How Yoga Can Help Psoriasis and How to Get Started

For people with psoriasis, some days are better than others. The autoimmune disease causes the skin to erupt with red, scaly patches that can itch and burn. On bad days, these symptoms only get worse.

One of the major triggers for a psoriasis flare is stress, which is known to fuel inflammation. To keep flare-ups under control, some patients turn to yoga. This discipline for physical and mental well-being can calm the mind and help ease psoriasis symptoms.

“Yoga is one of the things we usually recommend to patients as an initial step they can take instead of going for medications right off the bat,” says Pooja DeWilde, DO, a family medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group in Huntley, Illinois. “Stress increases inflammations, and it’s likely to increase the severity of symptoms. So doing things like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga for as little as 10 or 15 minutes a day can really improve psoriasis outcomes in the long term.”

What Is Yoga?

Originating in India up to 5,000 years ago, yoga combines physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual elements. It wasn’t until the 1960s that yoga and meditation really spread across North America, and it continued to grow through the 1970s, according to the Yoga Journal.

As a philosophy that developed from Hindu worship, yoga met with some resistance in the Western world. But today, yoga is largely accepted and taught in gyms, community centers, private practices, hospitals, and schools throughout the United States.

The central elements of yoga are a series of postures and breathing techniques. The postures are intended to create strength, flexibility, and stamina, and the breathing is meant to quiet the nervous system and provide an inner peace. Because the system promotes overall well-being (including cardiovascular health), practitioners tend to sleep better and feel more vital in general.

An Important Focus Placed on Deep Breathing

“One of the first things I would recommend is to try a deep-breathing exercise,” says Dr. DeWilde. “This is something a person can do at home or when they have a few minutes of downtime during a lunch break.”

She advises patients to find a quiet place where they won’t be interrupted. Ideally, you sit on the floor in a comfortable position with your legs crossed. DeWilde suggests slowly inhaling through the nose over a five-count period and then slowly exhaling through the mouth.

“Doing that for 10 to 15 minutes is a good form of deep breathing that should help reduce stress levels,” she says.

There Are Yoga Positions for All

Some yoga body formations — like One-Handed Tree pose and Wounded Peacock — may look intimidating. But yoga comes in all levels of difficulty, from beginner to advanced.

“There are so many different styles of yoga. I think there is probably a yoga that would be appropriate for almost anyone,” says John Anthony, MD, a dermatologist with the Cleveland Clinic who is a big proponent of using self- care approaches like yoga and combining them with medical treatment.

One of the common simple beginner positions is Child’s pose, which requires kneeling, bending forward, and extending the hands out ahead. It is designed to stretch hips, thighs, and ankles, while decreasing stress and fatigue.

“It’s probably a position most people could do even if they are not very physically fit,” says DeWilde.

A yoga teacher or yoga therapist can help you learn to do the techniques properly. You can search for professionals in your area through the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

A Benefit for Related Emotional Distress and Arthritis

Yoga can also help psoriasis patients cope with depression, anxiety, and isolation related to their illness.

“We know that there are a lot of self-esteem issues that can be associated with chronic skin diseases like psoriasis,” says Dr. Anthony. “These issues can also be helped by stress-reduction techniques like yoga.”

He adds that just being engaged in an activity like yoga — often with other people — can boost emotional resilience for those afflicted with psoriasis.

Another condition, related to psoriasis, is psoriatic arthritis. This form of arthritis can lead to swollen and painful joints, stiffness, fatigue, and a reduced range of motion.

For arthritis patients, yoga can limber up the body. Pain levels go down as mobility rises.

“Arthritis symptoms can get worse with prolonged rest of joints,” says Anthony. “Yoga movements may help arthritis patients loosen up and retain some range of motion.”

Further Exploring Yoga and Related Techniques

Like yoga, the ancient Chinese art of tai chi has been shown to have a beneficial effect on arthritis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.

Other stress-reduction approaches that may have similar effects to yoga include meditation, qigong, biofeedback, and guided imagery.

To find health professionals who use yoga in their practice, the NPF offers an online patient navigation center, which gives free assistance in finding resources.

DeWilde emphasizes that no matter how bad your psoriasis is, some form of exercise is likely to help.

“I always stress the importance of physical activity,” she says. “And for a lot of my patients who do have a chronic condition like psoriasis and can’t do a whole lot, yoga is less intimidating and seems more doable than trying a CrossFit workout or something like that.”

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