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Yoga for Arthritis: 8 Tips to Support a Safe Practice

Benefits of Yoga for Arthritis, Tips for Practising Safely, and How to Find the Right Class Fit!



Woman doing stretches for her neck.
Gentle neck stretches

Are you tired of the debilitating pain that comes with arthritis? Are you seeking relief, both physical and mental? Look no further – this ancient practice holds the key to unlocking your body's healing powers. Welcome to our blog post “Yoga for Arthritis: Learning to Move with Ease.” Embark on a journey where Western research and Eastern wisdom dovetail in our exploration of how yoga can alleviate pain, increase flexibility, and enhance your overall well-being. It's time to breathe deeply, stretch creaky joints, and find solace in the union of mind and body. Let's dive in!


Yoga for Arthritis


Arthritis is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide and is characterized by joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation. It can significantly impact daily life and limit mobility, causing discomfort, discouragement, and frustration. Traditional treatment methods for arthritis often involve medication and physical therapy, which can help manage symptoms but may not address the root cause of the problem.


Yoga, on the other hand, offers a holistic approach to managing arthritis by combining mindful movement with breathing techniques and tools for relaxation. Modern research has shown that yoga can improve flexibility, strength, balance, and overall quality of life in people with arthritis, and the best part is a little bit goes a long way! You don’t have to practise an hour every day to experience relief and regain mobility.


That said, not every yoga style, teacher, or even every stretch necessarily delivers your desired effect; but stress not, I’ll share with you what to look for. But first, let’s look at how yoga can ease muscle stiffness and achy joints into your Golden Years and well beyond.


Benefits of Yoga


When it comes to managing arthritis, gentle and mindful movement is essential. However, for those with arthritis, practicing yoga safely may seem daunting at first. Here are some tips to help you move with ease and find relief through yoga.


Here are 3 key benefits of yoga for arthritis:


1. Reduces Joint Pain:

One of the greatest benefits of yoga for arthritis is its ability to reduce joint pain. Gentle movements and stretching help increase blood flow to affected joints, thereby reducing inflammation and stiffness. A regular practice can also stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding the affected joints to offering a preventative aspect to your efforts on the mat.


2. Improves Flexibility:

Arthritis often results in limited range of motion due to stiffness and swelling. Movements that are easy on Monday, such as getting out of bed, can be a struggle the Thursday following! With a regular yoga practice, though, you can increase flexibility by gently stretching muscles and loosening up stiff joints. Improved flexibility can make daily tasks easier, such as bending over to put on your shoes, while reducing the discomfort caused by restricted movement.


3. Builds Strength:

Contrary to what you see in the media, yoga is not about contorting yourself into lithe and luxurious positions. Although the practice does support extending or maintaining current range of motion, it also strengthens the muscles surrounding arthritic joints. Stronger muscles provide better support to affected areas.


Tips for Practicing Yoga Safely with Arthritis


1. Consult your doctor. Any time you begin a new physical activity, and (or) if you experience a notable change in your health, it is important to consult your doctor or healthcare provider. They can assess your individual condition and provide recommendations on positions that would be most beneficial for you and contraindications or movements you’re best to avoid.


2. Listen to your body. This is the single most important lesson that I can impart, both when you’re first starting out, but also decades into a committed practice! Everyone's experience with arthritis is unique, so what works for one person may not work for another. Start slowly and pay attention to how your body responds to each pose or movement. Physical sensation is the only way your body must communicate with you and pain is its most effective tool for grabbing your attention! If something feels uncomfortable or you’re unsure, modify the pose or skip it altogether. In yoga, less is truly more.


Woman using a yoga strap in forward bend.
Woman uses a strap to reach her feet in a forward fold (Ardha Paschimottanasana).

3. Learn to differentiate pain from a deep stretch. The sensation of pain is often described as sharp, stabbing, intense, uncomfortable, and even unbearable. If you’re feeling this, STOP. Ease up on the stretch or get out of the pose entirely and observe your breath. Often the experience of pain brings with it subconscious breath retention (holding the breath). If your heart rate has quickened or exiting the pose brings an exhale of relief (phew!), you’ve gone too far.


