As we age, our joints get stiffer. Sometimes they even hurt. Neither is much incentive to exercise—it might even make working out seem like a bad idea.
Turns out the opposite is true.
“It’s very pronounced when people have pain in a joint, and the impulse is to stop moving the joint,” says Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist with Duke Integrative Medicine. “What happens when we stop is the tissues become very rigid, and it becomes more painful—and then because you haven’t been exercising, you put on extra weight, and that extra weight can make it even worse.”
“Unlike working out on a machine, where you’re isolating a particular part of your body, yoga is a very holistic practice—in most poses you are activating many parts of your body, many joints,” says Krucoff, who’s also the author of “Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain” and co-author of “Relax into Yoga for Seniors.”
Plus, yoga takes joints through their full range of motion, something we don’t typically do in our daily lives.
First, though, it’s good to note that there are times when you definitely should back off: Red, hot and swollen joints need rest. They also could be a sign of more severe conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, which needs special care.
But osteoarthritis, a common condition where the cartilage between joints breaks down over time, isn’t reason to sit still.
Below are recommendations from Krucoff for the two key benefits yoga offers your bendy parts.
4 moves to enhance joint mobility
This range-of-motion sequence takes pressure off your joints because you’re lying down. To set up, lie on your back, arms at your sides, and bend your knees to bring the soles of the feet down ahead of your sitting bones.
1. Neck Release
Inhale, then exhale as you turn your head to one side. Inhale as you bring your head to center, and exhale as you turn your head to the other side. Repeat for a few breath cycles.
2. Arms Overhead
Inhale as you lift your arms overhead, bringing the backs of your hands toward the ground behind you. Exhale as you bring the arms back to your sides. Repeat for a few breath cycles.
3. Universal Legs
Exhale as you bring your right knee into your chest, holding behind the thigh. Continue to breathe, rolling through your ankle to make circles with your foot in each direction. Stop moving your foot, and inhale as you straighten your right leg upward, then exhale as you bend your knee, bringing your heel back toward your buttock. Repeat several times until your leg is pointing up. Now, exhale as you press through your heel then inhale as you point through your toes, for several rounds. Stop moving your foot, and bend your knee to bring your right ankle just past your left thigh, to open your right hip. Press through your right heel to protect your knee. Take several breaths. Repeat the sequence on your left leg.
4. Supine Twist
Rock your knees from side to side, keeping your feet on the ground and turning your head away from your knees. Linger on each side, allowing each inhale to fill your torso with air and each exhale to soften the twist.
Practice this pose to strengthen muscles
You can’t strengthen a joint itself, but you can strengthen muscles that support it. Warrior 2 helps joints in the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and wrists.
Take a wide stance, toes pointing in the same direction as your chest, then turn your right foot 90 degrees to the right, and your left foot about 15 degrees to the right (make sure your left toes point the same direction as your left knee.) Inhale as you extend your arms out from the shoulders and lengthen your spine. Exhale as you bend your right knee until it’s over your heel, pointing the same direction as your foot. Inhale as you straighten your right knee then exhale as you bend it. Repeat for a few breath cycles then do the sequence with the left leg.
Learn more about journalist Mitra Malek at mitramalek.com.