Starting Yoga: Advice for people with arthritis

Yoga can help ease arthritis by increasing your range of motion and improving flexibility. The feel-good hormones that yoga promotes can also help alleviate stress that often increases pain.

If you have arthritis, follow these recommendations:

Go easy. You should steer clear of vigorous practices that may aggravate already damaged joints.

Keep moving. A gentle Vinyasa or flow class may be preferable to a class where postures are held for longer periods of time. Holding static postures may be painful for some people with arthritis. If this is a problem for you, gently move in and out of a posture even if the rest of the class is holding it. (It's best to let the instructor know ahead of time that you have arthritis and might need to do this.) For example, instead of holding a static warrior pose (a lunge with one leg bent and the other straight), gently bend and straighten your front knee in an easy rhythmic way.

Delay your practice until later in the day. With some types of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis), joints tend to be stiffer in the morning. Waiting until later in the day allows your muscles and joints to loosen up. Only you can tell when yoga will feel the best for you. Pay attention to your body, and practice yoga at the time of day that feels most appropriate.

Check with your doctor about flare-ups. When your joints are hurting, you may still be able to do yoga, but for a shorter length of time or at a lower intensity than usual. This may help to keep your joints mobile. For people with rheumatoid arthritis, doing yoga despite a flare-up is empowering, but for others, the opposite is the case. So talk to your doctor and consider how you might react before making a decision on whether to take a day off. And remember, you could always do some breathing exercises and meditations instead of postures.