Article originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press (co-authored by Helen Maupin, Candace Propp, Stacy Schroder)
A well-oiled machine performs much better and lasts considerably longer, as those of us who ride bicycles or drive cars know. The same mechanical principle applies to the joints in our bodies.
Simply put, a joint is where two bones meet.
Our major joints include the hips, shoulders, elbows and knees, with multiple smaller joints in the fingers, wrists, ankles and toes. The importance of keeping all our joints lubricated cannot be understated — bone pressing on bone, ouch! — and may appear to be an onerous task given there are more than 70 joints in the spine alone.
As complex as our body is, its lubrication mechanics are quite simple, following these two capabilities: every joint, or rather its cartilage, is filled with liquid (synovial fluid) responsible for lubrication and weight support; and muscular contractions and expansions flex (bend) and extend our joints while simultaneously generating blood circulation.
Physical movement is essentially muscle expansion and contraction. Muscular expansion (relaxation) allows fresh blood to enter and feed our cells. Muscular contraction squeezes old blood and toxins out as waste. Physical movement is also what keeps the synovial fluid flowing.
So there is truth to the saying, “Move it or lose it.” Recent research findings are dispelling an old myth physical activity is injurious to joints. Activity is “the driving force behind maintaining lubrication,” with the added result of reducing risk of osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, two caveats apply here. The first is we spend more than 90 per cent of our day sitting or standing and thus not regularly bending and extending our knees and other joints. Secondly, the body freely produces enough synovial fluid during our childhood but during our teens production begins to slow, and by the time we hit our less-active years (40-plus), we actually require physical activity to stimulate synovial secretion.
Fortunately, the solution is simple — move every joint in your body for five — or, better yet, 10 — minutes every day. This may seem impossible, but a simple three- to six-pose yoga sequence that includes standing, balancing, inverting, back-bending, twisting and forward-folding will create the “juice” to carry you and your joints for a lifetime.
Try the one below:
Action: Perform each of the following poses as repetitions. Move in and out of each pose by following the inhalation and exhalation instructions. Repeat three to five times, moving with your breath. For more advanced practitioners, at the end of the repetitions, hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths and imagine creating space in the major joints (knees, hips, shoulders, elbows) by breathing into them.
UTTHITA TRIKONASANA (Triangle Pose)
Step your feet wide distance apart, with your right outer heel at the wall. Rotate your left leg to point straight forward. Be sure your knees line up with your toes. Inhale, firm into your feet and raise your arms to a T-position. Exhale, fold sideways and place your left hand onto support. Inhale, press into your feet and come to the upright position. Repeat 3 to 5 times with your breath.
PARIVRTTA UTKATASANA (Revolved Queen’s Chair Pose)
Stand tall in Tadasana with your hands in prayer position at your breastbone. Inhale, lengthen your spine. Exhale, bend your knees into a squatting position, and twist to the right — left elbow outside of right thigh. Inhale, untwist and return to standing. Exhale, squat and twist to the left. Inhale, back to standing. Repeat 3 times to each side in sync with your inhalations and exhalations.
DWI PADA PITHAM (Wedge Pose)
Begin lying on your back with your knees bent, toes up the wall (if possible) and arms alongside your body. On an inhalation, press into your feet to lift your hips up and bring your arms overhead. On an exhalation, release your hips to the floor and your arms alongside your body.
To discover more actions for healthy joints, see our books — Creating Space: Yoga Actions for Feet & Ankles; Legs & Knees; Pelvis & Psoas; Torso & Spine; (and coming soon) Shoulders & Arms. Available in print or e-book.
For our yoga teacher training program with Stacy Schroder go to www.sereneyogastudio.com.