You may be surprised to find out that arthritis is actually not one disease, but a blanket term for a family of over 100 diseases and conditions that may cause swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints, as well as a decreased range of motion. Arthritis is difficult to treat because symptoms can be so variable and unpredictable, and everyone’s body responds to their arthritic issue in a unique way.
So, while some yoga poses in particular and a regular yoga practice in general may be beneficial for some, anyone suffering from arthritis or arthritic symptoms should always consult a doctor beforehand to make sure it’s safe and a good fit for their particular situation.
With that said, yoga and its associated stress-lowering and flexibility-enhancing benefits can help reduce inflammation and stiffness that may be contributing to your pain and discomfort. These four yoga poses can help bring you immediate and long-term relief.
1. Child’s Pose
Let’s start simple! Place your knees on the mat, with your big toes touching behind you and the tops of your feet flat on the floor.
Take your knees as wide as you’d like so you can be comfortable as you slowly lower your chest down to rest on (or in between) the tops of your thighs. Sometimes I like to take my knees as wide as my mat – this challenges your range of motion in your hips – or keep them so narrow that my thighs are touching each other – this can challenge your flexibility in your knees.
Lower yourself with a flat lower back until your forehead touches the mat. Reach up to the top of the mat with your fingertips, stretching out the shoulder joint while keeping space between the tops of your shoulders and your ears. If you feel strong and comfortable in your neck, you can take your hands to your lower back, taking your elbows in the opposite palms to gently open the chest.
Stay here for five minutes or longer, using your breath to help you sink deeper into this pose and become more comfortable as you gently challenge and open your hips, ankles, neck, and chest, and release synovial fluid into your knees, lubricating the joints.
2. Supine Leg Openers
The lower back may feel particularly tight in those with arthritis symptoms, and gently stretching the legs and twisting out the spine is a great way to start relieving the tension.
Grab a strap and lie on your back on the mat. Take one leg down the mat and bring the other into your chest (this on its own is already a great gentle stretch!). Wrap the strap around the bottom of your foot and then gently stretch your leg up into the air, taking care not to lock out your knee.
Enjoy this gentle hamstring stretch, then let the leg that’s in the air gently fall open to that same side, keeping both hips and shoulders grounded on the mat. Stay here as long as you like, then engage the core and bring the leg back up to center and across the center of the body, falling over the midline of your torso to the other side, again keeping both shoulders on the mat.
This gently opens up all the muscles in the inner and outer thigh, as well as the hamstrings, bringing increased mobility into the lower back. Switch legs and perform the same stretch on the other side. (Pro tip: from here, it’s a great idea to go into a supine twist! Bring both knees into your chest and let them fall over to one side. Repeat on the other side.)
3. Hip Openers
Stretching out your hips will also help immensely with any lower back discomfort. Try Modified Pigeon Pose: Place one foot against a wall with the knee at a 90-degree angle. Place the ankle of the opposite foot on top of the thigh of the leg that’s on the wall, flexing that foot. Then, scoot your glutes as close as you can to the wall and press open the knee of the top leg.
Modify as needed for your desired intensity, and keep all of your back on the floor the whole time, especially the tailbone. This pose has all of the excellent benefits of giving a deep stretch to the outer hips and lower back, but is much more gentle on the joints than full Pigeon Pose.
4. Stretch Out the Wrists
In those who suffer from arthritis, the hands and wrists can be some of the most affected parts of the body. Start in forward fold and bend the knees as much as you need to in order to fit your whole hands, palms facing up, underneath the soles of your feet, in Gorilla Pose. This offers a gentle pull on the wrist, and you can add soft pressure with your feet to give a natural massage to the joints in your fingers.
Arthritis experts recommend movement as both treatment and prevention for arthritis, and yoga is the perfect exercise to start with. It’s gentle and low impact, and brings healthy circulation and lubrication to all the tiny cracks and crevices of your joints. Depending on the severity of your illness, some health experts even recommend trying to keep moving during a flare-up, as much as you’re able, to mitigate symptoms.
As always, check with your healthcare provider – and listen to your body! These poses should never hurt. They may be uncomfortable, but if something hurts… then it’s not right for you and your body. Try something similar, adding modifications and props, or if all else fails, simply sit in a comfortable position and practice meditation or mindfulness for as long as you can.
You are the master of your body, and your mentality can make all the difference – so try to practice positive visualization and grounding techniques as much as you can to equip you for the times when you may not feel your best.
Image credit: Heather Gjerde