Yoga for Rheumatoid Arthritis: Stretching Your Stiffness Away
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I’ve lived with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) since I was 17, but fortunately for me, my RA has been in remission for the last 10 years. I certainly credit some of that to luck, but I truly believe my lifestyle has helped me manage my RA. And yoga is a big part of that lifestyle.
Now, most people hear the word ‘yoga’ and a certain kind of person comes to mind. But you don’t have to be a specific weight, fitness level, age or gender to practice yoga.
And you don’t need to dedicate a solid hour or two to yoga each week. I think 10 minutes of gentle stretching each day is actually better than one hour each week.
RA is said to take about 10 years off of your life expectancy. The reason for this loss is simply because people with RA don’t tend to move very much, and our bodies are simply meant to move. Our digestion, our lungs, our heart—everything works best when we incorporate movement into our lives.
Yoga is a great way to add movement to your day. In fact, there are entire yoga classes where everything is done from a chair. So, even if your feet are the problem area, don’t be deterred.
I know for many people with RA, stiffness in the morning is especially tough. So here are a couple poses you can do before you even get out of bed, along with a third one you can try as soon as you rise.
While reclining, stretch your hands as high overhead as you can while keeping your legs straight. Try to make your spine as long as possible by taking a deep breath in and moving your shoulders up away from your hips. Then, on the exhale, use your hands to draw your right knee in toward your chest. Alternate hugging your right and left leg with each exhalation; try four breaths with each leg.
Releasing Wind - Inhalation
Releasing Wind - Exhalation
Go as slowly as possible. Keep stretching further and further for as long as you have breath on both the inhale and exhale. This is a really great pose for incorporating your breath into the movement.
This is a great stretch to do at the very beginning of your day. It’s a wonderful way to warm up all your muscles and lubricate all your joints.
Reclining Big Toe
While reclining with your knees up, reach your right foot toward the ceiling. Loop a strap or belt around the ball of your right foot and use it to flex your foot. Try to straighten your right knee as much as possible and let your back lie flat against your bed or the floor (Stage 1A). For more of a stretch, you can lower your left knee so the leg lies flat (Stage 1B).
Take a few slow breaths. Then, ease your leg down to the right (Stage 2) and take a few breaths there. Bring your leg back to the center, switch hands with the strap, and then ease your leg down to the left (Stage 3). Take a few more breaths there. Bring your leg back to the center, switch the strap from your right foot to your left and repeat the series.
Reclining Big Toe – Stage 1A (Easier)
Reclining Big Toe – Stage 1B (Harder)
Reclining Big Toe – Stage 2
Reclining Big Toe – Stage 3
If it’s difficult to grip the strap with your fingers, try looping it around your wrist. And always remember to come out of poses slowly; you’re more likely to injure yourself if you release too quickly.
For anyone with lower back pain, this is the pose I recommend. The muscles in the back and the back of the legs are closely interwoven, so when you increase flexibility in the back of your legs, you end up relieving tension in your lower back. Plus, this pose will help increase flexibility in your hips, which can alleviate pain in the back, knees and ankles.