I’ve been living with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) for nearly 12 years. Managing the condition is like having a second job. You have to stick to your treatment plan and make healthy lifestyle choices to experience less frequent and less severe symptoms.
You can’t take a shortcut if you want to succeed.
AS pain is widespread, but the pain can be more intense in some areas of the body. For instance, AS can target the cartilage between your breast and ribs, making it hard to take a deep breath. When you can’t take a deep breath, it almost feels like a panic attack.
I’ve found that meditation can retrain your body and create space for expansion.
One of my favorites to practice is the Microcosmic Orbit meditation. This ancient Chinese technique circles the torso tapping into energy channels throughout the body.
However, if you’re new to meditation, a good place to start is with a simple technique that allows you to “let go.” For instance, with each inhale I’ll repeat “let” in my head. For each exhale, I repeat “go.” As you continue with this, you can slow down your breathing to eventually establish a sense of control. You can also open and close your fists with each breath to occupy your mind.
Another place AS can be felt is your sacroiliac joint (in the lower back and butt). When I first got my diagnosis, the pain I felt in this region was immobilizing. I could barely walk or perform everyday tasks. But with hard work and dedication, I was able to improve my mobility.
Yoga can have a profound effect on the fascia and deep tissue if done safely and correctly. My go-to yoga movement is twisting.
Even before I started doing yoga, I was always releasing tension in my spine with my own techniques. But with practice, I learned the proper ways to relieve that tension.
Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Half Lord of the Fishes pose or Half Spinal Twist) is a seated twist.
- Start by extending your legs out in front of you and sitting tall.
- Beginning with the right side, cross your right leg over your left and place the sole of your foot as close as you can to your left sit bone. If you’re more advanced, bend your extended left leg, but keep the external side of your knee down on the mat (rather than elevating it).
- Bring your left foot to the side of your right sit bone.
- Hold for 10 breaths and repeat on the opposite side.
Generally speaking, AS mainly affects the lower back. The pain is usually worse in the morning. When I wake up, my joints feel tight and stiff. It’s like I’m being held together by screws and bolts.
Before getting out of bed, I’ll do some stretches. Raising my arms above my head and then reaching through to my toes is a simple place to start. Other than that, running through Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation A) is a great way to loosen up in the morning. This yoga exercise helps to relieve tension in your back, chest, and sides, and I always feel very energized after the final pose.
Another favorite yoga pose of mine is the Baddha Konāsana (Bound Angle Pose). You can either practice it in an upright position or while reclining for the same positive results. I’ve found this pose to help with pain in my hips and lower back.
Moving your body will strengthen your joints. And, learning to control your breathing will create new ways for you to manage your AS pain.
Living well with a chronic illness like AS requires work, but it’s key that you stay hopeful. Having hope will motivate you to try harder and strive more. There will be trial and error — but don’t let any failure deter you from getting back in the game. You can find your answer to pain.
After many years of living with AS, I’m the most capable I’ve ever been. Being able to make small changes over a long period allows for dramatic results.
Jillian is a certified yoga, tai chi, and medical qigong instructor. She teaches private and public classes throughout Monmouth County, New Jersey. Beyond her achievements in the holistic field, Jillian is an ambassador for the Arthritis foundation and has been heavily involved for over 15 years. Presently, Jillian is continuing her education at Rutgers University in Business Administration. Her studies were abruptly interrupted when she fell ill with ankylosing spondylitis and chronic illnesses. She now finds adventure through hiking and exploring the United States and abroad. Jillian feels fortunate to find her calling as an instructor, helping people with disabilities.