Why does everyone always recommend yoga for autoimmune diseases?

If you're so tired of hearing, "why don't you try yoga for your autoimmune disease?", you're not alone!!!

So many of my clients express their frustration and exasperation from being told this by every well-meaning person in their life.

Your frustration is 100% correct. Yoga will not solve everything!!!! However, yoga can be a piece of the puzzle, especially if you're able to get into the practice in between flares of your most pain. Perhaps give yoga a try when your joints/muscles are feeling less stiff, swollen or sore.

If you have terrible joint and muscle pain from Lupus - you are unlikely to see improvement from doing yoga at that exact moment. I've certainly tried. Back when I was first diagnosed, I thought, well maybe if I go to hot yoga when my joints are their stiffest, I will loosen them up. Guess what? It didn't work. It was EXCRUCIATING and really frustrating.

However, why is everyone saying this? What does the science say?

When can yoga help? And why?

a) In this study with Rheumatoid Arthritis --> yoga did, "significantly improve and reduce the psycho-somatic symptoms, pain perception, disability quotient, joint flexibility, range of motion, posture, muscle strength, coordination, and disease activity." Well that seems helpful! (1)

b) Yoga was studied in a small group of women with Lupus and found to be helpful according to participant reports (2)

(The following studies were not done specifically in Lupus but in general)

c) Yoga can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in women (3)

d) Yoga may be helpful for lower back pain (4)

e) Yoga may be helpful for chronic pain (5)

f) Yoga encourages mind-body connection - opening the lines of communication between you and your body. You may notice things your body is doing: your shoulders are up to your ears, you are clenching your teeth or you feel quite gassy. If you've been so stressed and had no time to think about these things - you may not have noticed the signs your body was sending you!

g) Yoga includes meditation, quiet moments, and deep breathing - all of which can help reduce your stress overall!

h) Yoga is a great low-intensity way to slowly ease yourself back into exercise if you haven't been exercising in a while

i) Yoga helps with core strength and can help improve balance

In sum, there are a lot of potential benefits of yoga for Lupus, with a couple of caveats.

If standing/laying down yoga isn't accessible to you, try chair yoga.

If yoga makes you feel MORE stressed, perhaps it's not a good fit for you! Find a way to move your body that does make you feel good - walking, swimming, tai chi, or anything that you enjoy!

Whatever you do, please try to move your body in a way that feels good to you!

Movement can help reduce stress, strengthen your muscles, improve your balance and improve your cardiovascular health, amongst many many reasons to move!


The Lupus Dietitian