All posts by Arthritis Foundation

Finding Her Light Within

Yoga Helped Eugenia Esquivel Cope With RA. Now She Teaches Others How It Can Restore Every Body.
A couple dozen people in the yoga studio lie back on bolsters, their eyes closed and their arms resting loosely by their sides. “Give yourself permission to be supported,” instructor Eugenia Esquivel says gently. “Give yourself permission to rest.”

Those are sentiments Eugenia takes to heart. The mindfulness she gains from yoga helps her cope with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). And the lessons she’s learned from her journey with RA shape her approach as a yoga instructor.

Yoga can seem intimidating when it is portrayed by photos of people in formfitting clothes doing backbends or headstands. But Eugenia assures her students that yoga isn’t a competitive sport; it’s a personal practice. No matter what physical limitations someone has, poses can be adapted, and there should be no pressure to fit anyone else’s expectations.

“Yoga is for every body. It doesn’t have limits of age or size,” she says. “It’s a practice that is for any- and everybody, any ability.”

A PATH TO HEALING
Eugenia, 49, first felt unexpected soreness in the joints of her toes and balls of her feet about 19 years ago. Then her knuckles swelled, her fingers became hot and tight and she struggled to hold even a toothbrush. She was 30, vice president of marketing for a financial services company and living in Dallas when she was diagnosed in 2000 with RA and ulcerative colitis, both autoimmune diseases.

“The hardest thing for me was not being in control of my body,” she says. She enjoyed working out in the gym, but when it became too hard, she discovered yoga. “I just fell in love with it,” she says. She’s continued ever since and enrolled in yoga teacher training in 2008, although she remained committed to her corporate life.

Her RA went into remission in 2004, and with her rheumatologist’s blessing, she tapered off the disease-modifying drugs she was taking for it. But the RA came back with a vengeance in 2011. Some days, the pain and fatigue would keep her in bed, where she would work with her laptop and cellphone.

Although biologic medications have controlled her RA, she still has had to learn to navigate a world in which she might feel fine one day but struggle to get out of bed the next. She knew it was hard for some of her friends to understand why she would cancel plans at the last minute – “You wear the mask of being OK and being normal,” she says – and she struggled with feelings of loneliness and loss. Over time, she stopped worrying about how people would respond and focused on friends who were supportive and understanding.

Stress made her RA worse, and when work stress compounded the daily challenges of living with RA and led to more frequent and severe flares, she knew she had to make a change. She left her corporate job in 2015 and took some time off to regroup. Yoga became one of her cornerstones, and she eventually took another yoga teacher training program.

MINDFUL OF GRATITUDE
The physical practice of yoga improves Eugenia’s strength and mobility, while its mindful breathing and principles for living help her avoid stress-related flares.

“It’s that yoga-off-the-mat that has been most beneficial to supporting my arthritis – letting myself be OK with not being able to do what I did yesterday because I know tomorrow’s going to be another day,” she says.

Today, she and her husband live in Atlanta, where she teaches yoga in private sessions and in a studio.

Among her students are people who have experienced domestic violence or other forms of trauma as well as those with physical limitations. Eugenia helps her students modify poses to accommodate their abilities and disabilities. She also encourages everyone to feel grateful for whatever they are able to accomplish.

“It’s easy to focus on what you couldn’t do in class,” she says. “Sometimes you need to be reminded of what your body can do.” —MICHELE COHEN MARILL

INTRO TO YOGA
All you need is comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely, and a positive attitude.

  • Start with a gentle or beginner class.
  • Tell your instructor about your arthritis and mobility issues.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t do.
  • Consider a private lesson or two for advice on modifications.

Chicago Area Firefighter Goes All Out to Help Extinguish Arthritis

Matt Pierce, a 45-year-old firefighter in the Chicago area, is on a mission.

After years of participating in the Arthritis Foundation’s Jingle Bell Run with his team, the Red Nosed R-A-ndeers, Matt has set his sights on something quite a bit longer than a 5K: riding his bike 525 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles this September with the California Coast Classic Bike Tour (CCC). Continue reading Chicago Area Firefighter Goes All Out to Help Extinguish Arthritis

Do It Yourself: A Simple & Satisfying Way to Make Your Mark

 

Our DIY fundraising initiative helps you do it your way with ease.

To raise money for arthritis research and resources, the Arthritis Foundation hosts signature events throughout the year, like Walk to Cure Arthritis, Jingle Bell Run, galas and other fundraisers. Now you’re empowered to fundraise and raise awareness however you want to in the way that works best for you.

Read on to see how Dru did it! Continue reading Do It Yourself: A Simple & Satisfying Way to Make Your Mark

seat belt on white background

Tips to Take the Pain Out of Fastening Seat Belts

Whether you’re strapping yourself in or securing a child in a car seat, arthritis can make one of your car’s most important safety features a pain. Elin Schold Davis, an occupational therapist (OT) and project coordinator for the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Older Driver Initiative, offers these tips to make fastening and unfastening seat belts a cinch. Continue reading Tips to Take the Pain Out of Fastening Seat Belts

Get Ready for Your Day With Less Pain and Hassle

You want to look and feel your best, but painful, stiff joints often get in the way. “When you have arthritis, holding a makeup brush or razor can be difficult,” says Jeanne Harper, an occupational and certified hand therapist in Portas, California. These tips and devices can make looking good easier and less painful.  Continue reading Get Ready for Your Day With Less Pain and Hassle

Get the FACTS on Alkaline Water

When you live with the pain of arthritis, you’ll try anything to feel betterSo, your interest may be piqued by the marketing of a healthier water. Alkaline water is touted as providing health through hydration, but does it really help? Minerals in water determine its pH. (A pH above 7 is more alkaline; below 7 is more acid.) Some contend that water treated to have a pH of 8 to 10 reduces the body’s acid load, which allegedly improves bone and immune system health, among other benefits.  Continue reading Get the FACTS on Alkaline Water

5 Reasons to Soak in the Great Outdoors

Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” is a traditional Japanese practice of immersing oneself in nature by mindfully using all five senses. But you don’t have to lose yourself in a forest to reap the health benefits of being in nature. Something as simple as a walk through a park or by a lake can pay off for your well-being, says Frances Kuo, PhD, founder and director of the Landscape and Human Health Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

 “Even just looking at a rooftop garden for 40 seconds helps you sustain attention during mentally fatiguing tasks,” she says, citing a 2015 study. Here are more reasons to embrace the outdoors. 

  1.  More positive outlookParticipants in a small study who took a 90-minute nature walk, compared with those who walked through an urban environment, reported lower levels of ruminating (repetitive negative thoughts), a known risk for depression and other psychological conditions. They also showed reduced activity in an area of the brain linked to sadness and withdrawal. 
  2. Better sleepAn Australian study of 259,319 people found that people living in neighborhoods with more greenspace were more likely to get eight hours of sleep nightly than those living in neighborhoods with less green space. 
  3. Less pain. A landmark study published in the journal Science found that hospitalized patients whose windows looked onto a garden setting healed faster from surgery and required less pain medication than patients whose view was a brick wall. 
  4. Sharper memory. When people took an hour stroll in a nature setting, their short-term memory improved by 20 percent, a study in Psychological Science found. Even looking at pictures of nature helped memory. 
  5. Healthier heart. People whose homes have easier access to woods and parks had lower levels of blood-vessel-damaging adrenaline and higher levels of circulating angiogenic cells (CACs), which repair blood vessedamage, according to a study of cardiology patients.  

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