by Fiona Anderson
I had my first arthritis episode in my early 30s. Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints, and it can also affect the tissue surrounding the joints. There are multiple types of arthritis, and it seems there are multiple contributing factors rather than a single ‘cause’. I have spondyloarthritis. ‘Spondylo’ means ‘the spine’, and for many people, the spine is afflicted by the condition. Happily, my spine was not significantly affected, however, my feet, knees and hands were. For a while, it was quite debilitating.
I have a genetic ‘marker’ that means I am pre-disposed to this condition, but not everyone who has this marker develops arthritis. I first developed spondyloarthritis at a time when I was in an immensely stressful job. It was one of those jobs where 12 hour days were quite normal, followed by an hour or two more work later, in bed with the laptop on my knees!! It’s difficult to believe there was not a link between this stressful environment and the development of my condition.
The onset of this condition prompted me to think about my lifestyle and to adopt some positive changes. One of those changes was to start to attend yoga classes. (I also left the job I was in!)
Close to 1 in 5 Australians have arthritis. Yoga is excellent for people with arthritis. Many postures increase the circulation in the joints, and help to flush toxins from the body. Standing poses like Vrksasana, Trikonasana and Prasaritta Pardottanasana are ideal, as are some of the more sedentary poses, like Sukhasana, Virasana and Varjrasana. Yoga also builds muscle strength, providing greater support for damaged joints. Use the props you need to help you in the pose, and hold poses only for a short time to start with, building up the time you hold poses.
Another way in which yoga is helpful for arthritis sufferers is through helping the practitioner to understand how to link breath and movement, encouraging movement to flow. Pain causes tension in the sufferer, as muscles tense in an attempt to avoid causing further pain to the inflamed joint. Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, and practicing pranayama, can be enormously helpful in relieving the tension.
It can be difficult to start practicing yoga when experiencing joint pain. I understand this. The problem is, if you avoid using a joint because it is painful with arthritis, then unfortunately, the arthritis is likely to continue to progress. So persistence, and perhaps learning to tolerate a degree of pain, is part of the process. Working consistently, within limits, and working with the breath will help the continued progression of the yoga practice.
Lying in savasana a few nights ago, I recalled what an alternative practitioner said to me when I sought acupuncture when I first developed arthritis. He quoted what he said was an Eastern medicine philosophy: “learn to love your disease and it will go away”. It’s our natural instinct to fight and resist chronic diseases. But some of them can’t be ‘cured’ or controlled. The best we can hope for is that they go into remission…. and that the remission lasts a long time. Ultimately, we have to find a way to accept them, and understand they’re part of who we are.
My disease led me to yoga, and starting a lifelong ‘partnership’ with yoga has been one of the most positive things I’ve done in my life so far. Reflecting on this, I realised I should be grateful to my arthritis.
Finally, I feel I’ve learned to ‘love’ my disease.
Thanks to and reposted from Hawthorn Yoga Centre : http://blog.hawthornyoga.com/2011/05/29/arthritis-and-yoga-–-a-personal-insight-by-fiona-anderson/