Yoga and arthritis

Gentle Reader,

My morning routine of lying on the floor, legs over the Back2Life machine, followed by several gentle yoga poses gets my body functioning.  I am then ready for the chair chi gong exercises, free weight lifting both standing and the lying on an ethafoam bolster and more stretches with a theraband, emphasizing the IT band with the leg slightly drawn high across the body.

Yoga, what I call the essence of Yoga, is at the core of all this early morning routine.  Mary Sue Corrado, my Pilates instructor, worried that I would overdue yoga and increase the damage to the L5 disc, that I would exacerbate the osteoarthritis slowly worsening at age 68.  I was training to climb Mt. Shasta, the 14000 ft peak in northern California.  I was part of a team climbing to raise money for The Breast Cancer fund, whose aim is to prevent breast cancer by advocating for the elimination of human causes of environmental pollution.  All the training materials recommended yoga for core strength.

If you would like to climb mt. Shasta with the best support you could imagine, get in touch with Connie George at the Breast Cancer Fund today and GO FOR IT!  It was a top experience of mine and could be yours.

I asked for a private appointment with an instructor at the 8 Limbs yoga studio, only a 1 mile walk from my house in West Seattle.  I needed a private lesson and assessment because I required guidance on how to modify any program to take care of my weaknesses and physical vulnerabilities.  The early morning class led by Amelia Gailey taught me how to center with my breathing, gently move to wake up the body and slowly build to a strong powerful series of poses.  Over the next 5 years, I practiced at 8 Limbs and gained tremendous core strength.  Pain management took care of itself.

A couple years ago, pain increased with a full yoga session involving all the asanas and I had to discontinue a full practice session.  I know that it would be beneficial for me to find a gentle class.  Instead I found Jennifer Kreis’s Hot Body/Cool Mind DVD and use her yoga routine, and seated chi gong for a morning workout.

My own exploration resulted in using yoga for pain management.  A recent study conducted by the Arthritis Foundation found that arthritis patients who maintained a regular routine of range-of-motion and low-resistance exercises (like yoga) showed less pain and better mood over the long term. Studies also show that people who start a regular routine of gentle yoga exercises are less likely to drop out than people who start other kinds of exercises for arthritis. Over 50% of people who start other kinds of arthritis exercise programs drop out after six months. Studies show that because yoga is more fun and more pleasurable, people are more likely to stick with it as an exercise for arthritis.

Whether you go to a studio (the very best) or learn a few moves you can do at home, yoga is an outstanding over all mind, body and spirit healer.

The following comes from the study.

Health benefits in general

“Yoga is more than an arthritis exercise. Yoga, which comes from a Sanskrit word that literally means ‘yoke’, is designed to bring all body systems into proper alignment so that the entire system functions correctly. Health benefits of regular yoga practice include increased energy, better posture, weight loss, deeper relaxation, an ongoing sense of well being and calm, greater flexibility, lower blood pressure, healthier diet, and increased alertness and mental functioning.”

“All yoga practice includes deep relaxation techniques and an emphasis on proper breathing, both of which have been shown to improve mood and reduce pain and anxiety. Many types of yoga teach healthy diet as well. Regular yoga practice is often recommended for heart and cancer patients because of its usefulness in a healing aid and an aid to relaxation.”


Benefits for arthritis

“Yoga is one of the very best exercises for arthritis because it directly treats the main problems arthritis sufferers face: pain, swelling, joint stiffness and lack or flexibility, depression, and anxiety. Yoga is very gentle, so arthritis patients can learn the stretches and poses at their own pace, making very gradual progress that improves well-being rather than causes pain. The long term effect is increased flexibility and reduced or eliminated pain in the joints, as well as better general health and mental functioning, and better, healthier sleep and positive mood.”

Finding a yoga class

“Yoga classes are widely offered across the U.S. at YMCAs and YWCAs, through hospitals and community centers, at health clubs, and at senior centers. The websitewww.yogaalliance.org maintains a list of yoga teachers and yoga centers where classes are offered. Arthritis sufferers will probably be able to locate a class specifically for people with disabilities or for older students, as these are becoming more and more popular as yoga becomes a more and more popular arthritis exercise.”

There is so much variety in the classes offered and you want a teacher who will understand your limitations and goals and help you not over due.  If you are a type “A” person, like me, you have to be careful not to overdo.  Not all instructors and classes are equal.  I have tried a lot of them and for my body’s problems; I need the slow, gentle routine with held poses rather than the faster movement of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.  Above all, if you have arthritis, please get a private consultation first before launching into a full scale yoga practice.  Learn what helps your particular condition and gently pursue it.

The Arthritis foundation of course recommends discussing with your doctor the use of yoga as an exercise.

“Your doctor probably has a list of resources and an opinion about where your needs would be best met. Ask for a note describing your physical limitation that you can give to the yoga instructor before starting your first class. Yoga instructors are trained to take disabilities and limitations into account and work individually with students at their own level, not matter how limited that may be.

“No matter how disabled you may from arthritis, or how much pain you may be experiencing, you will be able to start a gentle yoga routine based on your abilities and begin to move forward. That is why many yoga classes specifically for older and disabled persons are springing up through hospitals and wellness centers. Yoga is one of the few exercises for arthritis that absolutely anyone can do.”

A Happy Downward Facing Dog to you!

Be Well, Do Well and Keep Moving.  Betsy

PS:  I’ll be traveling in Nicaragua for the next 2 weeks.  Watch for a new posting after March 1st.

