Relieve osteoarthritis insomnia with yoga.

This 60-minute Viniyoga series helped reduce the number of nights with sleep disturbance caused by osteoarthritis pain, according to a study published in Sleep Medicine.

It’s very likely that you, or someone you love, has or will get osteoarthritis. One out of two Americans will suffer from some kind of osteoarthritis in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Half of older adults with osteoarthritis suffer from insomnia and

  • experience restless sleep,
  • have trouble staying asleep, and
  • have trouble falling asleep.

The Viniyoga Prescription

In this 8-week Viniyoga study on osteoarthritis, researchers from the University of Washington enrolled 13 women who

  • were aged between 55 and 85 years,
  • went to a 60-minute Viniyoga yoga class once per week, and
  • practiced Viniyoga at home for 20 to 60 minutes – with an average of 22.6 minutes – each night with an audio CD before bedtime.

Viniyoga is a therapeutic style of yoga. The prescribed class followed this sequence:

  1. Relaxation
  2. Seated and supine yoga poses
  3. Breathing exercises (pranayama)
  4. Final relaxation

Exclusive to The Genius of Yoga

In an exclusive interview with The Genius of Yoga, Diana M. Taibi, PhD, RN — a researcher from this study — shared the sequence of the yoga prescription for osteoarthritis insomnia, which is not available in the report published in a 2011 issue of the journal Sleep Medicine.

For descriptions of the poses you see here, refer to your favorite reference or Yoga Journal’s pose finder.

60-Minute Viniyoga Series for Osteoarthritis Insomnia

A)      Seated Yoga Breathing Exercises – Pranayama – 10 minutes

  1. Breath awareness
  2. Inhale and exhale at a ratio of about 1:2
  3. Partitioned Breath – Viloma: with lengthened exhalation,  add a brief pause (<1 second) halfway through exhalation

B)      Seated Poses – 15 minutes

  1. Shoulder warm-up: shrug and circles
  2. Seated Cat/Cow Pose
  3. Side Bending – Utthita Parsvakonasana
  4. Forward Bend with legs together – Uttanasana
  5. Twist – Bharadvajasana
  6. Wide-legged Forward Bend – Prasarita Padottanasana

C)      Supine Poses – 15 minutes: Participants use a chair to descend safely to the floor

  1. Reclining Big Toe Pose – Supta Eka Padangusthasana: one leg at a time
  2. Hip Circles – Padachakrasana
  3. Knee to Chest Pose – Ekapada Apanasana: one leg at a time
  4. Knees to Chest – Apanasana
  5. Abdominal Twist – Jathara Parivrtti: lower both knees to one side, then the other
  6. Bridge Pose – Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

D)      Seated Yoga Breathing Exercises – Pranayama – 10 minutes

  1. Same sequence as the opening series of Pranayama

E)      Relaxation

  1. Modified Corpse Pose –  Shavasana: legs elevated on a chair and blankets provided for comfort and support as needed

To obtain the data for this study, the researchers

  • conducted interviews,
  • had the women complete questionnaires, and
  • required them to maintain a sleep diary for seven days before beginning the yoga protocol and for the first seven days after they completed the eight weeks of yoga.

Does Viniyoga Relieve Osteoarthritis Insomnia?

“The study demonstrated that an evening yoga practice…was highly feasible and produced promising preliminary efficacy findings.” The women experienced a significant improvement in their Insomnia Severity Index and a significant reduction in the number of nights they suffered from insomnia symptoms.

Side Effects of Viniyoga for Osteoarthritis Insomnia

Some women experienced mild side effects:

The most common adverse effects of the yoga classes were lumbar and shoulder soreness, but the soreness subsided either with continued practice or when the yoga instructor modified the offending pose.

Three women reported muscle cramps in their calves while performing Bridge Pose, but they dissipated as the program progressed.

One woman experienced mild vertigo and reduced it by “elevating her head on a blanket during supine poses.”

References for 60-Minute Viniyoga Series Helps Osteoarthritis Insomnia

1. Sleep Medicine; A Pilot Study of Gentle Yoga for Sleep Disturbance in Women with Osteoarthritis; D.M. Taibi, et al.; 2011.

2. Bryn Mawr College; Insomnia; Alex Hansen et al.; 2007

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Osteoarthritis and You; 2012