People with arthritis, who need regular physical activity to keep joints flexible, maintain muscle tone and manage weight, may find yoga a perfect way to exercise. The gentle, flowing poses can be less stressful on sore joints than other types of movement.

In fact, some studies show that yoga, which has its roots in ancient India, can reduce arthritis-related pain, improve joint function, build strength and promote relaxation. “It’s low impact,” says Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, a professor at The Ohio State University in Columbus who conducted recent research on possible physical benefits of yoga. “It has a lot of potential benefits. Doing [yoga] every day would be wonderful, but a couple of times a week would be easy to expect.”

Participating in yoga – usually referred to as practicing yoga – involves moving into a series of poses, and often includes breathing and relaxation exercises. However, there is no one single method. Yoga is a actually an umbrella term that covers hundreds of variations.

Yoga Myths Abound

There are almost as many myths and misconceptions about yoga as there are types. That isn’t surprising for an activity that’s been around some 5,000 years. However, it can be daunting for someone who’s looking to get started – especially someone with arthritis.

We set out to identify and put to rest some common myths about yoga and practicing yoga with arthritis.

Myth: Yoga involves so much twisting and bending – it’s going to make my arthritis worse, not better.

Fact: Many styles of yoga, including Iyengar yoga, include gentle, flowing movements and allow you to use a chair or other prop to aid balance. These forms of yoga are safe for someone with arthritis.

Myth: Yoga all about burning incense and chanting ohm.

Fact: Yoga is a popular form of exercise and relaxation for Americans of all ages. A 2008 survey by Yoga Journal found that 15.8 million people nationwide practice yoga. Some yoga classes may involve meditation or chanting, along with burning candles or incense, but the majority are more like gentle exercise classes.

Myth: Yoga is too gentle to have any physical benefits. It’s more about chilling out than getting fit.

Fact: Yoga is gentle and less stressful on joints, but studies show it offers both physical and psychological benefits. Practicing yoga regularly can improve muscle strength and joint flexibility, while boosting mood and controlling stress. Some forms of yoga involve quickly moving from pose to pose and count as a light cardiovascular exercise. With regular practice, you can build up strength and flexibility, and try faster motions or more weight-bearing moves.