Ankylosing Spondylitis: What it is, Who it Affects, and How to Address it via Yoga
Research tells us that a healthy diet and regular practice of yoga can help reduce inflammation in your body and reduce Ankylosing Spondylitis symptoms.
Yoga As Treatment For Ankylosing Spondylitis
When it comes to back pain, some conditions are hereditary. Certain genes activate specific conditions in the body, creating uncomfortable physical symptoms. Ankylosing Spondylitis is such a disorder, manifesting in adults between the ages of 17 and 45.
What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?
It is essentially arthritis of the spine, and symptoms can include lower back pain, hip pain, neck pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and difficulty breathing.
People with Ankylosing Spondylitis may experience stiffness and rigidity, as it causes inflammation between your vertebrae. This condition is genetic, which means it runs in the family. Having the gene doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have the disorder, and it’s more common and severe in men. If you’re experiencing any of the above issues, it’s important to see a doctor and get an ankylosing spondylitis diagnosis, so you can be prepared to alleviate the effects of this incurable disorder.
Yoga for Ankylosing Spondylitis
Despite the lifelong nature of this condition, you can help addressing ankylosing spondylitis symptoms with yoga. By improving and maintaining a healthy range of motion in your spine, you can offset feelings of stiffness and rigidity, and help reduce inflammation.
Yoga works by stretching and strengthening your back muscles and spine, increasing your flexibility and building core muscle. Yoga breathwork can also help reduce symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis that cause difficulty breathing. In fact, a 2021 study published in Annals of Neurosciences found that yoga can be used as Ankylosing Spondylitis treatment, and that regular practice could provide numerous positive effects, like relief from pain and improved breathing. Research tells us that a healthy diet and regular practice of yoga can help reduce inflammation in your body and reduce Ankylosing Spondylitis symptoms.
Ankylosing Spondylitis Yoga Poses
In my classes at MyYogaTeacher, there are several poses I like to teach when students are experiencing stiffness and pain in their lower back. These poses are gentle, and if you’re suffering from Ankylosing Spondylitis, they should help you feel relief without any risk or pain.
This easy pose can help reduce stiffness and give your spine some much-needed flexibility. Start on your hands and knees and begin by inhaling and looking up. Arching your spine, let your front-body fully expand. Exhale and curl your spine, contracting your abdomen, moving your gaze down and toward your belly button.
Continue this gentle motion back and forth between cat and cow for several breaths.
2. Downward Facing Dog
This common yoga pose can provide your lower back some relief. It also stretches and strengthens your legs, and builds core muscles for better physical support. Push up from your hands and knees, lifting your hips until you are balanced on your hands and feet, with your body resembling an inverted “V.”
Keep your head in between your arms, ears balanced over your shoulders, and stay in this pose for several breaths.
3. Cobra Pose
From Downward Dog you can lower yourself to the floor for Cobra pose. This slight back bend can help expand your ribcage, giving your lungs more room to breathe. From the floor, softly push up with your hands, arching your back, straightening your arms, and looking upward. Keep your legs resting straight behind you with the front of your thighs on the floor. Your body will resemble a cobra snake.
Stay in the pose for 1-2 breaths.
4. Mountain Pose
This yoga pose may look deceptively simple, but regular practice can help build the strength and support you need to have a healthy and strong spine. Stand at the front of your mat with your feet hip distance apart. With your arms at your sides, open your chest, keeping your head perfectly balanced with your chin parallel to the floor, and your gaze fixed forward. Widen your collar bones and keep your weight balanced evenly across both of your feet. Soften your gaze and breathe mindfully for 1-2 minutes.
5. Child’s Pose
This beginner yoga pose can give you relief from Ankylosing Spondylitis symptoms, and it’s a great way to help your mind relax. Start with your hands and knees on the floor, and then lower yourself down until your buttocks are resting on the backs of your feet. Extend your arms forward on the mat in front of you, palms down, and rest your forehead on the floor. You will feel a stretch and lengthening in your lower back.
Allow your neck muscles to relax, and breath softly while maintaining this pose for 5-6 minutes.
6. Viloma Pranayama or Against the Wave Breath
While yoga postures can be helpful in alleviating symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis, you can also gain relief from practicing yoga breathing techniques.
Against the Wave breath can help improve your ability to breath deeply.
Lie down in a comfortable position on the floor, and pay attention to your breathing. On your next inhale, slowly breathe into the bottom of your lungs. Without exhaling, breathe in again. Continue breathing in without exhaling until you feel like your lungs are absolutely and completely full. Then, slowly exhale. Repeat for 5 minutes.
Practice Yoga for Ankylosing Spondylitis for Relaxation and Benefits
By practicing these beginner yoga poses and breath work, you may notice that pain, stiffness, and difficulty breathing will reduce over time. Keeping your spine flexible and strong is essential in treating Ankylosing Spondylitis. And through a healthy diet and plenty of exercise, you can improve your daily life and reduce chronic pain.
Stuti Asher is a practicing physical therapist with 14 years of experience. She completed her master’s degree in kinesiology at Indiana University, and she has completed 900 hours of training at the Yoga Institute Mumbai. Stuti has also trained extensively in prenatal and postnatal yoga under Dr. Nutan Pakhare. She teaches gentle, restorative and Hatha yoga, kriya, pranayama, in addition to leading yoga philosophy and teacher training courses, on the MyYogaTeacher platform. Stuti, who is also trained in sound healing, believes yoga is a tool that makes this complex journey of life easier and simpler to live, while creating special bonds along the way.