Arthritis sufferers benefit from the healing powers of yoga

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As an increasing amount of research points to the health benefits of physical activity for those with rheumatic conditions, one type of exercise in particular seems to be growing in popularity – yoga. With a range of styles and forms to suit all levels of mobility, this ancient practice aimed at increasing flexibility, muscle tone, balance and strength is quickly becoming the activity of choice for a large number of rheumatic patients.

According to the American College of Rheumatology, “physical activity is an essential part of the effective treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.” Inactivity, says the American Yoga Association, can weaken muscles and increase stiffness and pain.Yoga postures that loosen joints and relax large muscle groups can be instrumental in alleviating the pain associated with arthritis.

The popularity and efficacy of yoga among the rheumatic community was the inspiration behind Power of Movement 2009 – a nationwide yoga challenge to raise funds and awareness for arthritis and related autoimmune disorder research. On February 22, thousands of Canadians in ten major cities and smaller communities across the country came together to participate in one hour of yoga, after collecting pledges of support from family and friends and raised more than $250,000, which will help to fund critical arthritis research.

For the 4.5 million Canadians suffering from arthritis and autoimmune conditions, yoga is believed to have remarkable therapeutic effects, easing painful symptoms while also providing stress relief.

Jennifer Mason, a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer, was diagnosed in 1979, and has experienced physical immobilization from her disease. “The damage to my hands from arthritis was so severe that it ended my ability to play my musical instruments. It’s devastating to lose something that’s your livelihood as well as your love,” she explains.

When Mason first tried yoga, she had to practice from a chair, as her joint stiffness and pain would not permit her to engage in the full range of yoga postures. Today, she is able to perform many complicated postures and has greatly increased her physical mobility. She credits the combination of dedicated yoga practice and drug therapy for her improved mobility.

Mason is hopeful events like Power of Movement will not only increase public awareness about inflammatory rheumatic disease, but will also lead to increased investment in arthritis research. “Because of research, someone who is diagnosed today with rheumatoid arthritis like me will not have to experience extensive pain and joint destruction,” she says.

After making the connection between her own chronic back pain and yoga, Erin Moraghan, senior development officer for the Arthritis & Autoimmunity Research Centre (AARC) Foundation at University Health Network was inspired to start Power of Movement in support of much needed arthritis research. “It was a natural fit,” says Erin. “Our goal is to get Canadians, in particular those living with arthritis and autoimmune conditions, to celebrate their movement and raise funds to support break-through research happening in our country.”

The condition is among the top three most common chronic diseases in Canada, and accounts for over ten per cent of the total financial burden of all illnesses in Canada. Yet only 1.3 per cent of attributed health science research funding is dedicated to this area.

University Health Network boasts some of the world’s most renowned arthritis scientists, who have contributed to some of the most significant breakthroughs in arthritis and autoimmune treatments to date, and their collaboration with fellow researchers across the country keeps Canada at the centre of innovative discoveries. But the momentum needs to continue.

Power of Movement hopes to continue to grow to help meet the challenge of finding a cure for arthritis and autoimmune disorders. What started as a grassroots initiative in 2007, with one yoga class in Toronto and a fundraising goal of $10,000, has accumulated more than $350,000 and has spread coast to coast in only a few years.

“We are thrilled by the amount of support Power of Movement has received,” says Erin Moraghan. “The event is a fun and easy way to stay mobile and healthy, while at the same time supporting life-changing research for arthritis and diseases like lupus, vasculitis and osteoporosis.”

For more information on Power of Movement, please visit www.powerofmovement.ca.