Women suffering from rheumatoid arthritis are now finding welcome relief in yoga. Research from the USA shows that practicing hatha yoga (physical yoga postures) can help to boost the mood and ease joint pain, fatigue and other related symptoms.
A recent study released by the American College of Rheumatology, suggests that the rheumatoid arthritis rate in women is rising sharply after almost four decades of steady decline. Arthritis can affect anyone of any age, although women and the elderly are at higher risk.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that progressively attacks the joints, heart, liver and kidneys, causing pain and permanent disability if left untreated.
The small study involved women ages 21 to 35 that on average had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for 10 and a half years. After six weeks, they asked both groups about their condition. The group that practiced yoga said they were happier than when they started and could better accept and manage their pain. The women were also reported better general health and more energy in general. The women on the wait list for yoga classes did not experience these improvements. Yoga resulted in a significantly decreased HAQ disability index, decreased perception of pain and depression, and improved balance.
Some of the recognised benefits of yoga for women suffering from arthritis include helping to build muscle strength; increasing flexibility and promoting better balance; reducing body aches and pains and creating a better sense of well-being and reducing feelings of anxiety and depression.
Cheryl MacDonald, yoga elder and creator of YogaBelles® yoga style for women, feels strongly about the benefits of yoga for arthritis: “Almost 70 million people are now affected by arthritis, and with it being more prevalent in women, we are seeing more and more women coming to our YogaBelles classes to try to ease the symptoms, reduce their pain and increase mobility.
Practising yoga has the added benefit of releasing Oxytocin (the feel good hormone) which makes us more relaxed, happy and accepting of our circumstances and day to day trials, such as chronic pain.
At least half of the women who attend YogaBelles classes are in their fifties or older, many suffering from arthritis. Practising yoga can also help ease the symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes and headaches, and just allow women some special me time, so it really is win-win for those women who come to class.”
Cheryl provides some key tips for women with arthritis who want to practice yoga:
“You can practice yoga, even if you have restricted mobility. If you are in pain, then stop. Yoga is not about ‘no pain no gain.’ Don’t push yourself too hard and always listen to and respect your body. Even if you are unable to kneel or have difficulty getting up and down, modifications are available and your teacher can help you with this. A good yoga teacher will work within your level of comfort.
“When practising yoga, try to keep your backbends small and don’t hyper extend the neck. Make sure you are keeping the head in line with the neck and the rest of the spine. For those with arthritis in the hip region, be sure to take extra care when practising hip opening poses with extensive external rotation of the hips. Always practice with caution and care and always stop if you experience any pain.
“During meditation or Savasana modifications to the traditional cross-legged seated pose (sukkhasana) are an available for those with arthritis. There are other seated options or lying on the ground supported or using props such as chairs, bolsters or blocks may be helpful. Basically all aspects of yoga can be modified, it’s accessible to everyone and all are welcome.”
Cheryl’s popular style of yoga, YogaBelles®, is a unique style of yoga created especially for women. YogaBelles yoga, honours the female form and is suitable for women at every stage of life. From teenagers to post-menopausal, women across the UK are enjoying YogaBelles classes whether that is to regulate the menstrual cycle, work through depression or help to alleviate hot flushes during the menopause, at the same time building core strength and stamina for life. YogaBelles teachers can work with clients as part of a class setting or one to one on a therapeutic basis.
Altern Ther Health Med. 2009 Jul-Aug;15(4):24-31.
Functional and physiological effects of yoga in women with rheumatoid arthritis: a pilot study.
Bosch PR1, Traustadóttir T, Howard P, Matt KS.