Arthritis and Yoga
Yoga is often portrayed in the media these days as being practised by the young, superfit, and able-bodied. This is not the case, though, says Diana Woodhead. In fact, it can be practised by people of different abilities, starting with arthritis.
In this first of three articles about yoga and disability, we will look at how yoga and meditation can help people with arthritis.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is widespread but not well understood. There are over 100 types. They all involve the joint tissues around the joint and include pain, stiffness, inflammation, and damage. Although there are similarities, there are also many differences in course severity and comorbidity. The word “arthritis” means inflamed (itis) joint (arthro). It is more common in people aged over 65 years old but can affect people of all ages.
In a healthy joint, the articular cartilage, which is shock-absorbing padding with a slick surface, enables the bones to glide effortlessly past each other; this is facilitated by synovial fluid secreted by a thin membrane that lines the joint. Bones are held together at the joints by ligaments that help keep the joint aligned. Tendons connect muscle to bone. Muscles work in opposing pairs to bend and straighten joints. Outside the joints, fluid-filled sacs called bursae cushion and separate.
Prevalence of Arthritis
· >10 million UK
· >40 million Europe
· >54million US
· >108 million in India (15% of the population)
Whole Person Condition
Arthritis affects all areas of life. As well as decreased physical function, the emotional impact of coming to terms with the disease, the pain, and adapting to a change in life can all be devastating. It may make people hesitant to engage in physical and social activities. Ultimately the physical symptoms can lead to depression, anxiety, anger, and despair.
Yoga is more than physical postures. It also promotes lifestyle balance, relaxation training, stress reduction, gratitude, positivity, and acceptance.
Yogic breath practices(pranayama) may be useful for balancing energy levels and the nervous system. This can alter the experience of pain and stress in people with arthritis.
The three-part breath (Dirga Pranayama) is a foundational practice in yoga. It explores using the lungs’ primary breathing apparatus, diaphragm, abdomen, intercostal muscles, sternum, and clavicles to give a complete healthy breath. It is appropriate for almost anyone and can be done any time of the day. It builds awareness, calms the nervous system, and is good to use at the beginning or end of practice.
Movement Practices (asana)
There used to be a concern that exercise might increase inflammation and cause more pain. Research now shows that yoga can help with pain, increased flexibility, and improving strength.
There are many modifications that can be made to include people with arthritis into mainstream classes, or there are specific chair-based or slow yoga classes that can be accessed.
In order to modify, props can be used, such as blankets, yoga bricks, or bolsters, to make yoga more accessible.
Meditation has been shown to help with arthritis, especially mindfulness-based practice. It is important to find a meditation that suits the individual and establish a regular practice to be effective.
The nature of the mind is to jump quickly between thoughts and feelings. Yogic tradition recommends concentration practices as these can help to calm the so-called ‘monkey mind.’
One of these practices is called Trataka and focuses on staring at the flame of acandle.
Yoga not only helps with joint mobility, strength, balance, and flexibility through physical movement but develops awareness. The non-judgmental observation of mindfulness practice strengthens the intellect and the ability to accept the constant changes being experienced. The yoga community offers a supportive network and may alleviate feelings of isolation.
Create space in your life
Yoga unites the mind, body, and soul in a way that eases tension and promotes health and well being. Regular practice improves your breathing and outlook on life.
Enhance Your Wellness
Yoga is a great way to improve your endurance for other physical activities. After a workout, yoga will help your body relax while stretching and strengthening.
Calm Your Mind
Yoga not only improves your body, but also helps with mindfulness and meditation. Take a break from daily life in order to focus on yourself and get clarity.
What have your experiences with yoga been?
See our FriendTalk forum for yoga — it is a great way for us all to share the tips, techniques, breakthroughs and joys of yoga! Start a chat about what you’ve discovered — and feel free to add any yoga questions there as well.