Doing Yoga for Arthritis Research

The Power of Movement

Doing Yoga for Arthritis Research

In my work as a yoga teacher, I have a number of clients with some form of arthritis or auto-immune disease. Many people think arthritis is a disease that affects only the elderly or former pro athletes. Not true. The average age for onset of arthritis is between 41 and 50, no pro sports experience required. And a lesser-known but important fact is that it is among the most common chronic diseases in children. Arthritis comes in many shapes and forms. There are over 100 different types, and it estimated that 4.6 million Canadians live with some variety of the disease. From conditions like osteoarthritis to lupus to rheumatoid arthritis, the symptoms can range from mild to severe. But all have an effect on daily living.

And although my clients’ conditions affect them in different ways—like any challenge or affliction—there is one common thread: they all want to keep doing yoga. Why? Because it makes them feel better. Even though some of my clients have to modify their practice quite severely to accommodate the changes in their bodies, the simple act of movement—which so many of us take for granted—keeps them moving forward in life, both mentally and physically. And the focus on breathing and mind control are other facets of a yoga practice that can be of great help to anyone experiencing symptoms of one of the many types of arthritis.

The Power of Movement, a fundraiser hosted by the Arthritis Research Foundation (ARF) takes yoga one step beyond an individual’s journey on the yoga mat. This event not only celebrates the ability to move our bodies, but it raises much-needed funds for arthritis and autoimmune disease research.

An initiative that first launched in Toronto in 2005, the Power of Movement is now a fundraiser that involves communities across Canada. On March 4, 2012, Canadians can take to their yoga mats to support critical arthritis research. Events are both large scale (in gyms and fitness centres) and small scale (in yoga/Pilates studios and individual efforts) but all have a common goal: do yoga for a good cause.

Every 60 seconds there is a new diagnosis of osteoarthritis in Canada. Arthritis receives 1% of federally-granted research dollars, but accounts for 10% of hospital admissions in Canada. Saluting the sun has never been more important.

So, whether it’s for the health of your kids, for your current or future health, or for the millions of Canadians living with arthritis today, I encourage you to participate in the Power of Movement on March 4, 2012. Because you can.



Relax Already

Why relaxation is crucial to our health

Relax Already

When was the last time you took a few minutes to sit in stillness and simply focus on relaxing your body and mind? And I’m not talking about collapsing onto the couch to watch a TV show, or falling into bed at the end of the day. I’m talking about allowing our bodies to come into a state of quiet, of calm, where we are able to physically and mentally relax.

I’m convinced that it is harder than ever to relax in our daily life. We are constantly bombarded by information, pressured by the immediacy of our communication channels, and are so connected to gadgets and gizmos and smartphones and tablets that our ability to just be, to relax, to rejuvenate is getting lost.

I see it often in lunch-time yoga classes. Participants will roll up their mat after the physical postures (asanas) and leave before final relaxation (savasana), which is arguably the most important part of a yoga class.

And on transit—whether it’s the train, bus, subway—instead of sitting and savouring some quiet time, people turn immediately to their smartphones or tablets to busy their mind.

If we choose information, background noise and distraction over our own uninterrupted stream of thoughts, the next question we may want to consider is this: What are we avoiding? Do we fear silence, and if so why? Has quiet and relaxation become so foreign to us that we don’t know how to unwind? Some may say that relaxation equals laziness. I would say that learning how to relax is crucial to a healthy life.

When we do not take time to slow down, our bodies react as though they are under prolonged periods of stress. This triggers the stress response (also known as "fight or flight"), which in turn takes up more energy from the body and mind. If we are in a prolonged state of stress (whether low-grade or more severe) this can manifest in any number of physical ailments. If we make a concerted effort to unwind – whether it be through relaxation exercises or breathing exercises—the natural consequence is the triggering of the relaxation response. The relaxation response calms and restores the body and the mind. And relaxation begets relaxation.

I was recently teaching a retreat in St. Lucia and made an interesting observation. In a relaxed environment, my clients were able to go even deeper into final relaxation at the end of each class (twice a day) than in their everyday life. The students—who regularly fall asleep during the final relaxation portion of class when we are practicing in Toronto—didn’t fall asleep once during any of the 14 classes that week.

Of course, we can’t live in a constant state of relaxation. Life is not a yoga retreat (ho hum). But perhaps we can make a concerted effort to inject a little relaxation into our everyday. If relaxation begets relaxation, imagine how much calmer our days would be if we put a little time aside to “just be.”

Meditation is always a fantastic technique to get relaxed and quiet the mind, but here are two other simple ways you can put a little relaxation into your day:

Deep Belly Breathing

Start by lying on your back or sitting upright in a chair. Bring your attention to your breathing. Take deep diaphragmatic breaths and focus simply on your breath as it comes in and out of the body. Inhale for half the length of your exhalation (i.e., inhale to the count of four, exhale to the count of eight). Do this for 5-10 minutes.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Start by either lying on your back or sitting upright in a chair. Become aware of your breathing. Once you are taking deep, diaphragmatic breaths, scan the body from head to toe and actively contract and release each major muscle group.

If you're really pressed for time and need a little relaxation guidance, grab your headphones and click through to this two minute podcast: Just Breathe.

Happy relaxing!