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Yin Yoga and Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Joined: 23 Sep 2006
Posts: 1129
Location: Vancouver

PostPosted: Sun Jan 17, 2016 6:10 am    Post subject: Yin Yoga and Rheumatoid Arthritis Reply with quote

I recently received the following question:

    Hello Bernie, I am writing to ask if you have any information on Rheumatoid Arthritis and Yin Yoga? I teach Yin Yoga and I also have RA. There is a lot of misunderstanding even in the yoga community about RA. Mostly that is not like wear and tear arthritis/OA, and that it's an autoimmune disease that attacks the synovium, joints and often times the organs. I was diagnosed a couple of years ago, and happy to say it is under control at this time, for the most part.

    I am wondering if you have any experience working with anyone who has RA or the joint damage it causes? I have had many other yoga teachers try to tell me that Yin Yoga seems it would not be good for RA. But in fact, I have found that a yin practice has helped my joints and my whole body to feel better! I have had to back off my yang practice quite a bit over the past few years as well, and yin is my go-to practice. Any articles, research or information if you have any would be so very helpful.

    By the way, I love your book and videos and reference them all the time! Thank You, M.

Hi M - There is no known research that I could find on rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and Yin Yoga so we can only go with anecdotal evidence and some informed speculation. There is some evidence on the benefits of yoga in general for people with RA and that can help inform our discussion. First, as you mentioned, RA is not a wearing away of cartilage or bone like we find in osteoarthritis (OA). OA is an overuse problem, but RA is an immune system over-response problem where the body starts to attack itself inappropriately, creating inflammation and destroying the joint tissues. So, this means that for RA we dont want the same remedies that are on offer for OA.

There are articles on the web that talk about how beneficial a modified yoga practice can be for people suffering RA (check out this one from WebMD and this one from the Arthritis Foundation.) Here is a quote from one researcher (cited in the Arthritis.org article.)
    Subhadra Evans, PhD, a researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center, agrees. After conducting a small study of the effects of six weeks of Iyengar yoga on a group of women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Evans was impressed by yogas immediate, positive impact on people with a serious chronic disease. I was surprised by how strong those results were, she says.

The key is motion: motion is the lotion of life! We need to stress all of our tissues and that includes our joints and their tissues. However when the tissue are damaged, there is a danger of overdoing the stress. That risk is real, but the solution is not to avoid all stress to the joints: we still need some stress. This fear of doing too much often leads to doing to little and that leads to a death-spiral for the joint. I discuss this much more in an earlier article on Antifragility. I recommend you read it, if you havent. To help deal with the inevitable inflammation that also arises, I would recommend you try earthing, which I wrote about in this article, and look over these three case studies.

One of the best, and safest ways to stress our joints in via Yin Yoga. We can let the stress soak in. I am not surprised to hear many yin yoga students with RA say that it has been helpful to them, but the key is not to overdo it. Dont go as deep into postures and dont hold them as long, but do do them! Through paying attention, trial and a few small errors, find out what your balanced amount of time and depth is appropriate in each pose for you. Everyone is different, so there are not hard and fast rules we can give you, but rather I would encourage you (and every student) to find what works for your body.

Good luck, M - and let us know how it goes because there are many people like you who are seeking a way to live with RA.

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Joined: 16 Jan 2016
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Location: Portland, Oregon

PostPosted: Sun Jan 17, 2016 6:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wonderful. Thank you so much for the response. I have been wanting to try earthing for a while now, so I am going to look into it again. I know I am extremely sensitive to emf's and I use energy medicine grounding techniques every day. I can use all the grounding I can get.
I am really excited to have found this site and forum!
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