Yoga is a practice that focuses on the connection between the mind, body, and spirit. The term
Regular yoga activity can increase muscle strength, improve flexibility, improve respiratory and cardiovascular endurance, improve balance, and reduce pain. It can also relieve stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia, improve posture and body alignment, and help with weight management.
Many people cringe at the thought of yoga because they associate it with sophisticated pretzel poses that seem impossible to duplicate. Advanced positions are not what you would find in beginner yoga classes, and yoga poses can be modified to your needs and limitations. For that reason, it is important to discuss your interest in yoga with your doctor before signing up for a class. It's imperative to inform your instructor that you have arthritis and specific physical limitations and to share your doctor's advice with your yoga instructor.
According to the American Yoga Association, there are three primary aspects of yoga: exercise, breathing, and meditation. Beyond that, there are over 100 specific types of yoga. Hatha yoga, the type of yoga familiar to most people, focuses on physical movement, posture, and breathing techniques. Classical yoga has eight steps:
Asana (physical exercise)
Pranayama (breathing technique)
Pratyahara (preparation for meditation)
Samadhi (absorption or merging of self with the universe)
You can familiarize yourself with yoga from books, Web sites, or videos. It is important to have proper instruction, especially people who have mobility issues or physical limitations. Beginning yoga classes are often offered at community centers, senior centers, the YMCA, or various health and fitness clubs. It's important for you to check the credentials of the yoga instructor — your yoga instructor should be certified. The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) Web site (
Though yoga has spiritual roots and aims to enhance happiness and enlightenment, there are physical benefits as well. Numerous scientific trials have been published in medical journals deeming yoga a safe, effective way to increase physical activity.
Another variation of yoga is known as viniyoga, which differs from other types of yoga by placing greater emphasis on the link between breath and movement and adaptation of each asana for individual needs. With viniyoga, breath should lead the body into and out of each asana. There is less focus on the form of the asana and more emphasis on the appropriateness of each exercise for the individual.
Remember that a typical yoga class will not necessarily offer the kind of therapeutic yoga a person with arthritis needs. Therapeutic yoga is geared toward giving one-on-one attention to the patient, similar to what you may expect from a physical therapist. It may be wise for you to find a yoga instructor who has experience working with people who have chronic health conditions.