Yoga and Lupus: beyond the poses
The benefits of yoga are beyond the poses.
Yoga and Lupus: Beyond the Poses
Yoga practice is beyond the poses, and it is for everybody. It can be especially valuable for people with lupus because of its element of mindfulness and its ability to bring us to the present moment.
“Yoga is not about touching your toes. It is what you learn on the way down.”– Jigar Gor
With chronic inflammation, I feel many times that my body is swollen, with pressure growing from inside my limbs and moving outward. I can feel my joints getting dryer and painful. Yoga helps me calm my mind, improve flexibility, and release muscle tension.
I often don’t want to do much during a flare-up, but a few minutes of yoga practice can go a long way to promote overall well-being.
Therefore, my recommendations for engaging in a yoga practice depend on whether you are in remission or facing a flare-up. Our bodies change daily, and respecting our needs and current state is a way to show love for ourselves.
To improve joint health during symptom-free periods, focus on proper alignment during practice, optimize joint’ space,’ and enhance the range of motion. Introducing pranayama practice ( conscious breathing ) while sitting with an erect spine (neck over the hips) is a wonderful way to tell our limbic system that everything is fine and all is well. This helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
A beginner-level Iyengar-style class or any asana-centric session would also be worthwhile. Usually, with inflammation, I feel my joints getting out of place. An Iyengar-style class helps me greatly as I leverage abundant props to support my limbs and focus on the right alignment while breathing during these sessions.
Additionally, a gentle beginner vinyasa practice can enhance the range of motion and increase heartbeat. It also helps lubricate the joints and improve blood circulation.
During Flare-ups
I turn to a restorative practice in the event of a flare-up. In my case, the flare-ups are a combination of fatigue and body pain, so moving a lot is harder. A restorative practice usually involves letting go, and it’s done in a darker room, making it very yummy to the body and relaxing. I prefer to practice it in the evening, which also helps me sleep better.
During these periods of discomfort, when pain, joint inflammation, and a skin rash are prevalent, the restorative practice helps the body return to a more relaxed state, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga can lower stress levels, which means fewer lupus symptoms for me!
The Practice (Tapas)
Adding a few minutes of yoga to your routine is a powerful tool for cultivating self-awareness amidst emotional and physical pain challenges. I have learned to listen to my body and recognize the signs of an upcoming flare-up.
I have also been working on a few of the eight limbs of yoga: pranayama ( breathing ), Santosha (contentment), dharana (concentration), and dhyana (meditation).
These steps have been super important in my relationship with lupus. Mindfulness helps me detect when symptoms are about to happen, observing how I am experiencing them and letting them go. Embracing my body as it brings me more peace and helps me deal with daily challenges better.
Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. This is the skill, and that is what yoga is. – Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Loving Yourself
When practicing yoga with lupus, remember to:
  • Respect Your Body: Listen to how your body feels during and after each pose. Please pay attention to your breathing and how it changes as you move. Respect your boundaries in case of pain or discomfort.
  • Soft Motion: Pick flowing, mild movements over harsh poses to avoid hurting yourself.
  • Warm-Up: Always kick-start your practice with gentle warm-up exercises to prep your body before doing stretches. Cat-cow is a great option.
  • Breath Awareness: Yoga’s ultimate goal is to still the mind, which we can achieve through steady breathing.

Pranayama: inhale and exhale


“Inhale the future. Exhale the past.” – Eckhart Tolle
In terms of Asanas or poses, I picked some that are helpful during flare-ups.
Tadasana (Mountain Pose):
  • Stand with your feet together or hip distance apart, extended arms by your sides, palms facing forward.
  • Reach your arms overhead, stretching your entire body.
  • Look at your fingertips while relaxing the shoulders.
  • Ground your feet on the floor as if roots were coming from them, and release the balls of your feet.
  • Breathe in and out fully.
Marjarasana (Cat-Cow Pose):
  • Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position.
  • Inhale, round your back (cat pose), and tuck your chin to your chest.
  • Exhale, arch your back (cow pose), and lift your head.
  • Include a pad under your hands and knees if you have joint pain.
Balasana (Child’s Pose):
  • Kneel on the mat, knees close to each other.
  • Sit back on your heels and reach your arms to your heels, resting your forehead on the mat.
  • Breath.
Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose):
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart.
  • Bring your feet closer to your body to almost touch your heels.
  • Lift your hips toward the ceiling, engaging your core and inner thighs.
  • Breath.
Adho Mukha Svanasana ( Downward Facing Dog ):
  • Place the palms on the floor, and as you inhale, take the body up and place the feet on the floor, extending the hips upwards and chest inwards.
  • In Adho Mukha Svanasana, the face looks downwards while the hips are raised upwards.
  • Breath.
Savasana (Corpse Pose):
  • Lie on your back, arms by your sides, legs about 2 feet apart, and let your body relax completely. Use props to help you relax.
  • Breath.
“The mind is responsible for the feelings of pleasure and pain. Control of the mind is the highest yoga.” – Sivananda
Remember that being kind to yourself is essential to the yoga practice.
Make sure your practice is tailored to your needs. Do not push yourself too much to the point you experience pain or distress during a yoga class. That is not the goal. If that happens, slow down and listen to your body.
Share your condition with your yoga instructor and ask for specific recommendations. Experience teachers can easily modify the poses to adjust to each condition.
Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have any lupus-related health concerns or limitations.

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