Yoga is a powerful tool for managing autoimmune illness or chronic pain. It is the most helpful tool in my personal wellness toolkit for healing from Rheumatoid Arthritis. As someone who both has an autoimmune illness and is a yoga teacher specializing in working with students with autoimmune conditions, I have learned a few things about what to consider when starting or refining a yoga practice.
- Find a teacher who is experienced teaching students with your condition or autoimmune illness, as well as studies in biomechanics, and who is dedicated to ongoing education.
- Speak to the teacher in advance of the class and see if you feel comfortable with him or her – AND talk about your condition/health and any limitations or concerns you might have. See if the teacher is comfortable recommending modifications to fit your needs.
- Go slow. Learn to give a little less effort, especially at the beginning. Stress can trigger flares, and intense exercise is stressful to the body. Start with a gentle class and don’t push yourself. Once you see how your body responds, gradually increase your efforts, but overdoing it isn’t usually recommended. I know that autoimmune illness and Type A personalities often go hand-in-hand, but take my advice and cut yourself some slack. 🙂
- Since some autoimmune conditions can cause muscle wasting, look for a yoga class that focuses on strengthening, as well as mobility, or do strength training in addition to yoga.
- Don’t overlook the meditative aspects of yoga for managing chronic illness and pain. Look for a class that emphasizes the mindfulness part of the practice, includes plenty of time for savasana at the end (corpse pose, the final relaxation part of class where your body and nervous system have time to integrate all the benefits of the practice) and occasionally take restorative classes or yoga nidra that are all about the relaxation!
- If you have some physical limitations or are new to yoga, consider investing in a few private sessions with an experienced yoga teacher you feel comfortable with. Even one session would be worthwhile. In the average group class, the teacher has to divide their attention between everyone in the class, and while they may be able to provide modifications for some poses, you will get much more targeted instruction if you are the only student and your unique needs and goals are the sole focus. What you learn in a one-on-one session will help you in group classes.
- Another benefit of some private sessions is guidance on how to build a home practice. Be sure to ask the teacher in advance if that is included in their services and how that is delivered. A home practice, even if only 10 minutes a day, can be extremely helpful.
If you would like to discuss how yoga might benefit you personally or ways you might need to modify your practice to fit your individual needs, or maybe you just want some encouragement to get started with yoga, I offer a FREE online consultation. I also offer online private yoga classes, so you can study with me regardless of where you live. If you’d like to learn more or sign up for that free consultation, check out the information here, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.