Living with the chronic pain of sore and swollen joints can make even the simplest of tasks harrowing, so just maybe yoga is your panacea.
It has long been understood that keeping active is beneficial for those suffering from arthritis, and is integral to maintaining mobility and preventing further damage to the body: including muscle or tendon shortening, articular capsule contraction and weakening of ligaments supporting joints.The chronic pain and joint stiffness characteristic of this condition significantly affects our ability to function. While medications are often successful in dampening symptoms of arthritis, doctors recommend incorporating additional alternative therapies and lifestyle changes for the best results.
Many people with arthritis are understandably confused as to how to exercise while in pain and remain protective of their joints.
Yoga is often recommended by physicians as a safe and effective way to increase your exercise level while helping to treat your arthritis symptoms; and simultaneously addressing the many psychological factors associated with living with chronic pain.
There are however some important things to bear in mind to ensure your yoga practice is both enjoyable and safe.
“No Pain, NO PAIN”
Unlike many fitness communities, yogis do not believe in the adage of “no pain, no gain.”
Your yoga practice is a time to tune in to the messages your body is sending you – and pain is a very clear message! If at any point during your practice a certain pose is causing painful sensations that is your cue to back away.
Keeping those signs your body is sending you in mind, it is important to increase the intensity of your yoga practice accordingly – this is true for everyone, but particularly important if you have a known condition.
In a yoga class, your teacher (whether in studio or through a video at home) may make suggestions on how to either deepen or lighten a particular pose. In the beginning it is recommended to stick with the most basic version, and with time begin exploring the more advanced options.
Not A Competition
Remember that yoga is foremost a personal practice: you are not trying to compete with the person on the mat beside you; nor should you be pushing yourself to perform at a self-idealized level.
Our bodies are not the same each day – sometimes we feel tired, sometimes energized – and in the case of arthritis, pain is known to fluctuate widely.
Therefore it is just as important not to compare our practice one day with the practice on another.
If yesterday you could reach your toes in a forward bend, but today you can only reach your knees that is not a sign of failure: it is simply a fact of life.
Most importantly, pay special attention to your sensitive areas. If your arthritis strikes your hands and wrists avoid poses that require you to bear weight in these areas (such as downward dog) – if it’s your hips and knees take extra care when moving in and out of poses that require rotation of these joints.
This is where working with a teacher or Yoga Therapist has the most advantage: Let them know which areas of your body need special attention at the beginning of each practice and they can provide guidance as to how you to avoid aggravating your condition.
Start Living Better Today
Living with chronic pain due to arthritis is never easy, but by beginning to explore the world of yoga– and the many benefits this 5,000-year-old practice has to offer – you can take control of your body again and start living better.
The benefits of yoga can be further bolstered by incorporating an anti-inflammatory diet – which has been shown to help reduce the chronic pain associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other inflammatory conditions.
Simple videos from the American Arthritis Foundation can be found HERE