If you have been recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and you want to learn how to best cope with this condition, especially using exercise, this article is for you. In this post, we’ll look at several basic facts about RA, but we’ll quickly move on to the types of workouts that are most beneficial in this case. Moreover, we’ll look at how certain yoga poses for rheumatoid arthritis can help individuals who have this condition.
A Few Facts About Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes joint pain and inflammation throughout a person’s body. It is a chronic condition that can affect a variety of organs in the body, one that mostly affects joints, which become swollen, painful, and stiff.
People with severe forms of rheumatoid arthritis might even become incapable of using a particular joint.
RA can be diagnosed using a variety of techniques, from imaging methods such as X-rays, MRI, or ultrasounds, to blood tests and physical examinations.
Treating rheumatoid arthritis can be challenging. Sometimes, it is just about dealing with the symptoms themselves so that the patient experiences less pain and inflammation. Therapies can often involve the use of pharmaceutical drugs, alternative remedies, a number of dietary changes, but also some types of exercise.
Rheumatoid Arthritis mostly affect joints, which become swollen, painful, and stiff.
Why Is Exercising Good For Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Low-impact movement is highly recommended for people who experience pain and inflammation in their joints due to rheumatoid arthritis. This can consist of hand exercises, gardening, walking, water exercise, flowing movements such as tai chi, but also stretching.
Yoga and Pilates have been found to provide excellent benefits for people trying to manage RA pain as best as possible. For instance, some types of Pilates (not all) can help stabilize your joints and also strengthen the muscles around them.
Yoga, in turn, can increase your range of motion and balance, and also your flexibility. If, for one reason or the other, you are unable to join a Pilates or yoga class, you can do the same online, right from the comfort of your own home.
However, it is always a good idea to get the advice of a yoga instructor before attempting any poses by yourself. In this way, you can minimize the risk of injuring yourself.
What Can Yoga Do For People With Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Many medical professionals, especially rheumatologists, agree that light exercise, such as yoga, can make a huge difference when it comes to RA.
On the one hand, yoga can be more fun compared to other activities, such as cycling, swimming, or even walking. It also helps you get stronger and keep your weight in check, which is particularly important for people who want to avoid adding too much pressure on their joints.
Yoga can help you get stronger and avoid too much pressure on your joints.
On top of everything, every yoga session can be customized as per the needs of the person practicing it. Your instructor can make adjustments to protect your wrists if you have problems with them, for example. The same goes for any other body area that might have been affected by RA.
Furthermore, there are specific types of yoga that are considerably more gentle than others. Some types to avoid would be Ashtanga or Bikram, for instance, and also other hot yoga practices.
We’ll go into more detail with regard to the exact kind of yoga that’s recommended for individuals who have RA in the next section, so keep on reading.
Best Types Of Yoga For RA
Even though there are many types that are particularly helpful for this chronic disease, some styles have to be approached with caution. Before attempting any of the yoga styles in the following list, take the time to find an appropriate teacher for your specific needs and make sure that they are experienced enough.
Remember, yoga style is a matter of personal preference, but your health should always come first.
It is best to take the time in finding the right experienced teacher for your needs.
So, what are the best types of yoga for people who have rheumatoid arthritis? Here are a few.
Hatha yoga normally involves slow-moving classes where you try to hold a pose for at least a couple of breaths. Sometimes, a session might involve some meditation, but it’s not mandatory.
The pace of this kind of yoga is much slower compared to that of others, though there are Hatha yoga sessions that might be too rushed for you, so speak to your instructor about your condition before the class starts. This way the instructor will be able to tell you beforehand if the class is appropriate for you as well as take some time to modify the poses with you so that none of them bother your joints.
Iyengar yoga focuses on the precision of each pose and your breathing, too. If you decide to try this type, you’ll find that it involves holding the same pose for several minutes and relying on a variety of accessories (props) that can help you.
People who experience pain or have limited mobility can customize their yoga experience with the help of their yoga teacher. Your body should be properly aligned, and you should never accidentally put too much pressure on your joints.
Compared to the other types that we have already described, restorative yoga focuses on relaxation rather than on the workout itself. The purpose of this practice is to get you into a place of mental and physical well-being, where you can destress and also align your body properly.
When practicing restorative yoga, you can hold a pose for as many as five minutes or more, but you should never push your joints to their limit. If you stretch too much, you risk hurting yourself. Improve your flexibility and relax, but don’t overdo it.
Never push your joints to the limit. even if you are stretching.
Yoga Poses For People With Rheumatoid Arthritis
1. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
This is a pose that is a winner in terms of versatility as it can be used for physical therapy, but also for building your back and leg muscles and strength.
Lie on the floor, bend your knees and set your feet on the ground, with your heels close to your sitting bones.
Exhale, press your inner feet and arms into the ground, and then push your tailbone upwards while firming your bottom. Lift your bottom off the floor and try to maintain your thighs and inner feet parallel. Then clasp your hands below the pelvis and extend through your arms so that you stay on your shoulder tops.
