Yoga for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Helping with pain and other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

A regular yoga practice has physical and psychological benefits for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Yoga has been shown to improve flexibility and make everyday physical activities, like walking, easier for people with RA. Regular yoga can also reduce inflammation and pain, which helps improve mobility.

Yoga has also been shown to improve the mental well-being of people with RA by helping them accept their disease and develop a more positive and self-empowered outlook. Yoga can also help with anxiety and depression among people with rheumatoid arthritis.

man doing yoga

katleho Seisa / Getty Images

How Yoga Benefits Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease, where the immune system attacks the body's tissues, mainly the joints, and can cause inflammation (painful swelling). It can result in a range of limiting symptoms, including chronic pain, reduced joint mobility, and fatigue. These symptoms can cause significant disruptions to daily life. While there's no cure for RA, physiotherapy and a class of medications called anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS) can help slow the disease's progression.

Yoga may be used in conjunction with medical therapy to help reduce the arthritic pain and stiffness of RA and help people with this condition cope better emotionally. It has the potential to improve the quality of life for people with RA physically and emotionally.

Pain and Inflammation

Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation, which leads to pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints. A consistent yoga practice can reduce the inflammatory markers that cause rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases. Inflammatory markers are used to measure the severity of inflammatory diseases like RA. People with this condition typically have elevated levels of inflammatory markers. After an eight-week treatment program with medication and yoga, researchers noticed a lower level of inflammatory markers, suggesting a reduction in the severity of RA, in those who participated.

Yoga can also reduce the disability faced by people with RA because yoga minimizes physical pain, which makes it easier for people with RA to be active. This makes it easier for people living with RA to tolerate the condition and continue normal activities.

Depression and Stress

Yoga has been known to promote mindfulness, which can help improve resilience when faced with the stress of a chronic condition. In one study, practicing yoga twice a week for six weeks improved many mental health factors among young women with RA, including mood, personal agency, and acceptance.

Yoga can improve depression and stress in people with rheumatoid arthritis because it offers mental interventions that make it easier to understand, accept, and endure the challenges of the disease. This shows that yoga can improve one’s quality of life by increasing their happiness and resilience despite the challenges of RA.

Flexibility and Range of Motion

Rheumatoid arthritis most often affects the hands, ankles, and knees, which can limit range of motion and pose challenges to everyday activities. This can result in sedentary living and immobility, which can contribute to other health complications like weight gain.

ThYoga can make it easier for a person to move and engage in physical activity without pain. Specifically, yoga has been shown to improve balance, hand grip, flexibility, and strength. These benefits make it easier for a person to walk and engage in other physical activities, which boost overall physical health.

The Importance of Exercise for RA Management

Adults with arthritis should strive to get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week for substantial health benefits. This can be broken up into shorter periods. Some physical activity is better than none.

What a Typical Yoga Session Looks Like

To practice yoga, all you need is a yoga mat, comfortable clothing, and an open mind. There are multiple types of yoga that can be beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis, including:

  • Restorative yoga: Uses long, slow holds and props to improve mobility and flexibility without strain. This type of yoga is best for helping people with RA incorporate meditation and mindfulness during practice
  • Hatha yoga: Involves sitting, standing, kneeling, and balancing postures at a mindful pace. This is a more physical yoga practice that allows you to incorporate props and modifications to make it work for your body and avoid strain
  • Yin yoga: Uses long holds to open connective tissues in the body. This slow yoga practice is mostly seated, but it isn't as restful as restorative yoga

Beginner Tips

Yoga can feel intimidating at first, but it’s important to remember that this is a practice designed to make you feel better.

Here are some other tips to keep in mind:

  • Remember that there’s no right or wrong way to do yoga
  • It’s better to modify a pose to meet your needs than push yourself too far
  • Stop if you experience pain, pinching, burning, or other painful sensations

The hardest part is getting started. You’ll feel more confident and comfortable with yoga the more you practice.

It may be tempting to push through your pain, but it's important to practice only when you’re not having an active flare-up. This will prevent injury and give your body time to rest.