4. Focus on Range of Motion: Many people associate yoga with extreme flexibility, but this should not be the end goal, whether you’re practicing with arthritis or you’re in your prime. Instead, focus on gradually increasing range of motion in a safe and comfortable way. This will make the overall experience more enjoyable and will bring you back to the mat often to nurture a safe and consistent practise.


5. Use Props: Yoga props such as blocks, straps, blankets, chairs, and even a wall can provide support and stability while reducing strain on affected joints in poses that could pose a challenge for those with arthritis. Approach these modifications with curiosity and exploration! You might even prefer using a strap or other prop, even if you don't technically "need" it.


6. Adjust Your Stance: Modifying your stance can reduce pain in poses such as Downward Facing Dog and the warrior series. For example, if you have knee pain, instead of standing with your feet hip-width apart, try widening your stance slightly or place a folded blanket under your knees for extra cushioning.


7. Mind Your Mat! Mindfulness is key to managing symptoms through gentle yoga practices. Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment without judgment or distraction. By focusing on your breath and body awareness during these practices, you can cultivate mindfulness to better cope with pain and stress associated with arthritis.



8. Focus on your breath.This! is the single most important lesson that I can impart, both when you’re first starting out, but also decades into a committed practice! Everyone's experience with arthritis is unique, so what works for one person may not work for another. Start slowly and pay attention to how your body responds to each pose or movement. Physical sensation is the only way your body must communicate with you and er go away; this alone has life-altering potential! From a physiological standpoint, deep breathing increases oxygen, which helps promote tissue repair and reduce pain.


Woman doing simple stretches.
Use props, such as yoga blocks, to get the most from your yoga practice.

The Best Styles of Yoga for Arthritis


1. Note the Class Name. You needn't limit yourself to “Yoga for Arthritis” to achieve your goals; however, some styles naturally accommodate the symptoms of this painful condition. Look for classes labelled Hatha Yoga, Gentle Yoga, Beginner’s Yoga, Chair Yoga, Slow Flow, Yoga for 55+, Easy Yoga, Goodnight Yoga, or Slow Flow, for example. Classes described as vinyasa or flow indicate a smooth and continuous movement practise that warms the muscles and lubricates the joints gradually. If you're new to yoga, research a few different styles to get an idea of what you're looking for.


Classes described as "vinyasa" or "flow" indicate a smooth and continuous movement practise that warms the muscles and lubricates the joints gradually.

2. Seek recommendations. Word of mouth is the most reliable measure when it comes to seeking a specialty service, such as Yoga for Seniors! Ask friends or colleagues, your health practitioner and other peers if they'd would recommend a certain studio or teacher. Scroll through the "About US" section of studio or solo teacher websites; read students reviews or testimonials; email teachers to inquire about their experience working with students with arthritis and other limitations. Are they generous with their time and information? Do they genuinely seem to have your experience in their best interest? It is equally important to see if a teacher's vibe or personal style resonates with you.


3. Consider an online platform. A critical determinant of success in your practice is consistency. Ten minutes daily is preferred to 2 hours weekly when it comes to doing yoga with arthritis. Increased student attendance is the number one difference I've observed between face-to-face classes and the online platform. Perhaps its the convenience of a "home studio," or patience saved not driving, but the same students who attended once a week in person now show up daily online (sometimes twice daily!).


The second notable difference is that students who practise online with us feel less self-conscious about trying variations, modifications, or alternatives when a pose doesn’t feel right. They're also more apt to ease out of a stretch or stop altogether, which means lowering the risk of potential injury.


Conclusion

In conclusion, people with arthritis can experience immense benefits from incorporating yoga into a regular routine. The gentle movements are easy on the joints and help increase flexibility and strength to reduce pain and stiffness. Additionally, the mindfulness aspect of yoga aligns individuals with their body, enabling them to focus on healing through movement and deep breathing. Incorporate these tips into your yoga routine and you’re sure to unlock the healing powers of yoga and improve your overall quality of life.


Take action today and contact me for a FREE 15-minute consultation. Let's connect and see if my schedule, style, and experience can accommodate your "uniqueness" and help you meet your needs!

 



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