Thriving With RA

For Eugenia Esquivel, yoga provided the tools to manage rheumatoid arthritis and get back to enjoying life. 

Eugenia EsquivelYoga can seem intimidating when it is portrayed by photos of people in formfitting clothes doing backbends or headstands. But Eugenia Esquivel, an Atlanta-based yoga teacher, emphasizes that yoga is for everybody, regardless of age, size or ability, because yoga is more than a physical practice. It equally includes mindfulness, presence and breath. She often says, “If you can breathe, you can practice yoga.”

Developing a yoga practice positively influenced not only her ability to move but her overall mindset and approach to life and challenging times.

A Path to Healing

Eugenia was 30 years old, vice president of marketing for a financial services company and living in Dallas when she was diagnosed in 2000 with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and ulcerative colitis. She first felt unexpected soreness in the joints of her toes and balls of her feet. Then her knuckles swelled, her fingers became hot and tight and she struggled to hold even a toothbrush.

“The hardest thing for me was not being in control of my body,” she says. She enjoyed working out in the gym, but when it became too challenging, she discovered yoga. Yoga provided a low-impact opportunity to remain active. “I just fell in love with it,” she says.

After eight years practicing various forms of yoga, she enrolled in her first yoga teacher training program, although she remained committed to her corporate life.

Eugenia’s RA went into remission in 2004, and with her rheumatologist’s blessing, she tapered off the disease-modifying drugs she was taking for it. But symptoms came back with a vengeance in 2011. Some days, the pain and fatigue kept her in bed, where she worked with her laptop and cellphone.

Although biologic medications have since controlled her RA, she still had to learn to navigate a world in which she might feel fine one day but struggle to get out of bed the next. She knew it was hard for some of her friends to understand why she sometimes cancelled plans at the last minute — “You wear the mask of being OK and being normal,” she says — and she struggled with feelings of loneliness and loss. Over time, she stopped worrying about how people would respond and focused on friends who were supportive and understanding.

Stress made her RA worse, and when work stress compounded the daily challenges of living with RA and led to more frequent and severe flares, she knew she had to make a change. She left her corporate job in 2015 and took some time off to regroup. Yoga became one of her cornerstones, and she eventually completed a second yoga teacher training program and began teaching.

Mindful of Gratitude

The physical practice of yoga improves Eugenia’s strength and mobility, while its mindful breathing and principles for living help her avoid stress-related flares, she says.

“It’s the yoga-off-the-mat that has been most beneficial to supporting my arthritis — letting myself be OK with not being able to do what I did yesterday because I know tomorrow’s going to be another day,” she says. “It’s a lesson that I try to apply to everyday life challenges. When I think of my disease, I don’t focus on the limitations. Practicing gratitude reframes my perspective of RA. I am not just living with it, I am thriving.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Eugenia had to press pause on teaching to limit her exposure to the virus. Much like her early experience with RA and Crohn’s, she struggled with feelings of uncertainty and lack of control, only this time she was able to lean into the lessons she learned from yoga and, more important, gratitude for what she had and was still able to do. To stay active and support her mental health, she sought wellness opportunities ranging from at-home workouts to outdoor yoga and fitness classes when it was safe to do so. A lot of the time, wellness came in the form of rest and deep nourishing breaths.

Today, she is excited to explore what post-pandemic life will look like. “Last year was a lot, and right now I’m just happy to be healthy on the other side. I think many of us used this past year to slow down, reflect, and think about what the new now will look like. I’m excited to be at a place where I can start thinking in a more concrete way about what I want to do next and how I want to do it.”  

Yoga 101
All you need is comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely, and a positive attitude, Eugenia says. She offers these tips for getting started:

  • Start with a gentle or beginner class.
  • Tell your teacher about your arthritis and mobility issues.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t do.
  • Consider a private lesson or two for advice on modifications.

 

See Eugenia Esquivel in action in the Your Exercise Solution (YES) fitness videos.

I Want to Contribute
I Need Help
  • Donate

    Donate

    Every gift to the Arthritis Foundation will help people with arthritis across the U.S. live their best life.

  • Volunteer

    Volunteer

    Join us and become a Champion of Yes. There are many volunteer opportunities available.

  • Live Yes! INSIGHTS

    Live Yes! INSIGHTS

    Take part to be among those changing lives today and changing the future of arthritis.

  • Partner

    Partner

    Proud Partners of the Arthritis Foundation make an annual commitment to directly support the Foundation’s mission.

Donate


Ways to Give

Every gift to the Arthritis Foundation will help people with arthritis across the U.S. live their best life. Whether it is supporting cutting-edge research, 24/7 access to one-on-one support, resources and tools for daily living, and more, your gift will be life-changing.

Make a Donation

Help millions of people live with less pain and fund groundbreaking research to discover a cure for this devastating disease. Please, make your urgently-needed donation to the Arthritis Foundation now!

Become a Member

Become an Arthritis Foundation member today for just $20 and you'll receive access to helpful tools..... and more. 

Make a Honor or Memorial Gift

Honor a loved one with a meaningful donation to the Arthritis Foundation. We'll send a handwritten card to the honoree or their family notifying them of your thoughtful gift.

Gift Planning

I want information on ways to remember the AF in my will, trust or other financial planning vehicles.
 

Volunteer


Volunteer Opportunities

The Arthritis Foundation is focused on finding a cure and championing the fight against arthritis with life-changing information, advocacy, science and community. We can only achieve these goals with your help. Strong, outspoken and engaged volunteers will help us conquer arthritis. By getting involved, you become a leader in our organization and help make a difference in the lives of millions. Join us and become a Champion of Yes.

Become a Volunteer

More About Volunteering

Live Yes! INSIGHTS


Give Just 10 Minutes.

Tell us what matters most to you. Change the future of arthritis.

By taking part in the Live Yes! INSIGHTS assessment, you’ll be among those changing lives today and changing the future of arthritis, for yourself and for 54 million others. And all it takes is just 10 minutes.

Your shared experiences will help:

- Lead to more effective treatments and outcomes
- Develop programs to meet the needs of you and your community
- Shape a powerful agenda that fights for you

Now is the time to make your voice count, for yourself and the entire arthritis community. 

Currently this program is for the adult arthritis community.  Since the needs of the juvenile arthritis (JA) community are unique, we are currently working with experts to develop a customized experience for JA families. 

How are you changing the future?

By sharing your experience, you’re showing decision-makers the realities of living with arthritis, paving the way for change. You’re helping break down barriers to care, inform research and create resources that make a difference in people’s lives, including your own.

Get Started

Partner


Meet Our Partners

As a partner, you will help the Arthritis Foundation provide life-changing resources, science, advocacy and community connections for people with arthritis, the nations leading cause of disability. Join us today and help lead the way as a Champion of Yes.

Trailblazer

Our Trailblazers are committed partners ready to lead the way, take action and fight for everyday victories. They contribute $2,000,000 to $2,749,000

Visionary

Our Visionary partners help us plan for a future that includes a cure for arthritis. These inspired and inventive champions have contributed $1,500,00 to $1,999,999.

Pioneer

Our Pioneers are always ready to explore and find new weapons in the fight against arthritis. They contribute $1,000,000 to $1,499,999.

Pacesetter

Our Pacesetters ensure that we can chart the course for a cure for those who live with arthritis. They contribute $500,000 to $999,000.

Signature

Our Signature partners make their mark by helping us identify new and meaningful resources for people with arthritis. They contribute $250,000 to $499,999.

Supporting

Our Supporting partners are active champions who provide encouragement and assistance to the arthritis community. They contribute $100,000 to $249,999.