Finding a Teacher

When looking for a yoga teacher, it’s helpful to find someone experienced in helping people with rheumatoid arthritis. An experienced yoga teacher or a yoga therapist will understand what limitations you face. They’ll also be able to suggest and provide props, modifications, and alternative poses. This will ensure a comfortable, therapeutic practice with maximum benefits for people with RA.

Resources for At-Home Yoga

Practicing yoga at home is an easy and stress-free way to get started.

The best at-home yoga classes for beginners include:

  • Yoga with Adriene on YouTube: Offers beginner's tips on poses as well as specific classes designed to support the knees, hands, chronic pain, and more
  • SarahBethYoga on YouTube: A channel with a range of beginner-friendly videos under 30 minutes. These step-by-step videos are approachable and easy to follow
  • Yoga with Kassandra on YouTube: Has many options for learning how to practice yin yoga
  • The Yoga for Beginners app: Offers free, quick videos in categories like beginner's yoga, morning yoga, and yoga for mindfulness
  • The FitOn app: Has yoga videos at levels ranging from beginner-friendly to advanced. These videos focus on building strength and flexibility safely

Yoga Poses for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Not all yoga poses will be suitable for people with RA because some involve putting pressure on joints that may be affected by RA.

The best yoga poses for rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Tree pose: This one-legged standing pose fosters balance through mental focus. This can increase mental resilience while gently opening the hips and strengthening the legs
  • Seated cat cow pose: This pose improves mobility in the spine. Gently arching your back forward and backward can alleviate low back pain and spinal stiffness without placing pressure on the knees
  • Corpse pose: Also known as savasana, this pose entails lying on the floor and mindfully connecting to your breath and body to reduce stress

Modifying Yoga Poses

In addition to choosing more suitable poses, people with RA can also use props and make modifications to yoga poses that may otherwise place strain on their joints. Props can be used in a variety of ways to make you more comfortable during your yoga practice. 

The best yoga props for rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Bolster: Bolsters provide comfortable support underneath your body in postures like child’s pose, legs up the wall, and reclined twists
  • Blankets: Blankets can be rolled or folded to add cushion underneath or behind the knees. They can also add support for the neck when lying down
  • Chairs: Using a chair during yoga is great for modified yoga poses, especially if you suffer from severe stiffness and immobility or are sedentary

As with any new regimen, it's important to talk to your doctor before starting yoga for rheumatoid arthritis. This can help you choose the safest yoga program for you.

A Word From Verywell

Yoga is a great self-management strategy for people with rheumatoid arthritis to manage their physical symptoms and the emotional impact of having a painful chronic condition. There is a wealth of scientific evidence showing that people with pain, inflammation, and limited mobility caused by RA can become more active and continue daily activities with less pain through a regular yoga practice. Yoga can also help people with RA deal with the stress and frustration that come with the condition.

Since yoga can be done easily at home, people with RA can take back their sense of control by taking proactive steps to improve their symptoms.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Moonaz SH, Bingham CO 3rd, Wissow L, Bartlett SJ. Yoga in Sedentary Adults with Arthritis: Effects of a Randomized Controlled Pragmatic Trial. J Rheumatol. 2015 Jul;42(7):1194-202. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.141129

  2. Gautam S, Tolahunase M, Kumar U, Dada R. Impact of yoga based mind-body intervention on systemic inflammatory markers and co-morbid depression in active Rheumatoid arthritis patients: A randomized controlled trial. Restor Neurol Neurosci. 2019;37(1):41-59. doi: 10.3233/RNN-180875

  3. Ward L, Stebbings S, Athens J, Cherkin D, David Baxter G. Yoga for the management of pain and sleep in rheumatoid arthritis: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Musculoskeletal Care. 2018 Mar;16(1):39-47. doi: 10.1002/msc.1201

  4. Evans S, Moieni M, Lung K, Tsao J, Sternlieb B, Taylor M, Zeltzer L. Impact of iyengar yoga on quality of life in young women with rheumatoid arthritis. Clin J Pain. 2013 Nov;29(11):988-97. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e31827da381

  5. Javnbakht M, Hejazi Kenari R, Ghasemi M. Effects of yoga on depression and anxiety of women. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2009 May;15(2):102-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2009.01.003

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key Public Health Messages. Updated February 5, 2019.