Yoga and Arthritis | Elizabeth’s Balancing Act

Yoga and Arthritis | Elizabeth’s Balancing Act

Elizabeth Wald, founder of Stones in Harmony, is a successful jewelry designer and former personal trainer. Since we last caught up with her in 2013, she has taken up yoga as a way to control her pain from rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. Now, Elizabeth is using her personal training background to shed light on a new exercise that has restored her health and well-being and given her a brand new outlook on life.

Elizabeth Wald was a former nationally certified fitness instructor for thirteen years — but even as a yoga enthusiast, she knows precisely how challenging it is to adopt to a routine exercise regiment while facing an autoimmune disease. In fact, she herself is diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia. Even while battling through the pain, she has learned to balance her booming career as a jewelry designer at Stones in Harmony while managing two autoimmune diseases.

Recently, Elizabeth has taken up a new type of balancing — yoga — a hobby that has benefited her physically, mentally and emotionally in ways that she never could have imagined in just four months. Now, Elizabeth is using her personal training background to inspire her fellow RA and fibromyalgia friends to give yoga a try in hopes that they too, can experience profound spiritual, physical, emotional and psychological healing. Elizabeth’s greatest token of advice? Just start, even if it means stretching or walking for five minutes each day.

“Consider taking a yoga class at your local gym,” advised Elizabeth. “Even if you are a beginner, there is no need to be intimidated. With yoga, you’re not in competition with anyone but yourself.”

Elizabeth, a New Yorker and yoga enthusiast, was diagnosed at age 33 with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. She immediately started on a biologic medication and after just 4 days she felt dramatic improvements in her pain levels and mobility. After years of being a personal trainer, Elizabeth’s chronic illnesses weighed heavily on her and she shifted toward a less physically demanding career in jewelry-making. She created her own company, Stones in Harmony where she designs RA awareness jewelry and donates a portion of the proceeds to the Arthritis National Research Foundation. Still, her athletic background never escaped her and now at 52, she has begun to engage in an entirely new passion: yoga.

“Whatever passion that made you come alive when you were a child, you don’t have to stop when you are diagnosed with RA, unless you are physically unable to perform the task. Go back to painting, go back to playing the piano, go back to doing whatever makes you come alive.”
 

The Yoga Practice of Healing

Elizabeth practices what she preaches: Since she began practicing yoga four months ago, she has carved out time for it nearly every single day. Yoga has become so integral to Elizabeth’s well being that she will often sacrifice an hour of sleep or work in order to stay up with her routine. It hasn’t been easy due to her RA, but her efforts have paid off dividends. Her rheumatologist said that the combination of medications and the holistic treatment of yoga may have contributed to her partial remission. Beyond the pain reduction, Elizabeth has seen vast emotional health improvement, and because of this, she cherishes the time she is in her class.

“I did not just walk into yoga class and start practicing,” revealed Elizabeth. I have cried during and after classes either because of my joints causing me pain or preventing me from mastering a balance. I have pushed through, made accommodations, but most importantly, I refuse to give up!”

From her years of personal training Elizabeth knows a thing or two about working out and she shared a few tips specifically for rheumatoid arthritis patients: be proactive, be gentle with yourself, and set realistic goals. For the average rheumatoid arthritis patient, she recommends the basic American College of Sports Medicine guidelines of working out on a weekly basis (click on this link to learn more from ACSM). For beginners, she recommends gentle walking for five minutes per day and increasing in small increments.

“Focus your attention on becoming stronger, and the rest will take care of itself — whether it be weight loss, improved health and self esteem, or pain reduction. There is no burning out in yoga because there is always the opportunity to improve, to challenge yourself and to grow spiritually.”

 

Defying the Odds Through Yoga

Elizabeth shared her story to dispel the myth that people with RA can’t exercise, unless the disease is so severe that a patient is in far too much pain to exercise and/or does not receive approval from their rheumatologist. Recently, Elizabeth teamed up with her yoga instructor, Julia Otani-Caruso, and the pair demonstrated proper technique as well as modifications for people with RA. Elizabeth also recommended “hot yoga” for people that flare in the cold weather. She underscored that proper form and alignment are major keys to gaining the most out of each pose while ensuring safety. Using a yoga block to modify her poses, Elizabeth has made ample progress in a short time by working on her balance, flexibility and strength.

