Arthritis friendly yoga – uniting movement and mindset with breath for better overall health.

Hi Lovely Live Well-ers!

After last week’s solstice we are well into the chilly winter season that means feeling regularly stiff and sore for some of us. If you suffer from arthritis - whether mild or severe, seasonal or chronic - I’ve got a few tips here on ways that yoga can help you improve or manage your condition in healthy, supportive ways.

What is arthritis?

There are almost as many types of arthritis and related diseases, as there are yoga poses and ways to practice.  This is lucky because that means that within all the many options there will be something that’s suitable for you!

Characterised broadly as an inflammatory response, predominantly of joints that causes pain, Arthritis sufferers can present with a wide range of symptoms from isolated pain, swelling and reduction of movement in one joint, to much broader loss of mobility, wider organ and nervous system involvement, and debilitating loss of physical function.

What is yoga?

Yoga is an ancient science that blends movement, breathing and mental concentration and contemplation exercises into a powerful self-care practice.

How can yoga help arthritis sufferers?

Physically, the practice of yoga postures (asana) can help build strength, develop balance and improve flexibility when applied safely. Gentle exercise that doesn’t inflame joints or aggravate pain has been shown to help improve joint health and prevent worsening symptoms that result from a sedentary lifestyle in people with arthritis.

Psychologically, the breathing (pranayama) and mindfulness (meditation) aspects of yoga can have hugely beneficial impacts in helping cultivate a positive mindset, managing pain, improving immunity and reducing feelings of stress and frustration that can be helpful for people managing a chronic condition like arthritis.

Move your body, change your life!  

Even when restricted, movement is so important to our overall physical and psychological health. Arthritis sufferers, regardless of the extent or severity of their condition, can benefit greatly from incorporating some of yoga’s movement techniques into their regular wellness routine.

Despite what you may think, not all yoga requires you to turn your body into a bendy pretzel, or being able to touch your toes! There are plenty of ways a physical yoga practice can be adapted to your individual needs so that you can stretch, strengthen and relax in ways that are comfortable and accessible to your specific condition.

If you’re suffering from arthritis and looking to begin yoga, you can practice gentle variations in each of the families of poses - forward bends, backbends, twists, balances, standing, sitting and lying – within the bounds of your pain tolerance and range of movement. Incorporating supportive tools such as blocks, straps, blankets, cushions and chairs are an excellent way to help modify and assist your practice.

Where do I start?

-       Talk to your doctor first. If there are any specific movements they recommend you avoid, have them write them down so you can pass them on to your yoga teacher.

-       Find a qualified teacher who you can talk to about your specific needs (pick me!). Individual sessions are an ideal place to start if you’re new to yoga. I’m available on Wednesday afternoons for private yoga consultations where I’ll create a program tailored specifically to you.

-       If you prefer a group session, choose a beginner’s yoga class, a chair-based yoga class or a slower, prop-supported practice where you can begin learning what feels right for you.

-       Always listen to your body’s signals and never push yourself into pain.

Breathe yourself to freedom

The way we breathe can change our body chemistry and how our brains and nervous system function. The beauty of a moving practice of yoga is that it is usually paired with the deep, controlled breathing. For arthritis sufferers, even if you’re very movement limited, breathing is a powerful self care practice you can do anytime, anywhere to help create a state of calm and relaxation…or even increased energy if you feel like it too!

Through breath we can create states of calm or states of anxiety. Learning to know what your breathing patterns are and creating for you and finding new ways to produce peace and balance through focussed breathing can help you transform your state of mind, manage feelings of anxiety or overwhelm and cultivate states of calm and relaxation - by choice when ever you want to.

Where do I start?  

-       Deep belly breaths are the fastest way to calm your nervous system. They help switch off our stress ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response that’s triggered in times of stress and help bring your back to a calm, healing, restful state of body and mind.

