The thing with arthritis is that people will avoid moving because it hurts! It is instinctual to protect yourself by avoiding pain when possible. However, by restricting movement, stiffness increases and loss of mobility results.
Yoga and tai chi have physical and psychological benefits for many people, including and perhaps especially those with chronic illnesses.
Physically speaking, they are great because they provide a GENTLE way for people to increase flexibility, muscle strength and balance. Ideally the movements should not add more stress on the body. It is important for people with joint damage to not overextend. The physical focus is typically on posture, fluidity and breathing practices. Certain poses are believed to activate particular body systems or provide releases.
Traditionally, these practices have a very important psychological aspect as well. The mind and spirit should be actively involved in the process. The practices along with focused attention, meditation or channelled energy can boost the immune system, increase energy levels, reduce pain perception and create a sense of awareness, clarity, gratitude, serenity and peace. I believe this to be essential for a full healing benefit.
Personally I enjoy doing guided yoga sessions at home using dvds. I have begun to integrate yoga into my daily practice. I'm amazed at how much I loosen up as I practice. The things I think I can't do become easier as it goes on. I still struggle with fully letting go, fully releasing. It is an internal struggle with me and it is something I want to strive for. In good time.
I was so lucky as to make a great contact with a local yoga instructor [from the Bodhi Tree in Calgary] who has offered to help me modify the poses that are difficult for me.
I am not experienced with tai chi, but I would like to get involved with the Tai Chi Society of Canada soon. The energy of tai chi appeals to me. I often walk by the center and see large groups of people practicing the poses together and I get an incredible sense of oneness and peace.