“A major conundrum is that many people are in too much pain to begin yoga, but yoga can be exactly what relieves the pain My favorite pose is the “Warrior,” because that’s exactly what RA patients are: warriors.”

Elizabeth emphasized that yoga can be as relaxing or as vigorous as one wants it to be and that aspect makes it an ideal exercise for autoimmune disease patients. The investment is low — requiring only time, a mat and towel — and the benefits are numerous. Between crafting her jewelry, helping others and becoming a skilled yogi, Elizabeth is sure to keep up her balancing act indefinitely.

“Yoga is beautiful because it challenges you to look inward, to inquire within, and focus on reaching your fullest capacity as a person. It is my dream to help my fellow RA community by combining my physical training background with my first-hand knowledge of RA. I believe yoga can change lives of RA patients significantly.”

It has changed Elizabeth’s life dramatically as she attributes her healthy lifestyle through yoga, her gemstones and treatment plan which allowed her to acheive recently medical remission for her rheumatoid arthritis.

This article is not meant to serve as medical advice, please remember to always obtain your doctor’s clearance for exercise before you embark on any exercise program and always consult with your doctor on your treatment options.

You can check out Elizabeth’s RA awareness jewelry at her website: www.stonesinharmony.com

ANRF
Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation
arthritisresearch@curearthritis.org

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. Writing articles about the patients affected and the science being done to find a cure shows why we need to come together to #CureArthritis!

4 Comments
  • Avatar
    Donna S.
    Posted at 16:26h, 19 July Reply

    I’ve purchased Elizabeth’s jewelry, I love her site Stone’s In Harmony and we are good friends thru FB and RA Groups.. she has been a God send too me with the pieces she has made me personally.. I love this article and how Yoga has helped her.. Shes a very awesome person and loves all that she does!

  • Avatar
    Elizabeth Wald
    Posted at 11:15h, 25 August Reply

    Donna!
    You have been so loyal to me both as a friend and client. I am eternally grateful for your kind words. I sincerely blushed when I read your comment. You are a sweetheart and you made my whole week! Truly. I am lucky to have you as a friend because you are honest, fun to converse with and simply wonderful.
    THANK YOU!
    Warmest of hugs,

    Elizabeth

  • Avatar
    John P. Lynch
    Posted at 12:41h, 13 February Reply

    Elizabeth,
    Your story reaffirms the way I deal with my RA. It began when I was eleven and I have lived with it for nearly 60 years. There have been lots of ups and downs which I chronicle in my memoir, Tale of an Old Katfish. The stories of others affected by JRA/RA, especially those of kids, teens, and young adults, are also told. Presently I am working with a yoga and breath instructor to develop programs which we both hope will help all individuals with arthritis. I am going to see that the instructor reads your story because it is very compelling. I also like your video presentation on your website. It is very well done. And although I am not at all versed in jewelry design, I appreciate your style. Thank you for sharing your well written and well told story. It is very inspirational.
    John P. Lynch

    • Avatar
      Elizabeth
      Posted at 03:14h, 24 March Reply

      John,
      I am so vey happy that I have inspired you and your words are making me blush lol!!!! Great thing to do with this instructor. I have done this during the 13 years I was a Personal Trainer because you and I BOTH know that instructors sorely lack knowledge in this area. I too will be making videos for “A Get Started” with fitness to show modifications for exercises that are difficult. You have just inspired ME! Thank you for your kindness and good intuition. You have a wonderful outlook.

      With the energy crystal grids on my glass tables, RA awareness jewelry, combined wth Yoga, the results are astounding. This story was written by Dana Guglielmo. A fantastic writer. I thank the ANRF (Arthritis National Research Foundation (www.curearthritis.org) for helping me get the word out.
      If people donated even $5 it would add up for sure! You can donate in 1 minute. It’s so easy! You just have to click on their link and the homepage takes you right there. Be sure to select the category Rheumatoid Arthritis.
      Sending prayers for better health and gratitude for your comment. ~Elizabeth

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