Physical activity is an essential part of the effective treatment arthritis, according to the American College of Rheumatology and several research studies. Research shows exercise is safe and does not exacerbate pain or worsen disease for persons with arthritis. In fact, it can prevent a downward spiral of being sedentary, where pain increases resulting in less activity and even greater pain and disability.
But, for those dealing with daily join inflammation and pain, a regular exercise plan may seem incredibly difficult. For many, yoga might provide an accessible and enjoyable form of exercise.
General studies have shown that yoga is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity that also has important psychological benefits due to its meditative nature. Yoga can increase muscle strength, improve flexibility, enhance respiratory endurance and promote balance. It is also associated with increased energy, fewer bodily aches and pains and increased mental energy as well as positive feelings.
This wide range of physical and psychological benefits may be especially helpful for persons living with a chronic illness.
Anecdotal evidence of the benefits of yoga for persons with arthritis is plentiful – just visit any yoga studio. Scientific studies specifically devoted to the impact of yoga on arthritis sufferers are more limited, but have shown promising results. For example, a 2008 study funded in part by the Arthritis Foundation found that yoga poses, breathing and relaxation reduce tenderness and swelling in the joints of people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
So what should a beginner expect from a yoga class?
Yoga has spiritual roots, using theories and practices with origins in ancient India with the goal to help individuals realize true happiness, freedom, or enlightenment. However, as yoga has become more popular in western countries in recent years, it is increasingly practiced for physical health benefits without the original spiritual context. Still, there is usually a focus on unifying the mind, body and spirit.
A common misconception is that yoga is all about stretching. While stretching is certainly involved, yoga is really about creating balance in the body through developing both strength and flexibility. This is done through the performance of poses, each of which has specific physical benefits.
As always, it’s important to take proper precautions when starting a new exercise routine. Ask your doctor if there are any limitations and restrictions you should observe.
While yoga can be practiced alone, it may also be useful to seek the advice of an experienced yoga instructor who can adapt yoga exercises to your physical needs and help you to modify poses with props. When seeking out a class, always ask about the credentials of the instructor (The Yoga Alliance is the national certifying body for yoga instructor and facilities), and ask about beginner classes specific to your physical needs.