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Why Yoga Can Be Good for Rheumatoid Arthritis

By Kara Mayer Robinson
WebMD Feature

Regular exercise makes a big difference when you have rheumatoid arthritis. "It's important to keep muscles strong to support the joints, and movement is important to reduce stiffness," says Susan J. Bartlett, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal.

Yoga can be a fun alternative to walking, swimming, biking, and other activities. Like any other type of exercise, yoga helps you stay at a healthy weight and get stronger, which in turn takes pressure off your joints. Being fit also makes you less likely to get heart disease and diabetes, two conditions that are more common if you have rheumatoid arthritis.

A program of yoga poses, breathing, and relaxation can make a big difference in joint tenderness and swelling, according to the Arthritis Foundation. And the better you feel, the better you'll be able to handle your RA.

How It Helps

This type of exercise is flexible -- literally. "Yoga can be modified in many different ways to help protect your joints and [be] adapted to the specific needs of most individuals," Bartlett says.

So if you have problems with your wrists, you can make adjustments to protect them. And on those days when your body tells you to pull back a little, yoga lets you do that.

It's also been shown to boost energy, build positive feelings, and ease anxiety. For people who have an ongoing illness, particularly one that's painful and unpredictable, the mood-boosting impact of yoga is a great bonus. "It really helps with increased stress that goes hand-in-hand with living with a chronic disease," Bartlett says.

"We know that stress worsens RA symptoms and even the disease itself. So it's important to manage stress effectively and to listen to your body," she says. "When you practice yoga, you learn to listen to and respect your body as it is today, here and now. You learn to focus on yourself and on calming and quieting your body. By doing yoga, you're learning how to relax and let go of muscle tension."

Safe Practice

Choose a gentle type of yoga, such as hatha, Anusara, or Iyengar. If you're just starting out, you should avoid power yoga, Ashtanga, Bikram or hot yoga, or Kundalini.

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