Arthritis ('arth' meaning joint, 'itis' meaning inflammation) is the name for a group of more than 100 different autoimmune diseases that affect the joints and the tissues which surround them. Typically, arthritis is characterized by pain and stiffness in and around the joints. Certain types of arthritis can even involve the immune system and affect various internal organs. Arthritis can be anything from mild tendonitis to systemic forms, such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lupus. Contrary to popular belief, arthritis affects people of all ages, not only the elderly, with the onset age of some forms of the disease being well before the age of 18.
Suffering from arthritis symptoms is a double edged sword: those who live with the disease often experience debilitation pain causing them to give up an active lifestyle which further harms to their joints which in tern causes them more pain. This may seem counter-intuitive because why would anyone want to exercise when their joints are inflamed and moving is painful?
The fact is those living with arthritis need regular exercise in order to manage their symptoms and help keep their joints functioning properly. Yoga has been proven to help manage the symptoms of various forms of arthritis. Several studies focusing specifically on the potential benefits of Iyengar Yoga have been conducted showing significant results on the management of arthritis pain. Most therapy-based, restorative, and hatha styles of yoga can do the trick in helping to manage arthritic pain as long as they are low-impact, taught safely, and focus on proper movement patterns. Let's learn more.
How it works
The inner lining of a joint is called the synovial membrane. The joint membrane is responsible for making a fluid called the synovial fluid whose job it is to lubricate and supply the joint with nutrients. The very act of moving a joint helps to circulate this fluid throughout the inside of the joint. If you stop moving, you stop helping to maintain the natural maintenance system of your joints.
Yoga when practiced correctly asks the joints to move safely in their natural range of motion. Some of these movement patterns are foreign to us because we simply don't move this way anymore; our regular lives don't ask for it. Hereing lies the beauty of a yoga class for those living with arthritis: yoga helps to improve your flexibility while moving synovial fluid into all the itsy-bitsy crevices on the inside of your joints which will then help keep them healthier longer.
How to practice safely
Chose a style of yoga that is low-impact, not one that requires you to move quickly from one pose to another, jump, or involves heat.
Move only through your natural range of motion. Don't force your body to move into positions it doesn't want go.
Take the ego out of your practice and stop comparing yourself with others. Work at your level without strain and you'll reap the benefits. Progress might seem slow but you will progress.
Arthritis is a double edged sword: pain causes you to move less which in turn causes more harm to the joints which leads to more pain. Stay active!
De-stress: Stress plays a large role in the severity of arthritis symptoms. Practicing yoga benefits those living with arthritis not only from a physical standpoint but from a mental one too. Remember yoga involves more than poses: meditation and breath work can help manage pain. On your bad days when symptoms are worse, there's no reason not to practice.
Regardless of whether or not you have arthritis, the take home lesson here is to maintain an active lifestyle that includes various forms of exercise including yoga to keep your joints healthy and happy well into your senior years.