Breathing, simple movement, and meditation can have a great impact on wellness.
Today we are going to explore an issue that impacts the daily quality of life of six million Canadians: Arthritis.
Right now in Canada, one in four women and one in six men have arthritis. This number is significantly higher, climbing to 50 percent, for our population who are 65 years and older. Arthritis is a category of chronic conditions that includes more than 100 different diagnoses. When you break down the word, you see that it means “inflamed joint.” Even if you do not suffer from arthritis, there is a good chance that you know someone who does.
For the purpose of this article, I am going to focus on osteoarthritis, the most common form of the disease. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time. It can occur in any joint, however, it most commonly affects the joints of the hands, knees, hips, and spine. Osteoarthritis is a progressive condition and, although there is no cure and damage to the joints cannot be reversed, we can do many things to help make people more comfortable.
Yoga has a significant role to play to help in the management of symptoms and improvement in the quality of life. Movement-based therapies such as yoga can help by strengthening muscles, supporting joints, improving alignment, and releasing endorphins.
When looking at any disease from a yoga perspective, all aspects of a person are considered. Experiencing physical pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints of the body have an impact on mental, emotional, and social well-being. Arthritis impacts people on all of these levels by limiting movements, energy levels, relationships, careers, and even sense of self. People with every form of arthritis report poorer quality of life than those without. They report experiencing fatigue, trouble sleeping, depressive symptoms, and even social isolation.
Here are some ways that yoga can help you explore opportunities to prevent and manage symptoms of arthritis.
Mobilizing the joints with gentle movement will increase the synovial fluid (the fluid that lubricates the joint) in the joints. For people with osteoarthritis, the surface of the cartilage in the joint is not smooth so they need additional measures to help ease symptoms. Getting the body moving can help ease stiffness and pain.
One of the many wonderful things about the breath is that even when we are having a hard time moving our body due to stiff or painful joints, the breath is still available. There is also a critical link between our experience of pain and the function of our nervous system. Because of that, we can use breathing practices to change our experience of stress and pain. A simple breathing practice where we breathe through our nose and extend the exhale for longer than the inhale will help to calm the nervous system.
When we are in pain or stressed we tend to breathe high and shallow. We may only breathe into the chest, or the breath is very fast or short. Sometimes we even hold our breath. The next time you are in pain, pay attention to your breath, observe it without judgment.
Meditation is the practice of bringing your attention to an object and focusing on that object for an extended period of time. It is the practice that tends to be more mystical for someone who is just being introduced to yoga, and people can place a lot of pressure on themselves to “do it right.” While there are many ways to practice, one great place to start is with a guided meditation. Meditation is a subtle practice with great power because it is a practice of the mind. You may not see or feel as immediate relief as you do with yoga postures or breathing practice. However, with consistent practice, meditation can help you form new pathways of health and well-being in your brain that can help to ease your experience of pain.