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Yoga and Arthritis

The December 9th 2002 article in the Time magazine discusses the issue of Arthritis. I think the article does a good job in bringing out all the facts on this debilitating disease that inflicts as early as 20 years of age. The statistics shows that about 2.5 million people in the age group of 30-50 get afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis and there are 20 million Americans who are believed to have osteoarthritis. The number is predicted to double in next 20 years.

It does not make sense. We know more about health and nutrition, exercise, medicine today then ever before. So I would think that numbers should go down and not up. I believe the answer lies in how we run our lives. The food we eat, exercise and lifestyle we lead. We are to busy fulfilling our materialistic dreams and chasing after things. This can leave very little time for our body. Actually I have heard this several times that we treat our cars better than our bodies. Well the statistics do not lie. The yogis in India and the Tai-Chi masters in China live to their ripe old age and are in prime of their health to the very end when they choose to leave their body. Yes that is correct choose. Body is not an accident waiting to happen and it never gets to the point of crises. Human body is designed to function at least to the age of 125 years. We die prematurely and in most cases with a lot of pain and suffering.

The article does point out several new therapies and remedies that have been discovered such as pain killers, COX-2 inhibitors, corticosteroids shots, arthroscopy surgery, bone fusion, joint replacement, and tissue repair. In addition it also points out the most effective of all the therapies that is an absolute must "Exercise". Water aerobics, recumbent bicycle, and walking. The item that I feel that the article left out is Yogic Asanas. That is what I want to discuss in this article.

Lets start with our Knees, which most osteoarthritis patients complain of. What actually happens when you have knee pain due to arthritis can be clearly understood if you follow the picture below. The key is that the cartilage, which is made up of water, protein and sugars, starts to degenerate and breakdown. The picture shows both a healthy and broken down cartilage. The cartilage is like a sponge and acts as a shock absorber. So when the pressure is applied all the water in the cartilage squeezes out and absorbs the nutrients. When the pressure is released the water with the nutrients comes back to the cartilage. So now we can understand what would happen if the cartilage breaks down.

The bones would rub against each other. This will cause a lot of pain as there is no cushion between the bones.

If you are over weight that would imply that more pressure is applied to the same knee that has little or no cushion that would mean more pain.

If you don't exercise that would mean that the muscles, tendons and ligaments that connect the bones get weak and that would mean more pain.

If one cannot move effectively the bones starts to get weak and form an arch. In addition they become more prone to breaking.

If the knee is damaged continuously without removing all the above mentioned factors that would lead to inflammation of the knee. This would cause lack of movement due to pain.

All of these should make sense from anatomy and the construction of human body. The answer lies in knowing the problem. As in the case of the knees things should be done to reduce degeneration of the cartilage, increasing the muscle and tendon and bone strength.

How can Yoga help?

Yoga works with the energy body. This is what makes it most effective. Each Asana (stretch) with the breathing exercises work on the body as a whole. In case of knees the stretches start to make the muscles around the knees strong. This would ease the pain. This would lead for the person to start to use the legs more comfortably, that would make the bones stronger that increases the resistance to injury due to fall and accident. If the pressure is eased of the cartilage that wold mean more healing of the cartilage itself. This would also be the case because in Yoga the energy is moved through the knees very effectively, as there are several energy exercises specifically for the knees. One thing that I have seen with myself and many other students that have been practicing yoga with me is the lack of pain in the body after strenuous workout and abundance of energy. I just got back from a 5 days of silent retreat with 3 of my friends and yoga students. We walked 9.5 miles each day in a stretch. Two of my friends are above the age of 50. All of us did not feel any fatigue or feeling out of breath. The interesting part was none of us felt any soreness in the muscles or pain in any part of the body. On the contrary we had more energy after we did the walk.

There are several yoga and tai-chi exercises for arthritis and my recommendation would be to get in touch with me if you want to try yoga to help alleviate the pain and start the healing process. The yogic way will take about 3 months to show results but it will be long term and will be helpful overall.


Guru Bhandari is a yoga teacher. He can be reached at 216-287-0237 or by email: oshofriends@yahoo.com. 

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