Guest Author - Terri Johansen
Over 40 million Americans struggle with arthritis. Including yoga in your individual health and fitness regimen can help you manage the pain associated with arthritis. Arthritis, an inflammation of the joints, refers to a number of diseases that cause deterioration in various joint structures causing pain and immobilization. There are two main types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder, resulting in stiffness in the joints and muscles as well as joint erosion and pain. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disorder that erodes the cartilage cushioning areas where bones rub against one another. This erosion of smooth tissue can make movement difficult and painful.
To remain healthy, joints must move and bear weight. Movement increases circulation, which in turn, reduces swelling. Movement also increases delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the joint tissues helping to facilitate the healing process. The areas most commonly affected by arthritis are the hips, knees and hands. People with arthritis cannot afford to become sedentary in order to minimize pain. Lack of exercise can weaken the muscles decreasing stability and support in the joints. Yoga is an ideal form of exercise because its movements are fluid, gentle and adaptable.
The yogic approach to arthritis respects the individual, and the interaction between the mind, body and spirit. Yoga helps all people to be aware of their physical limitations without being paralyzed by them. An individualized yoga program that includes stretching and strengthening is one of the keys to restoring health to arthritic joints. Properly aligned movements designed to strengthen weak muscles and stretch those that have shortened are crucial to restoring stability and range of motion.
Here are some things to know when you enter a yoga program, regardless of your current health condition:
1) Respect pain. Students must recognize the difference between the beneficial feeling of muscles stretching and the pain that signals harm.
2) Balance work and rest. Conserve energy. Balance your active yoga sessions with yogas deeply relaxing restorative poses.
3) Breathe properly. Holding your breath while stretching inhibits relaxation. Smooth rhythmic breathing through the nose reduces pain and tension and increases the feeling of deep relaxation that follows a yoga session.
4) Maintain muscle strength and range of motion. Use each joint in its most stable and functional anatomical plane. Avoid extending your limbs abruptly or in unnatural directions. Listen to your body and to your teacher.
5) Use yoga props to help maintain muscle strength and range of motion. Props allow you to hold poses longer so you can experience their healing effects. Props can support the body in a yoga posture thereby lengthening muscles in a passive, non-strenuous way. They also help to keep you safe by using them to modify poses.
6) Warm-up. Work into yoga poses gradually.
7) Walk. Walking is an ideal companion exercise to a balanced yoga program. Walking improves joint health and has a tranquilizing effect.
Yoga can be done effectively by those suffering from arthritis by using the help of a wall, table, chairs, blocks and other props. Students can progress gradually advancing as they become stronger and more flexible. Yoga is for all ages and abilities. Always inform your instructor, before class, of any illnesses or disabilities. A qualified, well-trained yoga instructor will be able to offer modifications to accommodate most levels of health and fitness.
Always check with a medical professional before doing yoga or any type of exercise. Practice yoga, live right.
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