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Why Yoga Can Be Good for Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Safe Yoga Practice continued...

"Talk with your doctor first to find out if you have any limitations or restrictions related to your joints," Bartlett says. If some joints are more damaged than others, your rheumatologist may want you to be extra careful about how you use them to avoid pain or stiffness.

Learning from an experienced, certified professional is critical. Bartlett recommends finding a yoga instructor with an advanced level of training and experience working with people who have arthritis. (Find one at the Yoga Alliance, yogaalliance.org.) It's not a good idea to do yoga by yourself with a video or the TV guiding you. Let your teacher know about any limitations you may have, before the class starts. They can often offer modifications if some poses are too challenging at first.

Take a gentle approach. If something hurts, don't do it. If you're experiencing an RA flare, listen to your body and adapt your poses, make your yoga session less intense and/or shorter, or wait for another day.

Positive Results From Yoga

Research on yoga for RA is in the early stages. While some studies have shown promising results with better joint health, physical ability, and mental and emotional well-being, the studies were small in size and scope.

In 2005, Bartlett did a study to see if yoga was safe and effective for people with RA and if they felt better when doing it regularly.

After 8 weeks of doing hatha yoga (twice a week with an instructor and once a week at home), people reported feeling much better, both physically and mentally. There were no bad side effects: No one had to stop doing yoga, and no one got worse.

Bartlett says the study was a good first step. She's optimistic that future studies will support her findings. "For many of the people in our study, as they gained confidence in their ability to exercise and listen to their body, they felt more able to try more and different kinds of activities," she says. Some said it changed their life, their relationship with their body, and how they felt about having RA.

The people in the study "enjoyed doing yoga," Bartlett says. "In fact, many of them continued to do it long after the study had ended."

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Reviewed on June 26, 2013

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