Yoga is all about cultivating a sense of union between your body, mind, and deeper Self. This can be tough when you feel disjointed because of pain in your joints (where two or more bones unite). There are many potential causes of joint pain, from injury to arthritis.
Some sources estimate that 1 in 3 adults may have arthritis, many undiagnosed. “Arthritis” is a broad term, including over one hundred different conditions. The most common type is osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear. If we live long enough, most of us will deal with this. Other types include: rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and gout.
Common conditions such as bursitis, tendonitis, and carpal tunnel are often also lumped into the category of “arthritis” and related conditions.
A growing body of evidence supports yoga for arthritis symptoms and overall pain. Specifically, a recent study at a leading research university showed statistically significant improvements in pain. Based on this research and others, the following yoga tips apply for arthritis and any type of joint pain.
1. Move It or Lose It
Movement is universally recommended by doctors and experts to manage arthritis symptoms. It is vital for daily activities and to maintain and gain range of motion, stability, and balance.
2. Take It Easy
Breathe deeply and slowly. Be present in your body to observe the signals. Trust that meditation and deep relaxation measurably restructure the brain to reduce or even eliminate the perception of chronic pain.
Also note that arthritis conditions often “flare,” becoming significantly worse for periods of time. During these times, it is often best to get some R&R. Try restorative poses and audio meditations.
3. Seek Support
Don’t be afraid to prop yourself up when you need it. This may mean using a bolster or blanket to cushion your hips or knees during yoga practice.
It also may mean reaching out to friends and family for support during flares.
4. Remember: No Pain, No Pain
Forget that old adage, “no pain, no gain.” The only thing that is gained with increased joint pain during poses, is more potential damage to the joint.
However, it is important to note that with arthritis and related conditions, there may be an ever-present pain, but there should be no additional or increased pain during yoga.
Over time, a well-rounded yoga practice may decrease the overall pain. In a recently released rigorous clinical trial, yoga was shown to significantly decrease pain for participants with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. This positive result even persisted nine months later!
Research like this suggests the promise of yoga for joint pain.
5. Feel the Stretch Right
So many students struggle with knowing if what they are feeling is pain (the body’s red flag) or if it is a beneficial, intense sensation that comes from building muscle or flexibility.
Avoid the red flags:
- Sharpness, shooting, or tingling down the limbs that makes you grimace.
- Intensity deep in the joint.
Instead, breathe slowly into:
- A sense of relief that you can smile through.
- Dull sensation into the belly (thickest part) of the muscle.
As an example, imagine doing Janu Sirsasana. You want to feel it in the back of the thigh and leg but not around the knee (in the ligaments) or deep inside the knee joint (where the cartilage or bone spurs may be rubbing).
6. Keep Up With Your Doc
Remember that yoga is an integrative healing practice that works to complement your regular medical care. Stay in touch with your medical team, particularly for rheumatic joint conditions, which affect the immune system. If you are unsure about what is causing your joint pain, go visit your doctor. Be proactive about your own health.
Yoga as an integrative practice is an empowering tool to heal and transform your body, mind, and true Self. Find union by giving your joints some love.
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