12 Aug Yoga therapy for arthritis
Yoga therapy aims at cleansing and purifying the body and mind but more importantly at connecting us with our higher self. Yoga therapy teaches us to regard the experience of illness as a challenge not to be feared and as an important teacher for the growth of our soul. Many people suffering from arthritis have come to accept their condition as irreversible and yet with yoga therapy this crippling disease is remediable if undertaken with an open mind and heart. If the arthritis patient isn’t willing to look inside, it is more difficult to achieve healing. The old belief systems of the left brain/mind must be discarded. Nevertheless through yogic movement and poses, even skeptic arthritis patients can benefit. Everyone has this ability inherent in us to heal themselves, but the arthritis patients must be willing to be open and vulnerable and look at the root of the problem. Healing is an inner journey well worth undertaking.
Arthritis refers to several distinctive types of diseases and infections whose common symptoms are the inflammation of the joints. The most prevalent ones are osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease associated with aging and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease affecting younger people. In some cases it can be the outcome of a trauma or the symptom of an infectious disease. Painful and disabling, arthritis affects one or, in some cases several joints of the body. The most afflicted one are the big joints supporting the weight of the body like the hips, knees and ankles and small joints like the fingers and toes. The many symptoms include pain, aches, stiffness, swelling, spasm, redness, heat and inability to move the joint and are all caused by the degeneration and the inflammation of the soft tissues that cover and protect the joints. If not treated appropriately the disease will ultimately permanently destroy the joint as the bones and the cartilage will have fragmented.
It is advisable to get a full medical examination by a medical professional before starting yoga therapy in order to identify what type of arthritis the patient is suffering from and whether the arthritis patient suffers from any other related problems such as high or low blood pressure, diabetes, kidney failure, heart problems, etc. Then the therapist can adapt the therapy to the specifics of the patient’s illnesses. Sometimes it may be necessary to continue medical treatment for some time before embracing only yogic practices, and the decision will have to be made by the patient with the advice of the medical doctor and the yoga therapist. Yoga therapy and medicine can work efficiently together. However, only yoga therapy can truly restore health.
Conventional western medicine, despite of its exhaustive understanding of the human body, has not been very successful up till now with its treatment of arthritis. Drug treatments have improved in the last few years but arthritis nonetheless cannot be cured. Allopathic doctors only offer palliative treatment by prescribing pain killers and anti-inflammatory agents. In severe cases, physicians prescribe steroid drugs such as hydrocortisones, corticosteroids, COX-2 inhibitors to reduce inflammation and symptoms. All of these treatments prevent further damage but the fundamental root of the disease forever lingers. Ultimately, long term users of these drugs will develop a tolerance to the medications and serious life-threatening complications will arise with time. Intra-articular medications are also prescribed such as steroid shots: injections shot locally into inflamed joints or tendons to deliver medication directly to problem areas. The effect lasts from 3 to 6 months. Conversely, modern surgery has brought us wonderful solutions for possible cures such as arthroscopy surgery and joint replacement for knee or hips. Nevertheless, removing surgically a joint and replacing it with an artificial one is a solution to be considered only for joints that have gone beyond possible natural rejuvenation.
A joint is a place in the body where two or more bones meet. The articular surface at the end of the bones is covered with a hard and resilient tissue composed of water, protein and sugars called the “cartilage”. The function of the cartilage is to shield the bones and to prevent them from grinding against each other. It is similar to a sponge and operates basically like a shock absorber. The bones are attached together by “ligaments” which envelop the joint cavities between the bones. The joints are then covered with a tissue called “synovium membrane”, which protects the bone and gives it nourishment by secreting “synovial fluid”, a slippery fluid that lubricates the joints and fills the gap in the joints. Tendons and muscles support the structure of the joint but it is important to understand that while the joints allow movement and give support to the body, the range of movement is strictly protected by the muscles and not the joints.
Yoga therapy focuses on the roots of illnesses instead of trying to fix the symptoms. Diseases begin in either the body or the mind but more often diseases begin in the mind and then travel to the body. All diseases whether they are physical or psychological are caused by imbalances in pranic distribution. According to yogic science all arthritis related illnesses, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, ankilosing spondilitis and septic joints are different stages of a pranic dysfunction rather than different separate diseases.
An ample flow of prana is essential to healthy blood circulation and all cells in the body rely upon a constant supply of blood. Pranic movements are vital to the health of the individual and in an arthritis patient the flow of energy in the joints is depleted. Prana is neither oxygen nor it is the air that we breathe. It is life force energy. Even if we stop breathing for a while, we still continue to live but we cannot live without prana. Both body and mind rely entirely on prana and without prana, there is no life and the body starts immediately decaying.
The physical body is also made of five subtle elements called earth, water, fire, air and ether. Balance of these elements in our body and mind is essential to our human existence. The body is also controlled by three body fluids, mucus, wind and bile. Imbalances in these fluids affect the metabolism.
Each cell of the body is supplied with prana by numerous energy pathways, like energy currents: the nadis. It has been said that there are 78,000 of them and the most important are ida nadi, pingala nadi and sushumna nadi. Ida and pingala nadis spiral around sushumna. Ida nadi is charged with negative energy whereas pingala is charged with positive energy. They emerge from opposite sides at muladhara chakra and crisscross up the body, meeting at ajna chakra. These dual forces permeate the whole body. When an imbalance occurs between these opposite poles, physical, mental, emotional and psychic well-being are affected.
