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Yoga and arthritis continued

Guidelines for practice

These guidelines apply to both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Most important: progress from simple to more challenging poses, with careful attention to proper alignment.

Respect pain. Distinguish between the normal discomfort of moving a stiff joint and sudden or severe pain caused by a movement that’s too intense.

Balance active poses with relaxing ones.

Don’t strain; hold poses only as long as feels comfortable.

Don’t work a joint that’s hot, red and swollen. But it’s important to move an inflamed joint gently through its range of motion twice a day.

Use props such as a wall or table to help you hold poses longer and in correct alignment.

Work into a pose gradually. Don’t expect to achieve full range of motion right away.

Choosing a teacher

Look for a teacher who practices a yoga style that emphasizes precision and alignment, uses props, and is slow-paced. Aerobic “power yoga” classes are not what you want! Ideally the teacher should have experience working with arthritis, but at the least should understand your limitations and be willing to work with you as an individual.

Before you start, consult your doctor. Then suggest that the teacher speak to the doctor. It’s best if they can work together, but in any case the teacher should know the doctor’s name. Consider beginning with a private lesson or in a small, specialized class.

“People come in with a cane or a walker, and they seem headed for a wheelchair,” Francina says. But pretty soon, they’re on their feet in standing poses like Triangle. Francina adds, “The body is capable of tremendous rehabilitation if the spirit will come along.”

What You Can Do

Choose a gentle, slow style of yoga that emphasizes precision, proper alignment, and use of props.

Work with a teacher who understands how to modify poses for people with arthritis.

Start with simple movements and work up to more difficult poses.

Include in your program standing poses—essential for releasing tight, contracted muscles and strengthening hips, buttocks, and thighs.

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