|Arthritis can be experienced as a minor nuisance - or it can be incapacitating. Most physicians agree that some regular exercise is beneficial for osteoarthritis because it keeps muscle tone intact and helps to prevent stiffness in the joints. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may need to begin more slowly with an exercise program, concentrating instead on the breathing and relaxation aspects. Whatever your situation, you can derive some benefits from Yoga practice.
The American Yoga Association provides a gentle, methodical exercise and relaxation program that can ease the discomforts of chronic arthritis. When the pain of arthritis strikes, it has an effect of stiffening up the rest of the body, as if to protect the part that hurts. Most people respond to this by decreasing their activity level. Inactivity, however, is often the worst thing to do because it weakens the muscles and actually increases stiffness and pain. Yoga encourages you to keep moving gently while your body is healing in order to maintain muscle tone, good circulation, and joint flexibility. A regular exercise program is also extremely valuable psychologically because it increases your confidence that even though you have arthritis, you're not going to be a prisoner in a wheelchair; you can work, play, and do all your daily activities if you exercise regularly.
Yoga exercises begin with gentle movements sitting in a chair; these are adaptations of traditional Yoga exercises designed to gently loosen the joints and relax the large muscle groups. Each exercise has a particular breathing pattern, which helps bring fresh blood and nutrients to muscle tissue as well as improving respiration and relieving physical and emotional tension. Standing and floor exercises can be added gradually to your routine to improve strength, flexibility, and balance. Standing exercises can be done holding on to a sturdy chair so that you'll feel safer and steadier. The American Yoga Association program, detailed in our instructional books and tapes, also teaches self-massage to help bring warmth and improved circulation to the joints.
Breathing, relaxation, and meditation techniques are an important part of your daily routine: these techniques improve respiration, relieve anxiety, and can help distract attention from pain. Breathing helps to relax both physical and emotional tension by flooding the body and brain with oxygen. In Yoga you learn breathing and relaxation techniques you can use anywhere, anytime to relieve stress and tension. A regular daily practice of meditation - simply a quieting of thoughts and memories for a few minutes at a time - gives the body time to relax and heal. Meditation is a complete rest for body and mind.
Arthritis does not have to be a disability; by practicing a few gentle exercises, breathing, and meditation every day, you can reduce pain, build your strength, and maintain your daily activities with health and renewed energy.