-       You can bring your attention to your breath anytime, driving your car, sitting or standing at work, or lying down in bed! Ideally you have good posture and an even, neutral spine.

-       First start to notice the quality of your breath; is it deep or shallow, fast or slow, laboured or easy?

-       Then on an exhale squeeze out as much air out as possible, including squeezing your belly and ribs down tight. Try to hold your breath out for one or two counts is you can.

-       As you inhale let your low belly relax and fully stretch out, followed by letting your ribs fully expand up and out.

-       Take another slow, deep exhale for the count of at least four. Continue making your inhale and exhale equal length, repeat for as long as you feel comfortable.

-       Return to normal breath and notice how you feel.

-       Be mindful to stop if breathing exercises make you feel anxious, dizzy or nauseas.

Cultivate a positive mindset

Some people call mediation the ‘art of attention’. Mindfulness meditation helps provide a pathway for creating a new relationship with your self by paying attention to where your feelings and thoughts begin, how you get caught up in them and whether, in fact, your thoughts are really true, or just bad habits you’ve become used to repeating and eventually believing.

Learning to flex our attention muscle can lead to positive psychological benefits such as reducing symptoms of stress including - importantly for arthritis suffers; inflammation, reducing the incidence or severity of anxiety and depression, assisting with conditions including insomnia, and of specific interest to arthritis sufferers, helping change your relationship with pain.

Living with pain can be both physically and psychologically debilitating and practicing meditation has been shown to create measurable improvements in quality of life for arthritis sufferers.

Because pain science has found that the experience of pain is both physical and emotional, sometimes meditation can help where medication can’t by teaching you to become aware of your feelings, manage your emotions moment to moment, be compassionate towards yourself, practice acceptance and choose positive thought patterns that can help you create a more contented life with your condition.

Learning meditation is a wonderful way to start actively changing your mind, and therefore your relationship with yourself, and your condition.

Where do I start?

-       Download a free app such as Head Space or One Giant Mind and listen to guided meditations.

-       Enrol in a 6-week Managing the Madness course with Live Well.

-       Book in for a private consultation with me and I’ll set you up with a simple and specific meditation to practice on your own at home.

-       Start paying attention to when your thoughts start to spiral into negativity. Invite them back to the positive by thinking about something that you’re grateful for. A daily practice of gratitude has been proven to improve your outlook on life.

Convinced that yoga might have something to offer you?!

Whether you’re an arthritis sufferer, a regular yoga practitioner looking to deepen your practice or just yo-curious, I’m available for private yoga consultations here at Live Well every Wednesday afternoon and would love to work with you to create a tailored Yoga program that can help you achieve your wellbeing goals.

You can also join me on my upcoming Yoga and Wellbeing Retreats:

Spring Yoga Boot Camp - September 9-11

The Paradise Retreat Sri Lanka - September 18-24

Yoga Big Day Out Canberra - October 23

Namaste and be wild, be wise, be well!

Ramone

I Have Back Pain - Where do I Start?

If you’re suffering with pain you already know how much it impacts on your life. Everything you do is measured against the impact it will have on your pain levels. You might have to give up activities you love, working can be difficult, anything that requires concentration is a struggle. You might even feel depressed as it’s not much fun when your life contracts, it can become pretty miserable, lonely and scary place to be.

For all these reasons it’s really important that you get the right help for back pain as every day you’re in pain is one too many. As well as wasting time, you can also burn through a lot of money seeking a cure, so my first piece of advice is if you have been in pain and the treatment you’re already receiving is not working seek an alternative. When I say not working I mean you are feeling only minor improvements after treatment or the improvements only last a day or two. You want to see obvious improvements after a treatment and over the course of a few treatments see significant change, otherwise you have to ask is this treatment really treating the cause of my pain?

