I’ve been working for Arthritis-health for a few years now, and one thing I see doctors recommend over and over for people with arthritis—almost any type of arthritis—is to practice yoga.

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couple doing yoga Yoga can help people with arthritis maintain flexibility and range of motion.
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Ways to Get Exercise When You Have Arthritis

This advice sounds nice in theory, but in reality, even the healthiest of us can struggle in yoga class. So I’ve always wondered, how do people with moderate to severe arthritis practice yoga? If your wrists are locked up from rheumatoid arthritis, how you get into downward dog? If your knees are swollen to the size of cantaloupe, how do you curl yourself into child’s pose?

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Modify those pretzel-twisting poses

People with moderate to severe arthritis often work with their instructors to modify traditional yoga poses. For example, they might sit in chairs instead of sitting or kneeling on the floor. During balancing poses, students can steady themselves by resting a hand on the back of a chair or by leaning on a wall.

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Stick with it

The key for many people seems to be consistency and routine. Get up and go to class, even on the days you don’t want to—maybe especially on the days you don’t want to.

I have to confess, this sounds a bit boring. Who wants to go to a yoga class 3 times a week and sit in a chair? But many experienced teachers and people with arthritis are adamant: over time, progress can be made. That stiff wrist will start to rotate, and those swollen knees will begin to flex.

Watch: Video: Should I Exercise Through Joint Pain?

5 tips to help you get started

Here are a few tips if you are thinking about practicing yoga:

Consult your health care provider. A doctor or physical therapist can tell you what poses, if any, to avoid.

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Chose your instructor wisely. Some yoga instructors are more knowledgeable than others. Ask around and get recommendations for an instructor who is experienced in working with people who have your condition, or people who also have significantly limited range of motion.

Consider customizing. If you need to modify most poses, you may want to do a customized series of yoga poses at home or take a yoga class tailored to people of similar physical abilities.

Expect variety. Just because you couldn’t do a pose last week doesn’t mean you can’t do it this week, and vice versa.

Heed warning signs. If a pose seems dangerous, skip it or ask the teacher how you can modify the pose. Similarly, if a pose is painful—not just challenging or uncomfortable—ease up or stop. You’re there to get better, not create new injuries!

With the right instructor and patience, a dedicated yoga practice can pay big dividends.

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