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May 2016

Yoga Benefits for Arthritis - May 2016


Ocean Rheumatology P.A. Ramesh Kumar MD


Yoga is a set of theories and practices with origins in ancient India. It dates back to 5000 years and the word yoga in the language of Sanskrit means “Yoke” or “To Unite”. Through this unification of mind, body, and spirit, people around the world have improved their physical and mental well being.

Although yoga has spiritual roots, today in the west an interest in the practice has developed solely for its physical health benefits. Different styles of yoga like Hatha, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram and many more have evolved in studios around the country. The simple idea of stepping into a yoga studio or the thought of a yoga pose that involves twisting into a pretzel-like shape is a daunting one.  Fortunately, a beginner/gentle practice of yoga with a knowledgeable instructor will help you develop a communication with your own body. The relationship to pain that you may be experiencing with arthritis will begin to change. The ability to get through daily activities much more effectively with an increased energy level will develop.

So how does one practice yoga when at times it is so painful or difficult to even move? The answer is simply, slowly and mindfully. Through yoga postures (asanas) one learns how to incorporate breath control, meditation and relaxation with postural alignment, strength, endurance and balances.  However, it is important that a knowledgeable instructor is able to identify and work with limited mobility through the use of safe modifications such as props, chairs, straps, and blocks. Even the most advanced yogi needs a prop from time to time. Once the poses have been correctly learned, individuals can continue to practice in the comfort of their home.

In December 1994, a study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, showed a yoga derived program was effective in providing relief in hand Osteoarthritis. An article published in July 2015, on a clinical trial of yoga, conducted by Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, shows evidence suggesting yoga may help sedentary individuals with arthritis and safely increase physical activity, and improve physical and psychological health.

Yoga is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity that also has psychological benefits due to its meditative nature. Yoga is also associated with increased energy, muscle strength, and flexibility. Talk to your doctor first and ask specifically if there should be any limitations or restrictions your doctor wants you to observe. The best introduction to yoga would be with a qualified yoga instructor that incorporates gentle/beginner or therapeutic classes. The Arthritis Foundation offers information and a DVD on yoga for individuals seeking to learn the practice, but supportive and individual attention can be only be provided by a trained instructor. Practicing yoga regularly can reduce pain, increase flexibility, improve function, and lower stress.