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Pilates for back pain?

Pilates for back pain?

Becci announced that after 6 months of attentive Feldenkrais sessions, I was now ready to see Mary Sue Corrado.  Like Becci, Mary Sue is a former dancer and turned to Pilates as a path to help increase body awareness, find pain free exercise movements and improve posture.  After several private lessons in her Bodies in Balance studio, I joined others in her semi-private classes.  The hour and a half sessions were serious business.  For 8 ½ years I showed up, mostly on time, took off my shoes, gathered my tools—ethafoam, blocks, triangular cushion, theraband, little foam roles for my neck, wrists, knees—and began my routine under her watchful eye. (In Seattle, we have http://friendlyfoam.com/ store that sells all sorts of therapeutic foam).

There was no side talk amongst the other students.  “Make a coffee date to talk about that,” she would instruct if we fell to gossiping.  Mary Sue was free to talk about what was on her mind, however.  We just turned to Pacific Standard Time and I can hear her voice complaining about moving toward the dark of the year and fussing with the clock to hasten it.  Mary Sue would describe walkers she had observed as she did Green Lake and exclaim that she wanted to go up to people and indicate ways to improve their stride, back position, swing of the arms.  It is no wonder that her nickname is the “Posture Police.”

I loved and hated those sessions.  They saved my life.  With Feldenkrais, Becci had moved me.  Our effort on her table was to gentle my tendency to push my body; to learn to listen to it and use all supportive muscles to lift, twist, bend for natural flow.  My graduation to Mary Sue’s brand of Pilates meant bringing effort to the work.  She showed me how to place a gentle finger on my abs as I lifted a bent knee leg inches off the floor so that I could be sure they—the abs were doing the work and not some other muscle.  I was to isolate the working part and its tendons and muscles and teach the particular mechanism to do the job without engaging non-essential parts.

One particularly difficult lesson for me was lying on the mat face down, arms out-stretched over my head, and lifting one arm and the opposite leg barely off the ground.  I was instructed by her gentle hand on the muscle below the shoulder wings to lift from way down, the erector spinae,  not the trapezius.  Of course, my shoulder muscles wanted to scrunch up around my ears to help.  She would lightly touch the big triangular muscle below.  I gradually learned to engage it and leave my traps lying quietly along side the upper spine.

Do you know where your multifidi muscles are?  Lying under the erector spinae.  This ropy length of muscles on either side of the spinal column are primarily responsible for holding you up.  Mary Sue was helping me re-discover these essential muscles.  I needed them to function if I was going to carry a heavy pack for 12 days on the Wonderland Trail.

I call this blog NoWheelChair for a reason.  When Dr. Herring, the UW Sports Medicine Neurologist

looked at my Magnetic Resonance Imaging—MRI, he declared my bones to be poor candidates for surgery.  They already looked worn out at age 53.

“You are going to have to build strong supportive muscles.  Your bones are no good.  If I didn’t know you and with only your pictures to go by, I’d think you should be in a wheel chair.”

Pilates was my ticket to strong muscles.

Let me add here that not all Pilates is the same.  Mary Sue had more than one client refugee from improper Pilates technique.  In a large class with no personal, hands-on supervision, one can easily over-strain the back, especially in the 100’s, a Pilates exercise where you form an inverted triangle with your bottom at the base, your torso and legs extended to form the sides.  With your arms held tight and straight, you pulse forward engaging the abs as you breathlessly count to 100.  Mary Sue did not approve this posture although her students did plenty of ab strengthening V shaped exercises as we progressed to that level.  I confess that I have never attended any other Pilates classes.  You see, I am such an energetic learner that I will attempt anything the instructor calls out and end up over doing and hurting myself.  Remember in my first post when I described following Jack LaLanne as he performed doggy leg lifts, even though it hurt like the blazes.  I figured pushing through the pain would cure the pain.

“Nothing should ever hurt,” was Mary Sue’s mantra.  Since my daily activities often produced aches and pains, I showed up in her studio once too often hurting in the tiniest beginning exercises and she made me start all over at baby steps.  It was the always having to begin again that made me search for something else after eight and a half years.  Happily I still begin most days with her voice in my ear, my index finger lightly touching my abs as I do my tiny leg lifts, pelvic tilts, and controlled crunches.  I bought a strong iron footstool on Ebay to use for the standing exercise where one foot is placed in a length of sports tubing, the other end of which is held tight over the top of a closed door.  Standing on one foot, the other swings back and forth across the erect, perfectly postured body.  This exercise particularly helps with balance and strengthens each leg’s abductors and adductors.

I have not found a Pilates instruction You Tube for you.  Everything I looked at is geared to athletic strengthening, does not use any of the foam pillows and blocks designed to help an injured body isolate the muscles that need to be recovered while the others rest.  We learn so many compensatory strategies to help us avoid pain and keep us moving.  Quite often, these strategies exacerbate the painful condition rather than help it.  Therapeutic Pilates may be necessary before Pilates itself, in the normal studio for normal people, will be beneficial for someone like me.  I found one website that advertises a therapeutic approach to Pilates.  If you have plenty of money and time, you can check it out.  I was lucky enough to have a couple former dancers bring my back to life again right here in Seattle.

Next week I will tell you about the hike.  We nearly made it all the way around Mt. Rainier. It was one of the greatest adventures of my lifetime.

Be well.  Do well.  Keep Moving.

Betsy

BetsyBell’s Health4U

www.HiHoHealth.com

Betsy@HiHoHealth.com