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Developing a Home Yoga Practice: Relief for PsA 

Living Well

December 23, 2023

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Photography by Ani Dimi/Stocksy United

Photography by Ani Dimi/Stocksy United

by Christopher P. DeLorenzo

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Medically Reviewed by:

Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW

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•••••

by Christopher P. DeLorenzo

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW

•••••

•••••

With a little time and patience, you can develop a home yoga routine. These six tips will help.

I attended an Iyengar yoga class for the first time 25 years ago, and a whole world opened up for me.

Before that, I always thought of yoga as something only hyper-flexible, super muscular, athletic (and possibly super groovy) people did. But I soon learned that this type of yoga was originally created by a chronically ill child (who later grew into the great yogi, BKS Iyengar).

This type of yoga includes props to support the body in the various poses (or asanas). These props include blocks, straps, chairs, blankets, and cylindrical pillows, called bolsters. Little did I know then how much I would need these props — and this specific type of yoga — decades later, when I began to show the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis (PsA).

When my yoga teacher moved away, I tried many different classes and teachers, but I never found one that motivated me the same way.

“Just develop a home practice,” a friend suggested. When I argued that the only time I had in my day for that was in the morning, when I was not very flexible, she said, “Do it every morning for a few weeks, and you’ll eventually become more limber.” I doubted her at first, but it turned out she was right.

There’s plenty of evidence that yoga, and other gentle, low impact movement can help manage the symptoms of PsA, including stiffness, pain, and swelling, as well as the emotional stress that often accompanies these symptoms. And while many of us may have tried yoga classes online or in person, we can’t always depend on easy access to these.

Work schedules, as well as the fatigue associated with PsA, sometimes get in the way of getting consistent exercise, especially getting to a yoga class on time. Developing a home practice can help, and we can even maintain that practice when we travel, but where do we begin, and how do we stick to it? 

If you’re anything like me, you might get frustrated if you don’t get it right the first time, or you don’t advance as quickly as you’d like to. If you’ve been an athlete most of your life, this might be especially challenging for you. But one lesson PsA has taught me is to be gentle with my body and to take it easy, especially when I am sore or recovering from a flare.

While everyone is different, most people can develop an at-home yoga routine with some time and patience. Here’s my advice:

1. Start small

You won’t become a master yogi in a week; in fact, you don’t need to become a master at all. This isn’t a competition, and there’s no hurry. 

Simply doing Downward Dog has immense benefits, so you can start with just a few essential asanas. Know your limits, especially if you’re a beginner, and find a resource to guide you through some basic Iyengar poses and introduce you to the props.

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2. Invest in some good props

The best part of Iyengar is that it’s gentle, and the asanas are easily adaptable to the limits of your mobility or flexibility using the props for support, a godsend with PsA.

For example, blocks range from solid wood to cork, to a more forgiving foam, especially helpful for tender joints. Straps are made of soft cotton canvas, and strap length is easy to adjust.

Spending some money on a decent mat is important too. You want to make sure you don’t slip or slide during your poses, especially early on when getting your bearings.

Mats differ in thickness and heaviness. I found the lighter, more pliable mats were easier to fold into backpacks or suitcases when I traveled, especially when there were luggage limitations, such as on international flights. (Yes, I travel with my yoga mat!). Others may prefer the extra cushion of a thicker mat.

3. Build your practice slowly

Start by making incremental progress. You don’t want to irritate sore joints or inflamed tendons, so take it slow.

I was able to do many intermediate poses in class when I was younger, but when older, and developing my home practice, I found I had to back off a bit and take my time. After many months of regular practice, I found I could add a headstand or shoulder stand, but it took time to get there. PsA has added some additional challenges.

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4. Be patient

PsA symptoms can vary from day to day. I’ve had mornings when my hips or my wrists were too sore to practice the way I wanted to. But with the help of Iyengar props, and by meeting my body in whatever state it was in that day, I found I could still do some poses and reap the emotional and physical benefits of daily movement.

5. Find a time that works for you and stick to it

While it has been debunked that it only takes 21 days to form a habit, consistency is the key.

As I mentioned above, I found that morning, when I was most stiff, was the only time I had during the day for my home practice. Eventually, I found that I limbered up more quickly the more consistently I practiced in the mornings. Because of PsA, some mornings I’m more sore than others, so I have my tea and breakfast and practice an hour later.

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6. Get some professional guidance

You don’t have to do this all on your own the first time, and for your own safety, you probably shouldn’t.

If you don’t have much experience with yoga, or you’ve never tried it, I recommend going to some Iyengar classes first or hiring a teacher for a few one-on-one sessions. This will help you to learn the basics and make sure that you aren’t compromising your body in any way.

Most yoga classes and personal instruction are relatively inexpensive, and it might only take three or four sessions to get the guidance you need. After that, utilizing books or videos may be sufficient, but I wouldn’t begin there. There’s no substitute for a well-trained instructor, especially for beginners.

Recently, someone asked me how long I’d been doing an at-home practice, and I surprised myself when I realized it had been over a decade. It has helped me to minimize my PsA symptoms and to keep my body strong for many years now. I would never have known its benefits if that friend hadn’t convinced me to give it a try.

Maybe you’ll find that a home yoga practice isn’t for you, but I hope you’ll give it a try too. You may just find that it’s the perfect fit.

Medically reviewed on December 23, 2023

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