Yoga’s Many Benefits
Many people turn to yoga as a way to exercise gently, as well as to reduce tension and improve joint flexibility.

Dr. Kolasinski adds that yoga also can help a person with arthritis build muscle strength and improve balance. In addition, yoga offers people with arthritis a form of exercise that is enjoyable enough to do regularly.

“There is no question that people are not exercising enough. Yoga provides an exercise option. It’s not the only thing you do, but it is a component” of an overall healthy regimen that may also include cardiovascular exercises like walking, or a low-fat diet.

According to Dr. Kolasinski’s research, people with arthritis who practice yoga regularly will eventually see improved physical function. “Admittedly these are small studies, but I think yoga can enhance pain management, thereby improving function,” she says.

Yoga has other benefits for people with stiff joints due to arthritis. “Stretching exercises in general help improve range of motion, so the fact that you’re stretching in yoga will help flexibility.”

On days when you’re experiencing a painful arthritis flare, continuing to do some type of physical activity like yoga, if possible, can help you maintain joint flexibility. “To the extent that you can continue to exercise, you should," she says. "However, don’t overtax your joint that’s flaring.”

Some yoga poses may need to be modified for people with arthritis, Dr. Kolasinski adds. Downward facing dog, for example, involves kneeling on the floor and raising your body with your arms. People with arthritis may also need to use a chair, a block, a strap or other aids to help maintain balance during some poses, she says.

Before starting a yoga regimen, speak to your rheumatologist or primary-care physician to ensure that you are fit enough to exercise, and that yoga is right for you. In addition, discuss what type of modifications might be appropriate for your unique condition, Dr. Kolasinski says.

Yoga’s emphasis on introspective thought – pinpointing the sources of pain or anxiety and learning to relax them – is useful for people with arthritis, adds Linda Howard, a yoga instructor in Baltimore, Md., and the creator of Easing Into Yoga, an instructional DVD with gentle yoga poses.

In yoga, “you develop a communication with your own body,” Howard says. Most of us don’t really think that way.”