Practicing Yoga for Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain


Best and Worst Types of Yoga for RA

Yoga routines can range from stationary and mellow to flowing and powerful. Not every type will suit a body with joint problems, and depending on your specific points of discomfort, you may have to scale back your routine soon after you start it up. However, these types of yoga tend to bring a comfortable balance of stretching and strengthening without straining your sore joints:

  • Hatha yoga. Rules, regulations and competition have no place in a Hatha yoga routine, where gentle postures are taken from a range of yoga styles and compiled in sequences designed to align your muscles, skin, and bones. The poses don’t flow into each other; instead they are slow and static, and emphasis is placed on stretching and learning to breathe into the stretches. Hatha is the best place to begin a yoga practice, but it’s also a great way for more seasoned yogis to stay limber and relaxed.
  • Iyengar yoga. This is actually a type of Hatha yoga, but puts a bit more emphasis on precision and breath. The movements are slow and stable, and the poses will often involve yoga props to maintain proper alignment, like foam or cork blocks, belts, and blankets. These tools will help you reap the rewards no matter how flexible or strong different areas of your body happen to be, which makes it especially appealing for those who are limited in their range of motion.
  • Vinyasa. If Hatha is a bit too meditative for you, you may want to step up the activity level with a Vinyasa class. The core idea of Vinyasa is connection: the poses flow into each other, and each transition will take place on an inhalation or exhalation. It can take a bit of practice to match your breath with the flow of movement, but Vinyasa doesn’t have to be hard on your body — simple sequences can be done with all limbs on the mat for strong support. Lots of people appreciate the diversity of Vinyasa.

The worst types of yoga for RA are easy to spot: high intensity movements combined with weight bearing poses and a fast pace spell trouble for those with joint issues. Certain forms of Vinyasa fall into this category, including Ashtanga yoga and what’s known as Power yoga.

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Bikram yoga uses heat to intensify the routine of 26 postures, practiced in the same sequence every time. While heat can help you open up your joints and soothe your inflammation, Bikram yoga can be very physically demanding. If you’d like to try out hot yoga, consider a Moksha yoga class: this is a chain of yoga studios in North America that use heated rooms, but include a variety of gentle Hatha and Vinyasa classes in their schedule for all abilities.

Precautions to Keep in Mind

Before you start any new exercise, you’ll need to talk with your doctor about any physical limitations you might have. For instance, if particular joints are giving you trouble, your doctor or rheumatologist may have some specific advice to ease the pressure and protect them from further damage.

Working with a reputable yoga instructor who has experience with arthritis patients is best. A comfortable and responsive environment is important, and a good teacher will help you to adjust your postures and stay motivated.

Most importantly, always remember that pain does not point to gain – if anything starts to hurt, scale back your exercise or take a break for the day, a week, or until your flare-up is over.

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