoided? Do you have any other conditions that may impact your practice such as high blood pressure, respiratory problems, osteoporosis or heart disease? Don’t be nervous to investigate. It is important not to get caught up on the idea that physical ailments will serve as a barrier between you and what you want to do, but rather that practising caution and making sure that those who guide you are fully informed will ensure that you can develop a safe and beneficial yoga practice that you can enjoy and benefit from for many years to come.
How Do I Get Started?
Suitable yoga classes for those diagnosed with arthritis include beginner’s classes, those aimed at seniors, and specialist classes offered specifically for arthritis sufferers, which would be ideal if these are available locally. Before you take the plunge and put on your yoga pants, take time to explore what is offered in your area. Once you find something that really grabs you, reach out to the instructor to discuss your goals and symptoms. Look for instructors with extensive qualifications and experience, and preferably some history of working with students who have arthritis.
Different instructors will offer slightly different styles and structures in their classes. Forms of yoga that feature the use of aids such as foam blocks and chairs can be wonderfully beneficial in making postures accessible to students who have a more limited range of motion. Check with your chosen studio if all equipment is provided or if you will need to bring your own mat with you. You don’t have to dust off your trainers as yoga is practised barefoot, but you will need to wear comfortable clothing that allows free and uninhibited movement. Don’t forget a water bottle. Even though the sequences will be slow and gentle, you may find yourself getting thirsty as muscles are engaged that are not used to such stimulation!
We recommend that you step into the world of yoga under the wise guidance of a skilled instructor, but once you have a decent grasp of the correct form, you can absolutely expand your practice at home, using instructional DVDs and YouTube tutorials from reputable yogis. Developing a yoga habit is a healthy endeavour that doesn’t need to cost the moon!
As you begin your practice, listen carefully to your body. The old adage of “no pain, no gain” does not apply here, and all postures and movements can be modified to accommodate your limitations. If you feel pain with any particular movement, stop immediately and discuss your experience with your instructor. Gentle progress and increased wellbeing are your goals. Trust your instincts, take your time, and have fun with it!