(Originally published: canfitpro magazine, Jan/Feb 2016 edition)
Yoga can be very beneficial for those who suffer from the painful and sometimes debilitating symptoms of arthritis, as Yoga offers both slow and gentle movement that can reduce stiffness in the joints. Optimizing overall joint health and reducing flare-ups, Yoga poses are designed to rebalance our physical body and strengthen the muscles that surround our joints. The result is less pressure in the joints and therefore less pain, more mobility.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints. There are many types of arthritis, but the two most common are: Osteoarthritis & Rheumatoid Arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage surrounding the joint becomes damaged or worn down and bones begin to rub against one another. Causes can be genetics, old injuries and poor postural habits. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that causes swelling and redness of the joint causing joint deformities particularly in the hands and feet.
Often those with arthritis feel weak and vulnerable. This can also be accompanied by exhaustion or even depression from the day-to-day life of chronic pain, leading to a decrease in overall health and even a decrease in immune system functioning.
Ensuring that our clients with arthritis are moving in a pain free range of motion is the best way to keep them safe. Taking extra time for a full body warm-up is also imperative.
Sitting in the doctor’s office with my mom last week, the nurse says: “if you don’t use it, you lose it!” How refreshing and re-affirming to have someone in healthcare telling patients exactly what we in the fitness industry tell our clients all the time. She went on to say, you have to push yourself when you are tired because if you don’t you will continue to feel worse. This is truly the catch-22 of Arthritis. It hurts to move. Those suffering need to work in that delicate balance of moving without over doing it, but also understanding the difference between mild pain that can be worked through and when it really needs to be a rest day.
My mom has had various health issues most of her life. Born with mild scoliosis that has become more severe post 60 as is common. Suffering a broken elbow that wasn’t properly set in her youth, a recent hip replacement and two knee surgeries, a diagnosis of Osteoarthritis was imminent. However, she was also diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis five years ago. An average day is a struggle between pain and general exhaustion.
Six years ago I completed the YogaFit Seniors training as part of my compulsory teaching hours with YogaFit. After years of telling my mom that she should do yoga, I was so excited to finally find a program that would work for her! Since then we have worked quite closely together, using the modifications I learned in the Seniors training as well as various other ideas picked up along the way. I’m happy to report today my mom practices almost daily at home on her own, with me checking in every now and then to see how she is doing. Knowing that everyday she feels different, she will begin by simply lying on her mat breathing and then letting her body decide what it needs that day. Sometimes its some light stretching, sometimes a more active practice with standing poses. Practicing Yoga regularly has helped in her pain management, and also to have a more positive outlook on what she can do, rather than focusing on what she can’t. She has also started taking a Chair Yoga class, a gentle class focused on both building strength and flexibility. Practicing Yoga has given my mom confidence. She sleeps better and feels better more often. When she hears me talking about Yoga with someone who is apprehensive to try, she always jumps in with: “If I can do it, anybody can!”
When working with arthritic clients, props such as chairs, straps and bolsters or pillows are helpful. The YogaFit senior strap is ideal as it combines loops down the length of the strap, creating the ability to slide hands inside the loop allowing for easier gripping. Props in general give individuals with hesitancy, stiffness or balance issues the ability to practice with confidence and safety.
Here are some key Chair Yoga poses to use with your clients after a sufficient warm-up. Make sure you choose a sturdy chair without wheels. Kitchen or Dining Room chairs work great. Avoid using anything with too much padding such as a sofa as balance will be compromised.
- Downward Dog with the Chair: Standing facing the back of a chair, place hands on top and slowly walk back until a stretch can be felt through back and arms. Draw the navel in to protect the low back and ensure the heels stay on the floor directly under the hips. Knees are bent to support the pose. Stay here for a few breaths or gently flow in and out.
- Warrior 1: Facing the back of the chair and keeping hands on top. Step one foot back, straightening back leg and bending front knee. Using chair for balance, gently move in and out of knee flexion with front leg to build strength. Practice balance by lessening the grip or lifting one or both hands off the chair.
- Chest Expansion: Seated comfortably, walk the hands back on the seat as far as the shoulders are comfortable, or gently holding the back of the chair. Staying here for a few breaths so that a nice stretch is felt through the chest.
- Chair Pose: Sitting in a chair, with hands on either side of the seat just under the hips, practice hovering off of the seat for 1-5 seconds to build strength in legs. Great functional training exercise. As one gets stronger, stand up and practice sitting back towards the seat and flowing back to standing.
- Relaxation: Practice meditation techniques including deep breathing to relax stressed and tense muscles. Seated with hands resting comfortably in ones lap and eyes closed. Breathing in fully through the nose until the belly expands, exhaling slowly and visualize tension releasing from the inside out.
YogaFit Canada is pleased to be a major sponsor of the Power of Movement, a one-day Yoga National Fundraising event for the Arthritis Research Foundation. Lisa Greenbaum will be teaching the Toronto Yoga class at Ryerson University on March 6th, 2016. This event is happening in 7 cities across Canada including a Virtual Class.
For more information: www.powerofmovement.ca