Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is yoga safe for those with arthritis?

Absolutely!  Not only is yoga a safe and effective form of exercise for those suffering the pains of arthritis, but it also has many physical and mental benefits for those in pain.

The Physical Benefits of Yoga:

  • Yoga uses full range of motion movements that help to restore the body's flexibility.
  • Helps to improve circulation to the joints.
  • Increases synovial fluid in the joints that lubricates and decreases painful friction in arthritic joints.
  • Movement even on flare up days helps to reduce further swelling.
  • Increases muscle strength.
  • Enhances respiratory endurance.
  • Promotes balance.
  • People practicing yoga report having fewer aches and pains.
  • Increased energy.

The Mental Benefits of Yoga:
  • Yoga produces endorphins, a chemical produced from the brain, creating a sense of well-being, and alleviates mild pain.
  • Increased focus and mental energy.
  • Positive feelings like enthusiasm and alertness have been reported from practitioners of yoga.
  • Yoga helps with mild depression.

Types of Yoga:

There are many types of yoga to choose from.  I will only list the ones more beneficial to those with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
  • Chair Yoga: This is pretty self explanatory it's yoga with the aid of a chair.  This form of yoga is one of the most gentle, and the use of the chair helps ease one into the balancing poses of yoga.  This form of yoga is growing in popularity so ask your local gyms and community centers if they have a chair yoga program!
  • Iyengar Yoga: This form of yoga was created by a man named B.K.S Iyengar.  This style of yoga is based around each individuals anatomical needs and uses props, such as blocks, straps, etc. to ease people into the pose.
  • Restorative Yoga: Similar to Iyengar Yoga it typically uses props.  It was a very gentle form of yoga and moves slower than a power yoga class.

Starting a Yoga Practice: Cautions and Tips

  1. Always consult your doctor before you start a new fitness routine.  Health and medication may affect your body in different ways, and your doctor will advise you accordingly, and may even recommend an instructor who fits your needs best.
  2. If you have never done yoga before seek guidance from a professional as they will guide you safely through each posture.  It's important to remember that exercising incorrectly may be more harmful than beneficial.
  3. Practice as best you can on flare up days; take it slower than normal, but the more mobile you are are the more mobile you will stay.
  4. Practice mindfulness when something causes pain (more than typical aches) take a break our body uses pain much like a fire alarm.
  5. Try practicing later in the afternoon although yoga is traditionally encouraged for morning practice those with arthritis will feel less aches after the body has warmed up, and thus will experience more benefits.
  6. Avoid a vigorous practice (ashtanga, power yoga, iron man yoga, etc.) as it may compromise already damaged joints.

I hope that you feel encouraged to give yoga a try, and please contact me with your personal experiences of how yoga has impacted your life.

References: IDEA Fitness Journal, Hopkins Arthritis

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