Yoga and arthritis

by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR

Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.

Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

Information from the Arthritis Foundation,,, and my own yoga instructor

One of the best ways to create some calm and achieve a "good stretch" is the ancient practice of yoga. Yoga is also one of the few alternative therapies to demonstrate benefit for patients with arthritis. At least two excellent studies have demonstrated effectiveness of yoga for patients who have osteoarthritis.

The great thing about yoga is that it is good for people of all ages and both genders and it provides a truly balanced mental, emotional and physical workout. For people with arthritis, it provides a non-impact aerobic workout which also incorporates stretching and relaxation.

Yoga lowers blood levels of cortisol. Chronically elevated levels of this stress hormone raise heart rate and blood pressure, and contribute to the accumulation of abdominal fat that eventually results in an apple shape (placing you at a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes). Yoga also enhances flexibility and balance, assets at every age and especially beneficial in preventing potentially debilitating falls in the elderly.

The most common type of yoga practiced in the US is hatha yoga. But there are also a number of more distinct yoga approaches, and classes at some venues (especially dedicated yoga centers) are more specialized.

At the root of all yoga is proper yogic breathing, or pranayama. According to Daily Health News contributing editor and hatha master, Andrew L. Rubman, ND, proper yogic breathing is essential to obtaining the deeper benefits of the practice. What to do: Allow the breath to descend to the base of the chest like sand beginning to fill a bag. Feel the base of the lungs fill while they uniformly press down on the abdomen. Feel the ribs move as if from the base of the chest to the shoulders. As the lungs near their capacity, the shoulders rise and swing slightly back at the peak of inhalation. Exhalation is simply the reverse process -- imagine watching a video of the breath inhalation, played backward but at about half speed. For every second counted during breathing in, aim toward twice the interval for breathing out.

Yogic breathing is vital to all types of hatha yoga, including...

Kundalini yoga, which focuses on breathing and meditation (and sometimes chanting) as you move through a series of poses.
Iyengar yoga, which incorporates the use of belts,

cushions, benches and blocks in postures.
Ashtanga, or "power," yoga, a perennial favorite in gyms, which is more physically demanding. Prepare to work up a serious sweat when you practice ashtanga yoga, which requires rapid-fire movements and athletic jumps.
Bikram, or "hot," yoga, comprising a series of 26 poses performed in 100-degree-plus-temperatures. The theory is that sweat flushes the toxins from your body while the heat warms and stretches muscles.

Each hatha yoga class is as unique as the instructor who teaches it. When choosing a particular yoga class or approach, keep the following in mind...

If you have a preexisting condition, such as high blood pressure, arthritis or osteoporosis, see your health-care provider before starting any yoga program.

Inform your instructor about all preexisting conditions. A good yoga teacher will take these into account when recommending poses or breathing exercises for you. If he or she fails to do so, choose another class.

Rigorous approaches, such as power and hot yoga, are not for everyone. You need to be in pretty good shape to safely enjoy these demanding practices. When in doubt, consult your physician for a medical clearance.

Some senior centers offer gentle yoga classes tailored to the unique needs of older people. Again, check with your doctor first for medical clearance.

To help locate an appropriate class, visit the Yoga Journal Web site at and click on "Class Search." You also can find detailed step-by-step information about poses, breathing and meditation on this Web site.

Yoga’s postures and exercises will allow you to tap into a quiet place in your mind so that you will have more calm to deal with life's inevitable stresses. This is good for you all around, body and soul.

Along with the meditative and quietness benefits of yoga, I have found it helps with cranky joints. Yoga is by far one of the best methods for stretching.

Get more information about yoga and arthritis and related topics as well as...

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Click here Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

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