Living with arthritis pain is not something that anyone would like to happen to them. Many people suffer the aches and pains of damaged or inflamed joints. Some are just uncomfortable, and some become crippled as a result of a disease that has been recognized since prehistoric times but understood only in the past few decades.
Arthritis affects the joints, specifically where the areas in the body where two or more bones meet. There are several different parts of the joint that may be affected by arthritis, such as cartilage, synovium, tendons, and muscles. The neighboring ends of bones that form the joints are covered by a soft, protective material called cartilage that cushions the bones and keeps them from rubbing together. The joint is also enclosed in a capsule and lined with a tissue called synovium.
The term arthritis covers a group of more than 100 diseases that involve inflammation of joints and discomfort in connective tissues throughout the body. In many parts of the world, the disease is called rheumatism. Arthritis is a frequent conversational topic because it affects so many people. It is estimated that about one out of every seven people in America have arthritis in some form and the need to find arthritis pain relief is on top of most sufferers’ minds. It could mean taking a pill, performing gentle exercises, stretching or trying some other means to obtain relief such as yoga.
Yoga is an ancient practice using a system of postures and breath controls, which aim to achieve the perfect union of body, mind, and spirit. Yoga can be customized to help with a wide range of specific conditions including chronic pain conditions such migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic pain and arthritis.
Yoga for arthritis pain relief does not necessarily mean bending and contorting the body into impossible positions just to get comfort from the pain. It is enough that a person suffering from arthritis may practice breathing and self-awareness, the core of yoga practices. While stretching is certainly involved, yoga is really about creating balance in the body through developing both strength and flexibility. This is done through the performance of asanas or poses, each of which has specific physical benefits. The poses can be done quickly in succession, creating heat in the body through movement (vinyasa-style yoga) or more slowly to increase stamina and perfect the alignment of the pose. The poses are a constant, but the approach to them varies depending on the tradition in which the teacher has trained.
Yoga poses can be tailored for different joints. A common arthritic problem is swelling of the fingers and knuckle joints. In this case, if the condition is not too severe and the person suffers mild to moderate pain, a series of poses can be worked on that lengthen and spread the fingers. Hand stretches also create energy flow to the area that eventually moves to the fingers. Experts say that the heat is really good to the joints. As a therapeutic practice, yoga helps to create heat through deliberate breathing and movement. If you suffer from arthritis, find a teacher who asks the right questions about limitations and works closely with you as an individual. Start with some gentle yoga classes. Practice acceptance of where you are and what your body can do on any given day.
When we explore the layers of the wisdom that comprise the yoga poses we hold, breathe and release, we start to discover symbolism and meaning in every movement. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, your instructor has most likely guided you into poses such as Warrior II (or in Sanskrit Virabhadrasana II). The Sanskrit words vira means “hero”, bhadra means “friend”, and asana meaning “seat or posture”. Not only does this pose offer many amazing benefits, there’s also an interesting story behind the pose.
According to Hindi mythology, Virabhadra, was a fierce warrior who was at the command of Shiva. In the myth, a powerful priest named Daksha refused to accept Shiva, even when Shiva and Sati (Daksha’s youngest daughter) were married. This dislike between Sati’s father and Shiva upset her so greatly that she killed herself. Upset by his wife’s death, myth says that Shiva created the fiercest warrior from a bead of sweat on his forehead. This warrior’s name was Virabhadra, and Shiva set him out to destroy those who had caused the death of his beloved Sati.
This mythical story shows our human responses to emotions. We often overlook emotions like anger, jealousy, and bitterness in spiritual pursuits like yoga. Being a yogi isn’t about being blissful or “Zen” every single day. Practicing yoga means being able to deal with life’s ups and downs. Along with the extraordinary range of emotions we exhibit, we also have the capacity for reflection. So when our life battles seem beyond our control, we possess the most important tools of the “spiritual warrior”, compassion and forgiveness.
Caution: Do not practice Warrior II if you have hip, knee, or shoulder injury, or if you are experiencing diarrhea or high blood pressure. Those with neck injuries should not turn their head to face the front hand (modify the pose as seen in the picture). Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
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