The most common type of arthritis is called osteoarthritis (OA). OA is a joint disease in which healthy cartilage that cushions bones at the joints breaks down through wear and tear. This can lead to:

  • stiffness
  • pain
  • swelling
  • a limited range of joint motion

Fortunately, lifestyle changes such as gentle yoga have been shown to improve OA symptoms. The following yoga routine is very gentle, but always get your doctor’s approval before starting any new exercise regimen.

  1. Simply stand with the sides of your big toes touching (your second toes should be parallel and your heels slightly apart).
  2. Lift and spread your toes, and place them back down on the floor.
  3. To get the right position, you can rock back and forth or side to side. The goal is to have your weight balanced evenly on each foot. Stand tall with a neutral spine. Your arms will be down at your sides, palms facing outward.
  4. Hold the pose for 1 minute, while remembering to breathe deeply in and out.
  1. From a standing position, step your feet about 4 feet apart.
  2. Lift your arms to the front and back (not to the sides) until they are parallel with the floor, keeping your palms down.
  3. Keep your right foot straight and turn your left foot 90 degrees to the left, aligning your heels.
  4. Exhale and bend your left knee over your left ankle. Your shin should be perpendicular to the floor.
  5. Stretch your arms out straight, keeping them parallel to the floor.
  6. Turn your head left and look over your outstretched fingers.
  7. Hold this pose for up to 1 minute, then reverse your feet and repeat on the left side.
  1. Begin seated on the floor with your legs straight in front of you.
  2. Bend your knees and pull your heels in toward your pelvis.
  3. Drop your knees to the sides, pressing the bottom of your feet together.
  4. Keep the outer edges of your feet on the floor to maintain the position.

Pro tip: The goal of this Iyengar stretch is to bring your heels close to your pelvis without straining or becoming uncomfortable. Keep the outer edges of your feet on the floor to maintain the position. Don’t force your knees downward, stay relaxed. You can hold this pose for up to 5 minutes.

Like Mountain Pose, this is a simple pose, but technique is important for best results.

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs together, and stretch them out in front of you (it can help to sit on a blanket to lift your pelvis).
  2. Check that you have proper alignment by sitting against a wall. Your shoulder blades should touch the wall, but your lower back and back of your head should not.
  3. Firm your thighs, pressing them down while rotating them toward each other.
  4. Flex your ankles while using your heels to press out.
  5. Hold the position for at least 1 minute.

While you may think of yoga primarily as a fitness activity, studies have shown its effectiveness in easing OA symptoms. One study compared patients with OA of the hands who tried yoga techniques for six weeks with patients who did no yoga. The group who did yoga experienced significant relief in joint tenderness, pain during activity, and finger range of motion.

When choosing the best yoga poses for OA, a good rule of thumb is to keep it gentle. According to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, a gentle yoga practice is important for people with any form of arthritis, especially when you are first starting out. If you have arthritis, you should avoid strenuous yoga, including Ashtanga yoga, Bikram yoga, and power yoga (or body pump), which combines yoga with other types of exercise.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends the following types of gentle yoga for arthritis patients:

  • Iyengar: uses props and other supports to help provide modifications of poses. Effective for helping with OA of the knees.
  • Anusara: focuses on image-based exercises.
  • Kripalu: focuses more on meditation and less on body alignment.
  • Viniyoga: coordinates breath and movement.
  • Phoenix rising: combines physical poses with a therapeutic emphasis.

Of the approximately 50 million Americans diagnosed with arthritis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 27 million have OA. If you or someone you love is diagnosed with OA, yoga can help relieve pain and stiffness. Begin your yoga practice slowly, and keep it gentle. Be sure to always warm up first. If in doubt, talk to your doctor about what types of yoga might be best for your particular condition, and seek an instructor who is experienced in working with people who have similar symptoms.