Arthritis as a challenging health issue
For those that live with Arthritis, suffering from acute flare ups every now and then, or living with the chronic dull hum of aches and pains in the background, there is a tool that may help us to manage with a little more ease and grace.
The Ancient wisdom of Yoga can be applied to our daily lives in many different ways to help us to manage symptoms of Arthritis. It is important to note that checking with your doctor before is a good idea before starting any new exercise or wellness regime, but for those of us out there that live in constant discomfort, we’re probably ready to try anything!
No practice is complete without a little bit of reference, and here I’d love to briefly mention where this all began. 3000 years ago with sage Patanjali and the Yoga Sutra’s that hold many answers and secrets to living life with a little more ease. The second chapter of this incredible text speaks of Yoga Sadhana of practices to help bring balance to stress in the body which can lead to physical ailments such as arthritis.
Yoga to help manage symptoms of arthritis
Most of us know yoga as asana (or postures), and we will come to this, but there are a few other things we could do with checking off before getting down and dirty on the floor!
Your state of mind
Take a step back, and answer honestly, how are you feeling? It’s likely if you’re reading this, and dealing with pain day in and day out, probably not great. And that’s fine. But taking a moment and being kind and gentle to yourself, and checking in with yourself is where it all begins. It’s likely you feel kind of dull, possibly groggy. Maybe you find it hard to get out of bed, or pull yourself up off the sofa and get into action. Try these two ideas today and see them help to lift your spirits and blow out the cobwebs:
Take a gentle walk and get some fresh air in your lungs and if you can access nature (some trees, a patch of grass somewhere), even better!
Get yourself near some heat and allow your muscles to relax (sit in the sun, or a warm spot in a window indoors if it’s cool out, sit by a radiator or in front of a fire, or take a warm bath)
Now take another step back and have a look at what's on your plate. It’s a good idea to start reducing the amount of animal products and animal hormones you’re consuming (meat, dairy, eggs) and any other food high in protein. For example, any protein shakes, too much tofu or beans. Focus consuming foods that help to promote the circulation of your blood and warm the body. Try adding the following spices to your soups, salads, sandwich fillings or vegetables - turmeric, cumin, coriander, mustard seeds and fresh green herbs. Yum!
And now, your body
Yoga asana can be very beneficial in helping to reduce pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Always listen to your body, if any of the following causes discomfort, then back out of the pose. Always check with your doctor. Here are 4 yoga postures for arthritis.
1. Talasana (palm tree pose)
Palm tree pose is great for building strength in the whole body and relieving compression of the cartilage between the vertebrae, stretching the spine and the skeletal muscles, and also bringing life and energy to the arms and the legs.
Stand with your feet hip distance apart and as parallel and is comfortable for you. Relax with your hands at the side of the body and take some gentle breaths. When you’re ready, inhale raising the arms above your head and at the same time lifting up onto your tiptoes. Suspend your breath for a few seconds, and when you’re ready to breathe out, exhale releasing the arms and feet back down. Repeat 3 or 4 times. Focus on coordinating the movements with the breath.
If you have severe back, ankle or knee pain then keep then don’t lift your heels. If the pose feels too strong at first, begin raising one arm and a time and if need any extra support, hold onto the back of a chair with the opposite arm.
2. Bhadrasana (butterfly or cobblers pose)
Butterfly pose is a gentle posture that helps to stretch out the hips, pelvis and inner thighs. It helps to relieve tiredness in the legs and also helps to stimulate the digestive organs and pelvic organs.
Sitting on the floor, bring the souls of the feet together. If there is discomfort in the lower back, sit on a cushion or two. Allow your knees to flop out to the side. For a gentler version of the pose move your feet further away from the body, for a stronger hip stretch, bring the feet closer to the groin. You can also put a cushion or two under each knee for extra support. Take a big breath in and sit tall, lengthening through your spine and feeling your chest open up. As you exhale, allow the body to relax forward. When it feels comfortable, take another big breath in, and as you exhale allow your head and neck to release. Take a few nice long breaths here, and stay as long as feels comfortable for you. With each exhale, feel the body and mind beginning to let go, to surrender and to release mental and physical stress and tension.
In the case of severe arthritis you can do this pose lying on your back, with cushions supporting your knees. If you are lying on your back, focus on breathing deep into your belly.
3. Hastapadasana (toe to knee pose or standing forward fold)
This standing forward fold is very relaxing for the body and the mind and helps to release stress and tension from the back, shoulders and neck. It’s a wonderful stretch for the whole back of the body and should be practiced on an empty stomach. It’s also fabulous for promoting healthy digestion.
Stand with your feet together. Take a big breath in, and raise your arms above your head. Stretch up and back. And as you exhale, slowly release your arms down towards the floor, bending at your hips. Your arms can dangle towards the floor, or hold onto opposite elbows if there’s any discomfort in your lower back. Be sure to have a slight bend in your knees so your legs don’t hyperextend, and you have the weight of the body over the balls of the feet. Let the head and neck be totally heavy and totally relaxed and breathe deep. With every exhale feel the body letting go, and if there is any extra tension, as you exhale let out a big sigh through the mouth.
It is important to keep as much bend in the knees as is needed to allow the back of the body to begin to relax, and feel free to keep the feet slightly separated if that helps with balance. If you feel dizzy at any point, gently lower the hips and come into a squatting pose, or stand gently with a hand on the wall.
4. Savasana (corpse pose)
The corpse pose is an extremely relaxing posture for both body and mind. It is used to relieve both physical strain and to quieten the mind.
Lie on the floor with your feet about 20 inches apart, legs relaxed and feet flopped out to the sides. Allow your arms to relax, palms up, several inches from the sides of your body. Take a big breath in, and as you exhale, feel your entire body letting go and sinking into the floor. Focus on your gentle breath and feel your muscles, your bones, your organs and even your nervous system, beginning to relax. In this posture it’s very beneficial to use the technique of conscious relaxation, progressively relaxing all parts of the body, starting with the toes and moving your awareness bit by bit, relaxing everything, until you get to the top of your head.
If you feel any discomfort in the lower back or the knees, rest the souls of your feet on the floor about hip distance apart and let your knees rest on each other. If you feel any discomfort in your neck, use a small pillow or a rolled up blanket under your head.
Ready to create a little bit of space for you? Why not try our Live Online Yoga classes, bringing you accessible yoga for all, from our living room to yours? Sign up now for 15 days of free unlimited classes.
Carrie is a co-founder of The Frog Project, yoga teacher, yoga teacher trainer and full time stay at home mum to two smalls. When she's not playing with the kids or practicing yoga, you'll likely find her in the middle of her veg patch, trowel in hand and covered in mud. She loves the outdoors, and would camp every night given the chance. She and her partner in crime, Martin, set up The Frog Project with the aim of bringing classical yoga to all, and deliver live online classes with a group of dedicated teachers, to students of all experiences, ages, shapes, sizes, jobs, lives, you name it, from all around the world. Join them now and get 15 days of free unlimited classes. It's just yoga.