In your quest for whole body health, you’ve likely heard about and even considered starting a yoga practice. For those suffering from joint pain and inflammation, yoga can be a great way to reduce the pain, keep the blood flowing through your body, and prevent stiffness in the joints.
In fact, yoga is one of the most effective physical activities for arthritis. TIME magazine explains, “people with arthritis who practice yoga can reap impressive physical and mental benefits,” in an article from 2015. They continued, “Those who practiced yoga three times a week had an improvement in pain levels, energy, mood and physical health compared to the group that didn’t do yoga—and the effects lasted even nine months later.”
In this light, we thought we’d take a look at a number of yoga poses that are great for rheumatoid arthritis and/or osteoarthritis. The goal is to get you back to doing the activities you love!
For those who haven’t tried yoga before, we recommend watching videos on YouTube. Another option is to find a DVD that is focused on yoga for arthritis. Getting started can be a challenge without the guidance of a professional.
What are the benefits of yoga for arthritis?
Deep breathing. Yoga is all about the breath. Breath slow and deep, and center your moves around the breath. Try to mimic what the instructor is doing as far as breathing.
Stretching of the joints and muscles. Joint pain and inflammation are only going to get worse if you aren’t taking steps to stretch and lightly exercise the joints.
Increased flexibility. As your yoga journey progresses, you’ll slowly see yourself becoming more flexible and more comfortable with the poses. Is Crow Pose in your future? You may live in an area where yoga for arthritis classes are available. In-person lessons can make sure you get off on the right foot and optimize your yoga practice.
What yoga poses are good for arthritis?
Tree pose. Stand tall on your mat. Lift one foot to the opposite leg, working hard to make sure you remain stable. Change sides. This pose is great for balance and core strength, and really benefits the lower body.
Birddog Pose. On your hands and knees, extend one leg up off the ground and extend backward. Try to keep your body centered and hips in line with each other. Extend the opposite arm (right leg with left arm, left leg with right arm). Try to do the extensions during and inhale, and release during an exhale. If you can, repeat this pose a few times per practice.
Supine Pose. Lie on your back, with knees bent and feet resting on the ground. Lift one leg up, cross over the other leg, and rest your foot on the knee of the opposite leg. Wrap one arm through the hole created by the lifted leg, and the other around the other leg. Slowly pull that leg in toward your chest. Hold for one full breath, and release. Repeat on the opposite side.
Goddess pose. Stand at the front of your mat, with relaxed on the ground and knees bent.
Happy Baby pose. This pose is slightly more advanced. Lie on your back, and move your hands down to grab your feet. Bring the knees to the chest, with a strong bend in the knee that extends the legs outward, kind of a like a crab. Roll lightly back and forth. This pose is great for the lower back and entire lower body.
Bridge Pose. Here is another slightly more advanced pose. Lie on your back, knees bent with feet on the mat. Slowly lift up at the waist, stretching the body in an upward manner. If you can, hold for one or two breaths. Slowly lower back down.
Cobra pose. The cobra pose can be one of the most effective yoga poses for arthritis. Lying on your stomach, place your hands on the floor. Slowly lift your head up, pulling back so that your neck and chest rise as well. Keep your eyes and face focused forward. The lower part of the body should remain still, but the muscles in your back will work hard on this one. It really stretches those mid-level joints and is also great for the wrists and elbows.
Cat Cow. To be technical, cat cow is a combination of two poses. Both are done on your hands and knees. Try to stack the bones – shoulders over elbows, hips over knees. Breath in and push the naval out, pulling in the back and stretching the neck. Then, on the exhale, suck the naval in as you thoroughly push the breath out through the mouth. If you make a heavy breathing noise here, no worries – I do too. Your back will be arched up like a cat here, as opposed to sucked in, hence the name Cat Cow.
Forward Fold. Forward fold is a great stretch for the ligaments, hamstrings, and really for the whole body – it’s also quite enjoyable to just relax in it for a couple of breath cycles. Don’t strain yourself, but instead take the fold down from Mountain Pose (standing tall and upright) as peacefully and slowly as you like. If your joints allow you to relax, do so, if not, don’t linger. Exhale as you lean forward at the hips, lengthening the torso and breathing out hard on the way down. Elbows and knees can bend naturally, there’s no reason to keep them locked up tight. The head should hang down with the view behind you through the legs. Press the heels into the mat and extend your backside up.
Leg Twists. In a supine manner, lift the legs in tandem as you lie on your back on the yoga mat. Slowly but confidently twist them to the left as far as is comfortable, trying to minimize the movement of the back and upper body. You can extend the arms out if you wish, or keep them closer to you, but you may have more luck with balance if there is some space between them and your legs.
Slowly rise the legs back to center and lower down on the right side. Be sure not to rush this stretch – it’s meant to be taken nice and slow in these circumstances.
Downward Facing Dog. Here’s one to really stretch the entire body, and challenge yourself a bit. We’ll start on all fours, similar to the cat cow routine. Bring your hands ahead of the shoulders, and keep them firm as you’ll be putting weight on them. Feet should be placed hip-width apart. Press into the outer edges of the palm and fingers and push yourself up so that your body is lifted, hands and toes on the ground.
This one definitely takes some practice – but once you get it, it feels great. Here’s a quick video to watch:
Pull the naval in towards the spine as you exhale, tightening the body and really working that stretch. Keep knees bent and lengthen the spine as much as is comfortable. If you can, try to lower the heels as far as possible and straighten the legs, but don’t go any further than is pain-free.
When practicing yoga for arthritis, remember these tips:
Take it slow! The goal is to stretch and exercise, not hurt yourself. If something doesn’t feel doable, or is painfully uncomfortable during the process, unwind back to the starting position and simply skip that move in the future.
Stay consistent. You may have days where certain poses come without much effort, and others where you feel tight or the poses just aren’t coming naturally. This is normal. Think of your yoga practice as an ongoing journey.
Protect yourself. Remember to use a yoga mat or thick towel for knee protection, and make sure you have plenty of room around you to spread out.
Talk to your doctor. We recommend discussing with your doctor whether yoga is right for you, and which poses should be pursued or avoided.
As your practice progresses and you continue to learn from videos or an instructor, you may feel comfortable adding more poses into the routine. Maybe even swapping some out and replacing with slightly more advanced poses.
But remember, yoga is all about slow progress. It’s about relaxing, breathing, and connecting with your entire body. It’s not about reps, pumping iron, or being tough. Yoga allows you to find a personal comfort zone and a place to come back to it each time.
Start slow, only do what you’re comfortable with, and listen to what your body tells you. If you are feeling tense and not flexible, skipping a day or coming back later is encouraged.
Yoga for arthritis can be a great part of your health routine and help to reduce joint pain and inflammation. There are also a number of other exercises that are great for arthritis! When combined with our GLX3 Green Lipped Mussel Oil supplement, a healthy diet, and anything else as recommended by your doctor, you may just find that arthritis pain is more manageable and less of a nuisance.