Arthritis is a progressive condition that affects the health and mobility of the joints of the body. It is very common, with around 10 million people in the UK suffering from it, and while it is often thought of as an age related condition, it can strike at any age, with children also affected. 15% of women and 10% of men in Wales are reported to be affected by arthritis.
The most common form of arthritis, which affects an estimated 8 million people in the UK is osteoarthritis. This is most common in women over 40, but can strike at any age, and can be triggered by injury or other conditions, as well as age and genetic predisposition.
While there is no cure for arthritis, there are things that can be done to alleviate the symptoms, and slow down the advance of the condition. Treatment to manage symptoms and reduce pain are available on the NHS. The NHS also recommends gentle exercise to maintain as much movement in the joints as possible.
Yoga for arthritis
Yoga is a powerful tool to both prevent and manage arthritis. Research has found that regular yoga practice can improve the mental and physical wellbeing of arthritis sufferers.
Here are 5 powerful ways that Yoga can help to make life with arthritis easier.
Increased flexibility in the joints
The arthritic joints, if not moved and exercised regularly, will stiffen more and more and pain will increase. Yoga is well known for promoting flexibility in the joints, and many of the postures can be hugely beneficial to those at risk of, or suffering from, arthritis. Care needs to be taken not to overdo it, or your yoga practice could cause more problems, but if practised with care and under the guidance of a teacher, it can be really beneficial.
If practised regularly, the jattis, or loosening exercises, we do at the start of one of my classes can promote and maintain flexibility and mobility in the joints. This can help to prevent or slow the onset and progression of arthritis.
Arthritis is most associated with chronic pain. Research has shown that people who regularly practice Yoga have a higher tolerance for pain and show lower brain response to pain than people who don’t practice Yoga
Pranayama, the yogic practice of breath control, has been shown to reduce pain in patients with lower back pain, and specifically with arthritis, and is believed to relieve pain in other situations as well
Improved mood and mental wellbeing
Yoga increases production of the feelgood chemical, the neurotransmittor GABA, in the brain. This creates a positive state of mind, which naturally leads to lowered stress, a higher tolerance to pain, and the ability to look beyond the pain to the positives in life. One Yoga session has been found to increase production of GABA in the mind, leading to a real, deeply felt sense of wellbeing in the body and mind.
Reduction of stress
Stress makes every bad situation much worse. Constant pain creates a great deal of stress in the body, which will try to compensate for the parts that feel pain, and the mind, which is constantly trying to deal with, or anticipating, the next flare up of pain. Yoga teaches the practitioner how to relax, to let go of tension in the body and mind, to focus the attention away from, and to breathe through pain.
Yoga can reduce inflammation
As Yoga is a condition characterised by painful inflammation, reducing the inflammation could help to relieve the pain. Yoga has been shown to reduce inflammation through the practice of Pranayama, the art of breath control. Rhythmic breathing, such as Sukha Pranayama, has been found to reduce inflammation in the body. This has powerful implications for arthritis sufferers, as it means that they can get enormous benefits just from breathing exercises, allowing participation regardless of mobility.
In the video below, I guide you through a simple Sukha Pranayama. It is a very old video, my hair looks nothing like this anymore, and I will update soon, but in the meantime, the practice is just the same!
Safety in Yoga class with arthritis
When you have any health issue, it is always best to talk to your yoga teacher, and your doctor, before beginning any exercise regime. Your doctor may have already recommended Yoga as a gentle form of exercise, but make sure that you check with the teacher to make sure that the class you hope to attend is suitable for your needs – some forms of yoga are very intense and powerful and would not benefit you at all. Your teacher should be able to make adjustments and suggestions for how you can participate in the class and still get lots of benefit while taking care of your body’s needs and being safe. I will always recomend that you sit on a chair for many of the postures, and my golden rule is always ‘listen to me, but listen to your body more, and stop and rest when you need to.
If you are based in or around the Rhondda and would like to explore how yoga can help you with arthritis, take a look at my class timetable and see if there is a location and time that works for you. All my classes are accessible to you, and I will suggest modification to suit your condition.
Get in touch if you have any specific questions, or if you would like to double check the suitability of the yoga class for your needs.