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How Yoga Helps Women Living With Arthritis

13th January 2020

By Cheryl MacDonald, Director at YogaBellies

Women suffering from arthritis are now finding welcome relief in yoga. Research from the US shows that practising 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 study involved women aged 21 to 35 years old who had, on average, suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for 10 and a half years. The participants were split into two groups - one that practised yoga for six weeks and another that didn’t.

After six weeks, they asked both groups about their condition. The group that practised yoga said they were happier than when they started and could better cope with and manage their pain. The women also reported better general health and having more energy. Yoga resulted in a significantly decreased HAQ disability index, decreased perception of pain and depression, and improved balance. The women who didn’t practise yoga did not experience these improvements.

The Benefits of Yoga for Women with Arthritis

Some of the recognised benefits of yoga for women suffering from arthritis include:

  • Helping to build muscle strength
  • Increasing flexibility
  • Promoting better balance
  • Reducing aches and pains in the body
  • Creating a better sense of well-being
  • 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 coming to our YogaBelles classes to try to ease the symptoms, reduce their pain and increase mobility. At least half of the women who attend YogaBelles classes are in their fifties or older, many suffering from arthritis.

“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. It 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 have come to class.”

Tips for Women With Arthritis Wanting to Practice Yoga

Yoga is not about ‘no pain, no gain’

You can take up yoga even if you have restricted mobility, but if you are in pain, you should stop. 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.

Practice with caution

When participating in yoga, try to keep your backbends small and don’t hyperextend 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.

Yoga is modifiable and accessible

During meditation or Savasana, modifications to the traditional cross-legged seated pose (sukhasana) are available for those with arthritis. You can also lie on the ground supported by props such as chairs, bolsters or blocks. Basically, all aspects of yoga can be modified, it’s accessible to everyone and all are welcome.

About YogaBelles classes

Cheryl’s popular and unique style of yoga, YogaBelles, is created especially for women. It 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 Yoga Belles classes to help regulate the menstrual cycle, work through depression, or help to alleviate hot flushes during the menopause, while building core strength and stamina for life at the same time.

YogaBelles teachers can work with clients as part of a class or one-to-one on a therapeutic basis. For more information, visit the YogaBellies website.

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