When you have joint pain, choosing the right yoga class—and an instructor who is familiar with asana (posture) modifications—is essential for an effective practice.

There are many different types of yoga to choose from, but alignment-based Iyengar yoga is more suited for people with arthritis than faster-paced, vinyasa-style and power yoga classes.

Iyengar yoga focuses on the flexibility and capability of class participants and uses an assortment of props, such as blocks and straps, to make certain poses accessible and safe for those with limited range of motion.

Evidence also suggests Iyengar offers real benefits for people with arthritis: A small UCLA study of women ages 21 to 35 with rheumatoid arthritis found that those who practiced Iyengar yoga were happier, had more energy, and felt more accepting of their pain than women who did not take yoga classes. Other studies have reported increased relief, and improvements in mood, vitality, and productivity among pain patients who regularly practice yoga.

Yoga Pose Modifications for People With Joint Pain

Yoga therapist Carol Krucoff, author of Yoga Sparks: 108 Easy Practices for Stress Relief in a Minute or Less, points out that while there are no arthritis-specific postures, there are techniques and modifications practitioners can use to accommodate arthritis in specific joints.

With any type of arthritis, the bottom line is to be conscious of the weight you are putting on the affected joint. For example, patients with osteoarthritis of the knee may want to modify a one-legged balance posture (such as tree pose) by touching the toe of the non-standing foot to the floor instead of placing it on the inside of the standing leg.This will help take pressure off the knee joint.

NOTE: With knee arthritis, it's important not to bend your knee so deeply that you can't see your toes. You must have good alignment when bending to ensure the knee tracks over the toes of the foot (and does not dip in or splay out).

Patients with arthritis in the hands or wrists may want to avoid or modify poses that put weight on the hands, such as table pose or downward facing dog.

The Benefits of Yoga for People with Arthritis

"Appropriate exercise in general, and appropriately modified yoga, can be quite helpful for people with arthritis," Krucoff says. "Just make sure you are in an appropriate class with the right instructor—someone who has experience working with joint disabilities."

You can search for a yoga teacher at YogaJournal.com or ask your health care provider for recommendations. While it is helpful to learn from a qualified instructor, it's not always possible, or convenient. If you have enough floor space to unroll a yoga mat, you can follow a yoga books, or DVD. Try Arthritis-Friendly Yoga: Practice Your Way to Less Pain by the Arthritis Foundation.

Carol Krucoff reviewed this article.


  1. Bussing A, Ostermann T, Ludtke R and Michalsen A. Effects of yoga interventions on pain and pain-associated disability: a meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain. Jan 2013;13(1):1-9.
  2. Evans S, Moieni M, Taub R, et al. Iyengar yoga for young adults with rheumatoid arthritis: results from a mixed methods pilot study. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 2010 May;39(5):904-13.