Arthritis is a real pain, usually a very intense pain in one or more joints of the body, effecting almost 20 percent of the population. One of the most important therapies for treating arthritis is exercise, and yoga is one of the best types of exercise for this condition. Arthritic joint pain is a big discouragement to do any exercise or move the body at all, but without exercise the joints become stiffer and lose range of motion that exacerbates the progression of the disease. There is no known cure for arthritis, but several studies have shown yoga effective for reducing and even eliminating the symptoms of this disease.
A gentle yoga practice is recommended, using repetitive movements to warm up the body, then holding postures to build strength and flexibility and finally resting in shavasana, relaxation pose. Postures that focus on flexibility will help open up the joints and increase range of motion and the circulation of blood, energy, and oxygen. Postures that focus on strength will build muscles around the joint, nourishing and stabilizing it. Shavasana is essential to allow the body to rejuvenate, integrate, and use the energy that was created and released in the postures to now heal the body. Using restorative yoga postures will be especially beneficial for relaxing and healing the body.
With osteoarthritis, focus on a warming and energizing yoga practice using more standing and strength building postures and using Kapalabhati and Ujjayi pranayamas.
With rheumatoid arthritis include appropriate inversions to increase circulation of the lymphatic system and balance the immune system. Focus on a cooling and balancing yoga practice using more floor postures and Dirga, Shtiali, and Sitcari pranayamas.
Yoga is contraindicated in acute flare-ups of pain, swelling, or inflammation. Avoid postures that torque or put excess or direct pressure on the joints.
At the beginning of a yoga program, you may feel pain in the effected joints as they move and open. If this pain exceeds what is normally experienced in daily living, back off or modify the postures. You may feel some continuing pain after a yoga practice, but not for more than one to two hours. If longer than this, modify or reduce your program. With consistent practice, preferably two to four times a week, joint pain, swelling, and inflammation will slowly decrease. Start slowly with easy postures and gradually build up the intensity and length of your practice over time.
See our yoga therapy resource guide for arthritis for specific recommendations and further links and resources for healing and strengthening knees, hips and spine.