Lift your bottom until your thighs are almost parallel to the ground. Push your knees forward while keeping them right above your heels and then lengthen your tailbone toward the backs of your knees.
Lift your pubis toward your navel and then your chin away from your sternum. Firm your shoulder blades against your back and then press the top of your sternum toward your chin. Try to lift the space between your arms and shoulder blades at the base of your neck into your torso. Maintain the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
2. Corpse pose (Savasana)
Lie on your back and let your legs and arms drop open, with your arms around 45 degrees from your body side. Close your eyes, take deep breaths through your nose, and allow your body to relax and become soft and heavy.
Look for tightness and tension in your body, from your toes to the crown of your head. Once you find any contracted muscles, release and relax them consciously. Stay in this pose, while releasing control of your breath, body, and mind, for anything from 5 to 10 minutes.
If you find that you are more comfortable doing this, you can place a bolster or a blanket under your knees or your lower back.
3. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
This pose is great for your shoulders, neck, spine, hip joint, but also your elbows and fingers. It’s capable of strengthening the muscles you have in your hands, triceps, and your upper back.
Lie on the ground on your stomach and place your forehead on the floor. Place your palms next to your shoulders, with your elbows as close to your body as you can. Exhale, lift your body one area at a time — first your head, then your chest, and then your back and pelvis.
Ensure that your elbows are locked and your hands straight. Inhale and exhale slowly while calming your mind. When coming out of this pose, make sure that you gently release your body parts and return to the lying position.
Cobra pose strengthens hand muscles, triceps, and your upper back.
4. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
This pose is extremely helpful for people who have a hard time relaxing and who experience pain in a variety of body areas. If you add in some gentle breathing, the pose can be even more restorative.
Sit beside a wall, with your shoulder and hip against it. Lower your torso to the ground and lift your legs up against the wall. You can move your body closer or farther to the wall, depending on whatever feels comfortable.
If you feel any discomfort in your lower back, don’t hesitate to use a yoga blanket, pillow, or a block. Let your head rest on the floor and place your arms in whatever position they feel more comfortable. Maintain the pose for one to 10 minutes.
When releasing, gently lift your hips and roll to one side while pushing the bottoms of your feet into the wall.
If you are a complete beginner and you don’t know how to go about things, here are some tips on how you can ease into practicing yoga when living with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Try to relax. There is no point in trying to complete a yoga session if you are feeling stressed or unable to relax at this time. Try to calm down as best as possible before attempting any pose whatsoever. Relaxing makes it easier for your body to restore.
- Breathe properly. Breathing correctly throughout your yoga session is important as it allows you to better manage your pain. Breathe in slowly and exhale slowly through your nose. Exhale through your mouth if you feel like the pressure is getting too much, and if so, undo the pose and don’t go that deep.
- Become aware of your physical capabilities. Knowing what your body can and can’t do means that you will be able to practice the poses that make you feel good and also improve your physical function. Don’t overexert yourself, especially in the beginning.
Relax, breathe properly, and you will become aware of your physical capabilities.
Are There Yoga Types That Are Bad For People With Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The short answer to this question is yes. There are three main kinds of yoga that might put too much pressure on or just strain your joints. Here they are:
- Power yoga
In general, all of these types are too dynamic for people who have a chronic and painful condition such as RA or for those that might experience limited mobility.
Bikram can be dangerous, particularly for geriatric patients, because it is practiced in a room kept at 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with 40% humidity. Seniors, people who have diabetes, or those that are known to have high blood pressure might get sick in a room that’s so hot and moist even though these environmental conditions are supposed to improve stretching.
Both power yoga and Vinyasa are styles that are too vigorous for RA patients.
Since there have been recent reports of people combining alcohol with yoga, we’d like to note that alcohol consumption is not only bad for the musculoskeletal system, in general, but it can also be dangerous when combined with any type of exercise, no matter if it’s yoga or something else.
Vinyasa, Bikram, and Power yoga are too much for people with limited mobility, such as RA.
Final Words About Practicing With Pain
Proceed with caution, and always make your instructor aware of your condition before even signing up. Perhaps that studio can’t offer you the kind of yoga you are looking for or the one that would benefit you the most, but they might be able to refer you to some others that can have and help you.
I know from my own experience how difficult it is to do yoga when feeling pain. For a long time, I was only able to do cat-cow pose, and even almost two years after recovering, there are certain twists I don’t feel comfortable doing. So, it’s about discovering what works for you and your particular situation. Don’t look at what others do or say you should do, follow what feels good, though sometimes it might hurt a bit at the beginning, I know that, and it’s also scary.
My final tip, and something that has worked for me, is to follow your gut about when the pain is tolerable, and part of the healing and strengthening process. Dare yourself to discover the kind of yoga that makes you feel good. For me it’s Yin yoga, similar to restorative yoga.
What’s the kind of yoga that works for you?
Co-founder of MB Zen, digital nomad and freedom seeker. Loves developing projects that improve people’s lives. Functional training, yoga, and healthy eating define his lifestyle since he got his back injured. Fell in love with Yin yoga from the very first session though he won’t say no to any other kind of yoga.