Ayurvedic guide to healthy joints and muscles
The freedom to move is something we often take for granted, but for some, to bend and stretch without pain is a luxury. Much of our quality of life depends on mobility - and maintaining healthy joints, tendons and muscles should be high on our self-maintenance list.
The strength and flexibility of our joints and muscles also influence our sense of inner freedom. When muscles, joints or ligaments become restricted, we can feel stuck or challenged emotionally. Our goal, therefore, is to maintain a healthy balance between strength and flexibility in our joints and muscles. Surprisingly, the inner workings of digestion and metabolism can also impact greatly on joint health.
When our metabolism is out of balance it can often show up in our muscles, tendons and joints. Over time, joints and muscles can feel stiff and sore. Add to this any scar tissue from injury and our joints are likely to sound and feel like a creaky, old door! If we can improve our metabolism we can expect to have greater flexibility throughout.
Traditional Ayurveda views the metabolism through the lens of the three doshas – vata, pitta and kapha. Whenever we see stiffness and pain in the body the first step is to look to vata. The attributes of vata are cold, light, dry and rough. Anything that causes any of these to increase can also cause the same characteristics to increase in the body. This can explain the feeling of stiff muscles and creaky joints on a cold winters morning.
One of the best ways to reduce the cold, dry, rough qualities of vata on the body is to gently massage your muscles and joints with warm oil containing herbs that nourish and balance aggravated vata. Mahanarayan oil is a favourite to reduce the effects of vata on the joints and muscles helping to improve flexibility, especially during winter and early spring.
The Digestive Season
Disturbances in metabolism can also lead to inflammation that can cause painful, swollen joints that may be hot to the touch. Ayurveda suggests this is due to an accumulation of a specific dosha together with a build-up of accumulated and sometimes acidic metabolic wastes known as ama.
Many health challenges originate in the digestive tract. If the fire in the belly becomes weak, due to excess pitta, kapha or vata , this can lead to a build-up of ama that are toxic to the body. Ayurveda suggests that the combination of aggravagted vata together with a build-up of ama can result in joint pain and inflammation that can lead to painful, swollen joints. So, a healthy functioning digestive system is an important aspect when it comes to maintaining healthy joints.
The two-fold approach is first to clear up any accumulated ama - with a short cleanse for example - whilst ensuring we eat well to keep the digestive fire burning brightly. Eating plenty of leafy greens and adding spices such as turmeric, cinnamon and ginger to your cooking can be a great help as they are ama-digesting, alkalising and anti-inflammatory. This approach can help to reduce inflammation and support healthy circulation and tissue-nutrition.
Keep on moving
To support your joints from life’s ups and downs, whilst developing resilience and flexibility, it is important to stimulate the circulatory system. Simple joint rotations followed by a 15-minute active walk provides a fresh supply of oxygen and prana to circulate around the joints and the body as a whole.
Strengthening the muscles also provides extra support for weight-bearing joints such as knees and hips, which often overcompensate due to poor postural alignment.
Balance is key
To balance v atais to promote stability and resilience. Exercise that promotes muscle flexibility and suppleness increases resilience, allowing the joints to reach their full potential. Yoga, Tai Chi and other somatic movements can be a great help to your joints and flexibility.
Ayurveda recognises several herbs that have traditionally been used to improve flexibility and reduce localised swelling and pain. Ayurvedic herbs are also used to regulate the digestion and improve circulation.
To conclude, optimal joint health is an important life invigorator and one which requires a multi-faceted approach. To detoxify and nurture your joints is to keep them well maintained and fully mobile. With a wise approach to diet, lifestyle, and exercise they should last you well into your senior years.
The hope of spring is in the air on warmer days and light is definitely drawing out but often your energy feels at its lowest during this last stretch of winter. Try some of our tips for feeling lighter and stronger during kapha season.