There are many options to choose from but these three treatments are the ones I have seen be the most effective for back pain:

Acupuncture

Most people associate acupuncture with pain relief and for good reason. Clients invariably walk out feeling significant relief from just their first session and in all but the most difficult cases that improvement is sustained. The reason acupuncture is so effective in treating back pain is that it’s able to do three things exceptionally well: reduce inflammation, release muscular tension and relax your nervous system.

Osteopathy

Pain doesn’t just appear out of thin air. Sometimes the pain can be traced to an injury such as a car accident or a fall, however when you think about all the injuries you’ve had in your life, 99% of the time you recover without needing any help. It’s the 1% of the time when the injury has exposed an underlying weakness in you body, an area of chronic tension or postural imbalance for example, when you get stuck. Osteopathy restores optimal movement, corrects postural imbalances and treats the underlying structural causes of why you’re in pain. It also works fast.

Remedial Massage

Not all massages and massage therapists are equal. A properly trained and experienced remedial massage therapist is able to treat the underlying cause of your pain not just offer a temporary feel good experience. They can also advise you about what self care strategies such as specific stretches that will complement the treatment and have you feeling better sooner. We have three senior massage therapists at Live Well who are exceptionally skilled and experience in helping people recover from injury and pain.

If you need help figuring our where to start then please send us an email or give us a call and we’ll direct you to the best possible care. We’d like nothing more than to help you resolve your pain and be able to live you life to the full again.

Techniques to Relieve Back Pain

Back pain can hit anytime, anywhere. You could be at work, at home, out and about or in transit. What is your first response to the pain? Do you immediately call one of your practitioners to book in for a treatment (yes, this is one of the best things you can do!) or do you throw down some pain-killing medication in hope to keep moving until you can get help? Perhaps you have frequent back pain and are resigned to a life of discomfort and restricted activity.

Whatever your scenario, I’m about to change the way you respond to back pain. Firstly, I cannot emphasise enough just how important it is to get some help with back pain from a qualified practitioner. Without correcting structural stress, other areas such as digestion and your nervous system can begin to cease up. Kinesiologists such as myself work to:

  • realign the body so that muscles and organs are not being pulled in the wrong direction
  • release tension held within the physical body, and
  • discover what other aspects are related to the pain such as emotional and mental stress.

However, in the meantime there are some fantastic points on your body that you can massage to help release natural painkillers and relieve tension! These ancient points are within the Traditional Chinese Medicine system so not only are you relieving your physical body of pain, you’re balancing your mind, body and spirit and encouraging your body to heal.

Hand point for pain

This point must be one of the most well-known and it’s obvious why - it’s easy to locate and massage. If you search for ‘Large Intestine 4 acupoint’ in Google images you will see some simple images showing its location. Basically, find the bone in your hand that joins onto your index finger. The point lies halfway along this bone. Press in with some decent pressure and you should feel pain. If you don’t feel pain, keep pressing along the bone until you find the sore point as pressing in will help release natural painkillers within your body. You don’t need to press too hard and a few minutes should be enough. You can use both hands.

Foot point for pain

Find the joint on the top of your foot, between your big toe and second toe (Google ‘Liver 3 acupoint’). Gently massage this area on both feet to relieve your back pain. You can massage this point whilst lying down or sitting. If you are unsure as to whether you are hitting the right area, then massage in a large circle and you’ll be sure to hit the right spot.

Point for neck pain and headaches

A common side effect of back pain is neck pain and headaches. This can simply be tension located in your neck or it can be caused by misalignment and tension in the lower parts of your spine which in-turn pull out the rest of your body. This last point is also used as a pressure point which feels great to massage. Find the bone at the base of your skull that’s behind your ear. Move your fingers toward your spine and you’ll find a small depression - this is place to massage on both sides for a few minutes (Google ‘Gall Bladder 20 acupoint’).

Try each of these techniques and you’ll notice that each time one or more of these points will be best. You can use them as a first aid response until you can get some help to get your body back into balance and perhaps even start to prevent further injury! If you need help to heal your back pain, you can book online or call 6295 0400.