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Yin Yoga and Arthritis

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Laura Hahn

Joined: 28 Mar 2012
Posts: 8
Location: Stanwood, WA

PostPosted: Wed Apr 22, 2015 1:23 am    Post subject: Yin Yoga and Arthritis Reply with quote

Good Day Bernie,
My name is Laura and I instruct Yin Yoga. I did my Yin Yoga teacher training
with Paul Grilley in January of 2011.
My question is, "Does Yin Yoga have therapeutic value concerning Arthritis?".
Looking forward to your response.
Most Sincerely,
Laura Jean Hahn
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Joined: 23 Sep 2006
Posts: 1130
Location: Vancouver

PostPosted: Sun Apr 26, 2015 4:07 am    Post subject: Arthritis and Yoga Reply with quote

Hi Laura

Thanks for your question it is a good one, but first lets look at what arthritis is and what can cause it. The word literally means inflammation of the joint and it comes in many different forms. The result is invariably a loss of range of motion, either because the joint loses its ability to move, or movement is too painful. The older we get, the more likely we are to develop this condition.

The main cause of arthritis is said to come from overuse the joint starts to wear out. But trauma or accidents injuring a joint can also lead to arthritis. Dr. Loren Fishman & Ellen Saltonstall in their- book Yoga for Arthritis explain that many factors can lead to arthritis: genetic, hormonal, environmental, stress, immune problems, defects in our cartilage such as the inheritable Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or Marfan syndrome, etc.

Regardless of the cause or causes, treatments usually address managing the pain and enhancing mobility. Yoga in general can certainly help, and Yin Yoga specifically can also help. But! There is always a but! The body is already damaged, so care must be taken to ensure we dont make the situation worse in our efforts to get better. However, some yoga teachers and students, out of fear of making a condition worse, err on the side of doing too little, which is not helpful either. (For more on finding the right amount of stress when tissues are damaged, see this article.) We need to stress tissues to avoid atrophy, but we dont want to overstress and hasten their degeneration. Whichever form of yoga is practiced, it must be done with attention to ensure not too much stress is applied, but not too little either.

Stimulating circulation around and in a joint is always good. Movement is good. Stress is good. But always within certain limits. The biggest gift you can give your student is the ability to pay attention to her/his own body and learn when a stress is too much and too little. Let them know what the intention of each posture is, and ask them to feel the stress in the targeted areas. [See this article on targeted areas.]

In their book Yoga for Arthritis, Fishman and Saltonstall recommend many different postures for different arthritic conditions. They start with very basic general postures and work towards more challenging ones. They do not use the term Yin Yoga at all, but they also dont give a definitive prescription for how long to stay in the various postures. Some are obviously meant to be short stays, but other postures can be held passively for much longer periods. Their recommendation is Decide for yourself how long to hold the pose, and do not obsess over timing; your body will tell you. This is excellent advice even in a Yin Yoga practice let the student decide when enough is enough. Have him/her develop her/his own ability to sense what works and what doesnt. For an arthritic joint, the postures should naturally be shorter, but over time, as the joint heals, the time may be extended. I would start with shorter holds 1 minute where you might normally hold for 3, or 3 minutes instead of 5.

It is challenging in a drop-in class with many students to be able to address all problems that the students may possess. Yoga teachers are not doctors (well, some are Loren Fishman is!) so dont try to be a doctor. Put the responsibility for the practice on the student: they have to listen to their bodies and to their health care professionals. If a doctor, for example, told them to do something or not do something, do not override that! In a private class setting, working one-on-one with a student, you can take more time and understand what her situation is, what her physician has suggested, and then within those boundaries, respecting contra-indications, proceed slowly to find postures, alternatives and timings that works for her. Never rush the healing process.

Anecdotally I have heard from several Yin Yoga students who have come up to me after a class and said something along the lines of I have been coming to your class for a year now my doctor suggested I try it. And, you know, my arthritis has really improved! Now, anecdotes are not proof. Was their improvement due to the Yin Yoga? Maybe it was due to their enhanced ability to relax and any yoga class would have taught them that. Stress makes all conditions worse. Maybe, along with taking up yoga, they also changed their diet and got more exercise too? I cant say definitively that Yin Yoga helped these people. Also, another drawback to anecdotal evidence, anyone who had arthritis and found that yoga made her condition worse, would have quit practicing and never told me why. I only hear the positive stories.

So, back to your question Does Yin Yoga have therapeutic value concerning Arthritis? The answer is a qualified yes But! Please have your student pay close attention, remember her intention, hold the poses only as long as she finds appropriate and come out when she knows it is time.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes!
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