I have received a number queries as a result of my recent blog, The Creaky Yogi & Living with pain , so I thought it might be useful to write a follow up. As I started to answer the questions raised it occurred to me that as I’m a yoga teacher and I have experience of living with pain perhaps I could do more to help.
In my last post I talked about my Rheumatoid Arthritis and the impact it has had on my life. I explained that I had found great benefit in developing a yoga and meditation practise in order to cope with both my condition and the associated anxiety.
If you have Arthritis or chronic pain you too could benefit from a regular yoga practise. Yoga should be an enjoyable experience but I would urge you to try a number of different classes and find a style and teacher that resonates with you.
Personally, I love yoga that makes me feel energetically different and so I enjoy both Flow and Yin yoga.
Yoga generally falls into two categories, Static and dynamic and both have their benefits. When I am feeling fit and healthy there is nothing I enjoy more than a gentle flow class. This type of yoga not only improves flexibility but it also builds strength. In a reasonably vigorous practise you can even raise the heart rate which supports cardiovascular health.
There is something magical about the union between the mind, the body & the breath as you flow from one yoga pose to another. You can lose yourself in the sequence and with practise you leave class feeling both energised and relaxed. However; It’s quite common to find yourself amongst a squad of the ‘yoga beautiful’ who are thrashing out sun salutations at pace.
Your yoga teacher will offer easier modifications but who wants to be that person.
In my opinion, it is the transition from one pose to another in a flow class that presents the most risk to someone with painful joints (This actually applies to many of us, I blame my RA but having turned 50 perhaps I would have been less robust anyway).
When we are in class it is tempting to compare ourselves to others and to try and keep up with the pack but please don’t. Yoga is about you and your practise. So if you find yourself in this type of class please listen to the teacher and when they offer an easier alternative, take it.
The turning point for me was the first time I had the courage to take a resting position when everyone else in class was throwing a fancy shape. Even now, even as a teacher, I will demonstrate a balance but only briefly as the joint damage in my feet and ankles will not support an elegant Tree pose.
On my methotrexate Mondays or when my joints are painful I will always opt for a yin yoga practice (focusing on the liver and kidney meridians). This is the type of yoga I would recommend to anyone with joint and pain management issues. Yin yoga is a quiet meditative style of yoga that targets the joints and connective tissue rather than the muscles. In class you will move into a yoga shape and hold it for an extended period of time (normally more than 3 minutes). Using a slow, steady breath the muscles gently relax and you are then able to flex or compress the joint. In doing this, space is created within the joint structure and the connective tissue is stimulated. My fellow RA warriors will tell you that it is the connective tissue, or lack of it, that causes the pain and the eventual joint damage.
When I was originally diagnosed with RA it took a long time for me to get my pain under control and I really struggled with the side effects of my methotrexate. I was very often unable to do other forms of exercise. Finding yin yoga was a gift and it helped me in a number of ways:
So, why Practise Yin yoga?
Aside from the stimulation of the connective tissue there are a number of other reasons yin is so therapeutic:
If you are struggling with your mobility and getting onto the floor isn’t for you then chair yoga is a great option. In chair yoga you work the entire body either seated in a chair or using one for support. This type of yoga is excellent for building strength and improving flexibility without putting the body under any strain.
Going to any class or activity is a brilliant way of meeting new people and combating the isolation we often feel when suffering from a chronic condition. However, sometimes it feels more comfortable to retreat. If this is the case there are a wide range of class videos available online.
I’m based in Milton Keynes and I would love to see you in any of my classes but if you’re not in this area that might be tricky. However; If you would like to see if yoga works for you I will be holding two online (and fully interactive) Yin and Chair yoga sessions specifically designed to help with joint and pain management – Both sessions are free of charge.
If this option appeals to you please register your interest, specifying either Chair or Yin yoga, through the contact page at www.theyogaclubuk.com/contact or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.
I hope you have found this information useful but if you have any further queries please do get in touch.
Gaynor (The Creaky Yogi)