New research, published in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, finds that an 8-week regimen of intensive yoga eases both the physical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and the psychological distress that usually accompanies the condition.

Yoga may help those living with rheumatoid arthritis to achieve remission.

A program of yoga poses, breathing, and relaxation can make a big difference in joint tenderness and swelling, according to the Arthritis Foundation. And the better you feel, the better you’ll be able to handle your RA.

What the research showed?

The scientists looked at 72 patients and divided them into two separate groups.

While both groups stayed on disease-modifying RA drugs, one group did two hours of yoga, five times a week. The other did not.

The researchers looked mostly at the outcomes of depression and RA disease activity.

In the group who did the yoga, there were improved findings across the board.

“Yoga, a mind-body intervention, re-established immunological tolerance by aiding remission at molecular and cellular level along with significant reduction in depression,” Dada and her colleagues wrote.

“Our findings show measurable improvements for the patients in the test group, suggesting an immune-regulatory role of yoga practice in the treatment of RA,” they added.

“Yoga facilitates the mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms mediated through a variety of downstream pathways and bring about natural immunological tolerance,” Dada added.

She and her researchers noted that alternative or complementary practices such as yoga could be beneficial both on a physical and a psychosomatic level when used in conjunction with more traditional or standard treatments such as medications and drug therapy.

How It Helps

This type of exercise is flexible — literally. “Yoga can be modified in many different ways to help protect your joints and [be] adapted to the specific needs of most individuals.”

So if you have problems with your wrists, you can make adjustments to protect them. And on those days when your body tells you to pull back a little, yoga lets you do that.

We know that stress worsens RA symptoms and even the disease itself. So it’s important to manage stress effectively and to listen to your body. “When you practice yoga, you learn to listen to and respect your body as it is today, here and now. You learn to focus on yourself and on calming and quieting your body. By doing yoga, you’re learning how to relax and let go of muscle tension.”

Safe Practice

Choose a gentle type of yoga, such as hatha, Anusara, or Iyengar. If you’re just starting out, you should avoid power yoga, Ashtanga, Bikram or hot yoga, or Kundalini.

Talk with your doctor first to find out if you have any limitations or restrictions related to your joints. If some joints are more damaged than others, your rheumatologist may want you to be extra careful about how you use them to avoid pain or stiffness.

Learn from an experienced, certified professional. A yoga instructor with an advanced level of training and experience working with people who have arthritis. It’s not a good idea to do yoga by yourself with a video or the TV guiding you. Let your teacher know about any limitations you may have before the class starts. They can often offer modifications if some poses are too challenging at first.

Take a gentle approach. If something hurts, don’t do it. If you’re having an RA flare, listen to your body and adapt your poses, make your session less intense or shorter, or wait for another day.

Positive Results

Research on yoga for RA is in the early stages. While some studies have shown promising results with better joint health, physical ability, and mental and emotional well-being, the studies were small in size and scope.