From Rheumatoid Arthritis to Yoga Instructor

From Rheumatoid Arthritis to Yoga Instructor

An inspirational Journey of Healing and Empowerment - By Rachel Atkins

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I'm Rachel, and I've been living with rheumatoid arthritis since the tender age of 20. It's been a challenging road, but discovering Yoga completely changed my life!

When I was diagnosed with RA it was a really low point in my life. I was supposed to be a fit and healthy 20-year-old just at the beginning of her adult life. However, I was faced with constant pain and inflammation in my knees, hands, wrists, and fingers as well as bouts of chronic fatigue.

I was unable to work as my mobility was limited and it was so bad that I needed my partner to help me get dressed. Thankfully, he was very understanding and supportive but this was not how I saw my life panning out.

It took nearly a year to find a medication that was able to settle some of my symptoms and my Doctor told me to try some gentle exercise. I didn't know what type of exercise was gentle enough for me to do, so had no idea where to start. That was until my neighbour came over to see me one day, she could see I wasn't in a great place and took me out for a coffee.

We got chatting about the Doctor's suggestion of gentle exercise and my neighbour suggested Hatha yoga. She said she had a DVD I could borrow and even if I couldn't do the poses it had some meditation and mindfulness techniques I could try. At this point, I was willing to try anything, as I just wanted to feel somewhat normal again.

I cannot remember the name of the teacher on the DVD but she looked like she was in her late 50s/early 60's, she had a kind face and a soft calming voice. At first, I was unable to do most of the poses but for the few I could do (mainly seated postures and dolphin pose), I would try to do them every other day along with a short meditation. The first big change I noticed was in my headspace, I was starting to not feel so down all the time and I looked forward to my little practice as it made me feel like I was doing something positive for myself. I started to buy every book on yoga, learning as much as I could.

Soon my little routine developed into a longer routine, adding in more poses as and when my body would allow. Eventually, I was able to return to work and this felt great, my life was moving in the right direction.

I kept up with a regular mini practice and over time and with a lot of patience I was able to build up my pose repertoire and practice for longer periods. This is when I started to see a significant change in my arthritis symptoms. Flare-up days were becoming less and less, and the inflammation in my knees and fingers hardly ever occurred. And if I ever took a break from yoga, like if work or family life just got too hectic, then I would notice my condition start to worsen again.

My rheumatologist was pleased with my progress and told me to keep doing what I was doing, as it was working.  But he also stressed the importance of listening carefully to my body. So that's exactly what I did! I learned to modify poses to suit me and made sure to listen to my body, not pushing or forcing just leaning into what my body could do on any given day.

Yoga became my steadfast companion and I have been practising for 20 years now. It has transformed my life, mobility, and overall wellbeing. It's not just a practice; it's a lifeline for me.  I found solace and strength in its embrace. So much so that I felt the natural progression for me was to become an instructor! I wanted to be able to share the wonderful benefits of yoga and mindfulness and also share my experience and knowledge with others dealing with the condition.

I qualified as an instructor 4 years ago, taking my 200 Hour teacher training and studying for a Diploma in Hatha Yoga. I began teaching classes in between my regular job and eventually took the plunge and started teaching full time. To be able to reach those with arthritis I decided to start teaching online classes through my website Yoga Flowly and I haven't looked back.  I run weekly Gentle Yoga Classes and monthly Yoga for Arthritis classes. These classes consist of small groups of 4 or fewer and we look at poses and their modifications and use them in a way that will suit the unique body of the student. It's also a great way for people with the condition to connect and share their experiences, creating a sense of community.

One thing I'm incredibly passionate about is making yoga inclusive for everyone, especially those living with conditions like arthritis and other mobility challenges.You see, yoga is not a one-size-fits-all practice and I understand the challenges that can come when starting. 

Yoga has taught me to listen to my body, know what my body loves and doesn't love, what my limitations are, and how to adapt my practice accordingly. It's about honouring your body's wisdom and I want to help others find this wisdom.

If you are thinking of starting a yoga practice it is important to get advice from your healthcare professional first. Gentle Hatha Yoga and Mindful Movement can be a great place to start.

It's important to remember:

  • Listen to your body
  • Props are your friend
  • Be patient with yourself
  • Accept that each day will bring its challenges
  • Only focus on your journey, as everyone's story and progress will be different from yours. 
  • Get advice from an expert instructor

As well as teaching sessions through my website Yoga Flowly you can also find me via the international app Insight Timer where I have been teaching donation-based Hatha, MBSR Movement & Yin Yoga sessions since 2022. These sessions are great as I get to connect with people from all over the globe.



Rachel Atkins

Rachel, founder of Yoga Flowly, delivers online gentle yoga and mindful movement classes, specialising in helping those with Arthritis.