Teacher: Erika Morton
Benefits of Yoga for people with arthritis
Yoga is an ancient form of health exercise with many physical, emotional (psychological) and spiritual (or quality of life) benefits for people of all ages and abilities – including people whose lives are affected by arthritis. Various forms of yoga exist, but generally all involve positioning the body in a range of poses, combined with coordinated breathing and meditation exercises.
Dr David Hunter, Professor of Medicine at The University of Sydney, is a rheumatologist epidemiologist specialising in osteoarthritis. He also practises yoga. He says regular, moderate exercise is critical for people with arthritis, particularly those with osteoarthritis. Exercise improves the integrity and function of the muscles around the joints, ultimately reducing stiffness, pain and
“Simply by virtue of the activity involved in yoga, it can help with the performance and function of the musculoskeletal system,” he says. “In addition, yoga can help with breathing performance and increased mental energy. Anxiety and depression are common problems for people who have arthritis.”
Dr Hunter acknowledges that arthritis can affect people in different ways and that yoga might not be suitable for everyone.
The known benefits of yoga are not the only reason people like to do yoga. Some do it purely for the physical enjoyment, others for relaxation and others who have been doing it for a while find they come to enjoy it for spiritual or emotional reasons.
Some of the benefits specifically for arthritis sufferers are as follows:
Movement and Exercise
Yoga is definitely one option for improving/maintaining fitness for people with arthritis. It is a soothing form of physical exercise that is enjoyable enough to do on a regular basis even for those with inflamed joints.
Yoga is a gentle exercise that can be done within your own limitations. You can gradually increase the effort as your practice continues – this encourages a greater mind-body connection, leading to a better understanding of how your own body works and what you need to do to take better care of yourself.
As many of the poses are weight-bearing, your muscle strength, endurance and bone density will all improve through controlling your own body weight.
It seems to be very well accepted that lowering stress has many benefits for a person’s health, well-being, blood pressure, digestive issues and heart condition. As a result of being more relaxed, people experience more energy, greater concentration; more balanced emotions and enhanced immunity (resistance to illness).
Knowing how to relax will help to improve your sleep quality, which is integral to how you perform during the day. Even 10 minutes of yoga before bedtime can help.
Good flexibility will add to the quality of life of anyone suffering from muscle pain. When a muscle is well stretched and the flexibility of the associated joint increases, the range of motion is increased and the energy needed to move the joint is decreased. This allows for greater ease in day-to-day activities.
Many of the yoga poses require physical balance, which has obvious benefits for people as they get older and might be in danger of falling over. Being confident with your ability to balance, coupled with having increased strength, will help you to feel more confident in general.
Quality of Life
Most people who do yoga find it enjoyable. It is precious time in your week that you give to yourself and it can lead to a healthier lifestyle. Ultimately it will allow you to have a strong and flexible body that you know how to use better to enjoy a wide range of everyday activities. As well as being more relaxed and in a better mood, you will be able to improve other areas in your life such as sleep quality, weight and digestive issues, fitness and flexibility. A great bonus is that yoga can enhance your immunity to illness. If you are concerned about launching into a yoga practice for the first time (or even first time in a long time), talk to your yoga teacher about their experience in dealing with others with similar limitations to yourself and find out what their approach is. Keep in mind that while it is always good to push yourself a little, if it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t. A key benefit of yoga is enhanced mind-body connection. It is important to always be honest with yourself and work within your own abilities.
As a yoga teacher of seniors with a wide range of abilities and aliments, I often hear many concerns when people first begin. Once they learn to trust the yoga and their own bodies, many of these concerns are overcome. The most frequent concerns are:
• I can’t get down on the ground and then get back up again.
• Am I too old?
• Will I be able to keep up? – I’m not very flexible.
• Will I be hurting myself?
The best introduction to yoga is generally a beginner class led by a qualified teacher who can guide you in the safe and healthy execution of modified poses.
On a personal level, I can appreciate the health benefits of yoga as I have had physical and stress-related health issues in the past. As I slowly adopted yoga into my life I came to recognise the benefits (for my story please go to yogaoftheage.com.au). Now, teaching yoga to seniors, I come into contact with people who have accumulated decades of health issues and postural habits whose daily activities have been governed by their limitations (or fears). Many now attribute their improved fitness, mobility, energy and overall confidence and sense of well-being to their yoga practice. They also report increased positive feelings and a general optimism in the way they live their lives.
One of my regular yoga students (a young 70-something) said recently: “I have surprised myself with what I can do. I have been practising yoga for just over a year. It has freed me up and it is easier to get up in the morning – even though I only go once a week.”
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me via my website. I would be very happy to talk to you. Yogaoftheage.com.au
* Erika Morton, director of Yoga of the Age, teaches yoga to people over the age of 55 in classes at Maroubra.