When the circulation of prana in a joint has been deficient for a long time, the supply of blood and lymphatic fluid is inadequate, causing the synovial fluid in the joint to stagnate. Acidic wastes, toxins and poisons accumulate in the synovial fluid instead of being normally eliminated through the skin and kidneys, and consequently swelling in the joint occurs causing pain and stiffness. In time, the synovial fluid diminishes, the cartilage degenerates and breaks down and the bones accumulate calcium creating new bone growth that hinders movements. Eventually, the entire structure of the joint is damaged, moving the joint becomes difficult and the joint becomes deformed. In the worst case scenario, the bones may become fused, disabling the person for life. The person suffering from arthritis must seek yoga treatment before irreversible damage happens, especially before the joints are locked because at this stage recovery is no longer an option. On the other hand, in the early stages of the dysfunction, a complete reversal of the symptoms is possible. If the patient is diligent with yoga practice, within one month he or she should notice a 10% improvement and within a year total recovery.
Aging is the main factor causing arthritis as most people over sixty show some signs of it. This is especially so if we take into consideration that most people have had some sort of trauma to their joints at some point in their life caused by an accident or years of a repeated action in high-level sports, computer work, assembly line work or construction work which, with age, contribute to exacerbating arthritis. However, it is important to understand that too often aging is greatly accelerated by many factors all of which contribute to an imbalance of prana and consequently aggravate the condition of an arthritis patient. The choices people make and the way they lead their lives influence the quality of life they experience. Poor choices make people age prematurely. Excessive body weight and a high body mass index damage the joints, particularly the hips and knees in heavier people. Lack of exercise weakens the tendons and ligaments undermining the joints.
Heavy and toxic diets are also an important factors contributing to arthritis: excessive acid in the body causes calcium, minerals and acid toxins to accumulate in the joints and thus, triggers inflammation and pain. Nutrient deficiencies of such calcium, magnesium, protein, essential fatty acids can also be contributing factors that exacerbate arthritis conditions in a patient. It is essential to make adjustments in lifestyle and diet that aim to reduce inflammation and stop the damage.
Illnesses often come from emotions that have not been processed. The person suffering from arthritis needs to look at the mental factors causing disharmony in their emotions and feelings seated deeply in their body. Arthritis symptoms stem from emotions and feelings that have been suppressed and this internalization creates poisons that upset the body metabolism and leads to rigidity of the personality. Arthritis patient tend to be inflexible and stubborn. They have the greatest fear of letting go and not being in control. Sometimes we need to experience a physical letting go. Experiences and emotions can be locked in the body. Yoga therapy allows the release of unwanted energy and emotions perfectly safely and gently.
Yoga therapy has an influence on the energetic body as it harmonizes the forces influencing the body function. A regular yoga practice has positive outcomes on the mental realm of an arthritis patient as it eases conflicts existing in the body and mind, heals the disturbances and blockages and stabilizes the flow of prana. The patient learns how the asana combined with the breathing have an effect on the whole body but more importantly how the asana and breathing affects the flow of prana.
People suffering from arthritic joint pain usually avoid physical exercises altogether and often think mistakenly they need to rest their joints to heal. This is a misconception and avoiding moving the joints only increases the stiffness and pain. At first the therapist will invite the patient to make slow, controlled and mindful yogic movements. As the patient stretches in yoga positions, the muscles, tendons and ligaments become stronger, their elasticity improves and the pain is eased. The bones become stronger and resistant to injury. The pressure on the cartilage is alleviated, and the risk of degeneration is diminished. The range of movements in the joints is improved.
Patients need to have a positive attitude toward their yoga practice and not get disheartened by the pain and discomfort that may arise at the beginning. If the patients persevere, the condition will certainly improve. Arthritis patients need to take responsibility for their own body by being careful to not stress the joints while practicing, avoiding doing yogic movements too strenuously and not holding poses for too long. Flexibility needs to be increased through gradual practice and certainly not by pushing the body. If one posture causes unrelenting pain, it is imperative to stop doing it. The patients will need to also stay humble. Often many patients when their physical condition starts to improve are, inclined to push themselves too quickly. That is when patients injure themselves and eventually give up hope. It is difficult to give an exhaustive list of yogic treatments and postures since there are so many arthritis related illnesses and different degrees of severity of the disease. Arthritis patients should only undertake yoga therapy under the guidance of a trained therapist.
The yoga therapist acts as a guide and with the counseling of the therapist arthritis patients learn to listen to their bodies and to become the observer of the mystery within by going inside the body, grounding themselves in yoga postures and connecting with the higher self. As they practice the yogic movements and poses, they learn how to surrender and allow the prana to flow naturally through the nervous system, organs, cells, and limbs. Arthritis patients need to surrender to the pose and let the energy flow naturally rather than trying too hard. As they are doing their yogic exercises, they go inside themselves and feel deeply what is happening in their body in terms of energy movement and emotions rising. They will become aware and sensitive to the inner movements of the energy and they will notice that the body shifts slightly with each and every breath. As the arthritis patients abandon themselves to the breath and the prana, unwanted emotions and negative energy from their body and mind are released.
The healing process that occurs during yoga therapy happens at a soul level. By observing the healing from the higher self viewpoint, the arthritis patient will know that it is not the mind that creates the healing process but rather the universal energy that allows the natural flow of spirit and nature.