Arthritis and Yoga

Arthritis is the term used to cover a wide range of joint inflammation, infection and trauma. The word arthritis comes from the Greek arthron which means 'confined to joints'. Today millions of people suffer from arthritic diseases. The two most common forms, are:

  1. Rheumatoid arthritis - a chronic, long term disease which is characterised by inflammation, pain, redness and swelling, resulting in destruction, deformity and fixity of the joints. The whole body becomes involved in the acute stages.
  2. Osteoarthritis - a degenerative disease occurring chiefly in older persons and characterized by degeneration of cartilage in the joint leading on to pain and stiffness. It is not inflammatory and is associated with excess weight on the weight-bearing joints.

There are many other forms of joint diseases such as gout and spondylitis (arthritis of the spine). All these forms of arthritis must he differentiated from localized muscle, tendon and soft tissue pains which may mimic rheumatism but are not arthritic diseases, as the bones and cartilages of the joints are not involved. Two very common soft tissue inflammatory diseases are bursitis and fibrositis. Though you will require a doctor's assistance to determine the difference between these various forms of rheumatism, they have one point in common. All are amenable to yogic therapy.

Cause of arthritis

The cause of most forms of inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid, is not known to medical science, although diet and faulty lifestyle have been implicated. For example, nitrogenous wastes from excessive meat and alcohol intake are associated with rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

Medicine views arthritis as the result of a combination of hereditary factors predisposing the individual to an 'auto-immune' process. This means that the body attacks itself and destroys its own tissue. The immune system is responsible for protecting the healthy individual from foreign substances which enter the body. When this system becomes faulty, either due to mental or physical imbalances and disharmony, then the immune mechanisms cannot distinguish foreign cells and molecules from 'self' and begin to attack their own body. Thus there is a breakdown in cellular consciousness and intercellular communication.

Each cell, as a part of the whole body, communicates with every other part by means of the central nervous system and its own consciousness. This consciousness emanates as a result of the life force within. Just as the body is a microcosm of the external macrocosm, each cell is a microcosm in the macro-cosmic body.

When there is a breakdown of communication between people, ill-feeling and disruption of normal activity results. In the same way, at the cellular level, when the body cells do not communicate properly with each other because of imbalance of energies and chaotic cell management from the brain, then disease results. For those individuals who have a genetic predisposition to joint system than elsewhere, this imbalance manifests in the body as arthritis.

When there is tension in the mind, the body suffers and in balance occurs in the controlling neuro-endocrine systems. Blood pressure rises, muscles tighten and become painful, breathing becomes laboured so that less oxygen enters the body and reaches the tissues, and more wastes such as lactic acid build up. This all has the effect of disrupting normal body functions and setting off the body's defence systems such as the immune system. This sets up chemical reactions in the form of inflammation to try and redress the imbalances and remove the impurities. Asanas are required to relax the physical body, rebalance the pranic flows and help remove the tensions which are responsible for arthritis.

It is a fact that most people are stiff and tight, and do not know how to move their bodies properly. There is a fear which seems to block the natural flow and grace of movement, especially in a stress-laden society. In the city and at home we do not have to use our bodies as there are machines to do the work for us. Machines such as cars, washing machines, TV’s etc. which were once thought of as luxuries are today regarded as necessities. They have taken over our lives and have become our masters. By relying more on machines and less on our bodies we allow the muscles, joints and internal functions to deteriorate through lack of exercise. Increased work helps to loosen and remove the toxins in the joints. We must exercise more and learn to move correctly, to feel and be aware of each movement so that we can maintain health and vitality, preventing such diseases as arthritis from occurring. We can accomplish this through yogic practices, which increase body awareness, allowing us to feel all our body movements.

Yogic Therapy

It is advisable to seek medical help and utilize drug treatment for more serious forms of arthritis and rheumatic disease, especially during the acute stage when both inflammation and pain art present. At the same time you should be aware that there are yogic techniques which are a valuable aid in the treatment of all forms of joint disease. Asanas that are especially helpful and valuable in the treatment of arthritic disease are: pawanmuktasana part 1, paschimottanasana, janusirshasana, halasana, ardha matsyendrasana, parvatasana, trikonasana, gomukhasana, kurmasana and dhanurasana. These can be followed by pranayama such as nadi shodhana and bhastrika, as well as meditation to increase the positive regenerative forces of the body and to turn the disease process in the direction of healing. Yogic techniques are powerful tools to combat this disease.

Pawanmuktasana

Of all the asanas, pawanmuktasana part 1 (see Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha) is the ideal set of exercises to prevent and aid in the elimination of arthritis. It systematically influences all the joints of the body as well as the internal organs, commencing from the feet up. Though seemingly simple, these exercises have subtle effects on the mind-body complex.

Pawanmuktasana is very useful in cases of arthritis because it releases the excess wind from the joints. Pawan means 'wind' and mukta means 'release'. Each joint and part of the body is massaged and relaxed in turn, increasing the blood flow to that joint and washing out the toxins and chemicals. Pawanmuktasana stretches the nerves and purifies them of stress-related chemicals such as adrenalin. It helps the flow of nervous energy from the brain to the joints and back. Each muscle is massaged which makes the venous and lymphatic return more efficient and improves muscle tone. Internal organs are also massaged and receive a flush of pure blood with a sufficient supply of oxygen. In this way, pawanmuktasana helps to eliminate arthritis from the physical body by breaking down the stiff and fibrosed tissues which have built up because of degeneration and inflammation and freeing up joints which have become stiff and immobile.

While practicing pawanmuktasana the mind is concentrated on the joint being massaged and relaxed. This concentration focuses prana into the joint, relaxing and revitalizing that area, eliminating impurities on both the physical and pranic levels, and helping in the breakdown of damaged tissues so that they can be replaced by new and healthy tissues. This can be felt as a warm and tingling golden energy flowing into the joint.

The slow rhythmic movement of pawanmuktasana has a relaxing effect on the mind. With increased body awareness the mind and thoughts slow down. There is an integral relationship between body and mind, as there is between flour and water in bread. The tensions are eliminated from the mind and body at the same time As soon as tensions drop away the rejuvenating process can deal more effectively with eliminating the problem of arthritis.

Combine pawanmuktasana with change in lifestyle and diet (we recommend vegetarian) and you will reverse the process that caused arthritis by removing the cause. If you can manage to come to an ashram or yoga school, you can also utilize urine therapy, a powerful cleansing technique. At the same time the ashram provides a positive environment for you to recharge your energies and gain peace of mind.

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