I’d love to try yoga, but It’s a common lament of people with arthritis, osteoporosis or other chronic health problems. But yoga doesn’t have to be off-limits if you have one of these conditions.

With a few precautions and a tailored approach, yoga is a wonderfully effective, research-backed method of improving strength, balance and flexibility…easing pain…and relieving the anxiety and depression that are often associated with chronic health complaints.

For anyone with one or more painful and/or limiting chronic conditions, the relaxation breathing and mindfulness that are central to yoga also can be exceptionally helpful. Note: Older adults and people with health challenges should look for a class called “Gentle Yoga” or one geared to their needs, such as “Yoga Over 50” or “Yoga for Creaky Bodies.” Follow these steps to ensure that you stay safe if you have…


Decades ago, people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis were advised to rest and “save their joints.” Now we know that inactivity can actually cause stiff joints. Yoga relieves pain and stiffness, improves range of motion and sleep, and boosts energy levels and overall mood. If you have arthritis, be sure to…

• Avoid putting excessive pressure on arthritic joints. Arthritis in your left knee? Keep the toes of your right foot on the ground in single-leg balance poses like Tree Pose. If you have arthritis in both knees, you can relieve the load on your joints by lightly touching a wall or chair.

• Understand the meaning of different types of pain. Sharp, immediate pain—especially in a joint—is a sign to ease up. If you have dull pain in your muscles the day after a yoga session, that’s likely delayed-onset muscle soreness after using your muscles in new ways—a sign that you’re getting stronger! It generally goes away in a few days.

• Don’t overstretch. This is especially true for people with rheumatoid arthritis, which can render joints loose and unstable. To tell whether it’s a good or risky stretch: Check your breath. If your breath is compromised in any way, back off.

• Avoid chin-to-chest poses that place pressure on your head. Poses, such as Plow, place undue pressure on vulnerable cervical spine joints.

• Turn certain poses around to “take a load” off. If a pose is bothering an affected joint, try turning it upside down or sideways, taking weight off the joint and letting gravity do the work for you. Child’s Pose, for example, can be done while lying on your back in bed.

Caution: Hot, red and/or swollen joints indicate active inflammation. Stick with rest or gentle range-of-motion activities for that joint. Talk with your health-care provider about appropriate treatment.


Yoga is an effective way to improve strength, balance and flexibility in people with osteoporosis. And because yoga improves your balance and strengthens bone, it may help lower your risk of falling and breaking a bone. If you have osteoporosis, be sure to…

• Avoid rounding your spine when sitting or standing, since this position increases the risk for vertebral fracture. In yoga poses—and in daily life—keep your spine long and hinge forward at your hips, rather than bending at your waist.

• Don’t twist your spine to its end range of rotation. Instructors may encourage their students to twist as far as possible, using their hands to move even deeper into the twist. This is called end-range rotation and can increase fracture risk in people with osteoporosis. Keep any twists in the midrange, as you would when turning to look over your shoulder while driving. Move slowly, don’t round your back and keep your spine elongated.

• Avoid loading body weight on your neck and/or shoulders as occurs during such poses as Shoulder Stand and Plow.

• Keep your head on the ground during supine (face-up) poses. Lifting your head when lying on the ground creates the forward-flexing, “abdominal crunch” action that can be dangerous because it places excess pressure on vertebral bodies and can lead to compression fractures. Yoga poses that can create this “crunch” are not necessarily supine—they include Standing Forward Bend and Seated Forward Bend. To perform these poses safely, hinge at the hips and keep your spine in neutral (don’t round your back).

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