If you have ankylosing spondylitis (AS), an inflammatory condition that impacts your spine, regular movement and exercise are critical to managing pain and improving mobility. But some types of exercise are harder on your spine and joints than others, possibly making symptoms worse. Pilates and yoga, however, are ideal for AS.

Pilates and yoga are low-impact forms of exercise. They’re good for people of all ages and levels of endurance. Although specialized equipment is available for both types of exercise, all you need is an exercise mat.

In its early stages, AS may cause stiffness and pain in your lower back and hips. Pain may come and go and vary in intensity. As it progresses, AS may cause spinal fusion, inflexibility, and even difficulty breathing.

The pain and stiffness of AS often leads to poor posture and a tendency to stay hunched. Performing yoga or Pilates exercises encourages good posture and increases flexibility.

Some people with AS have difficulty exercising upright. Many Pilates and yoga exercises are performed on the floor and involve stretching. It’s not unusual for people with AS to stretch stiff joints upon waking in the morning. Either yoga or Pilates is a good option for a morning exercise routine.

Done regularly, yoga or Pilates can help you maintain a healthy weight. This is especially important if you have AS, since extra pounds puts excess pressure on your joints.

Pilates is named after the man who created it in the 1920s, Joseph Pilates. It focuses on movements that support your spine and encourage these benefits:

  • flexibility
  • core strength
  • endurance
  • good posture
  • mindful breathing

A hallmark of Pilates is the mind-body connection. You must concentrate on each movement, every breath, and your body alignment. Pilates conditions your entire body, elongates and strengthen muscles, and improves muscle tone.

According to a study published in Rheumatology International, Pilates is “an effective and safe method to improve physical capacity in AS patients.” Study results showed participants who performed an hour of Pilates with a certified trainer three times a week for 12 weeks had “significantly superior results” than those with AS who followed their standard treatment.

Pilates and yoga are similar in that they both focus on flexibility, core strength, and posture. However, they’re also different. Yoga is a more holistic form of exercise. It’s thought to have originated in the Himalayas thousands of years ago. The goal of yoga is to harmonize your body, mind, and spirit to keep you physically and emotionally well.

According to a 2012 study, yoga postures, known as asanas, not only strengthen muscles and correct poor posture, but “open up the vital flow of energy through the body.” This promotes healing and a sense of well-being and relaxation to combat pain.

There are many types of yoga. Some forms require a lot of endurance. If you have AS, consider hatha yoga. It’s slow-paced and less intense than other types.

Some of the benefits of yoga include:

  • improved flexibility
  • increased muscle strength
  • increased muscle tone
  • improved breathing
  • increased energy
  • improved stamina
  • stress and anxiety relief
  • improved alertness

Both yoga and Pilates are great exercise choices if you have AS. Which one you choose comes down to personal preference. Both help improve your mobility and manage pain and stiffness. They may also help relieve stress and promote restful sleep.

Yoga is a better choice if you’re looking for a more spiritual exercise experience. Pilates is the way to go if your goal is a controlled workout that doesn’t require you to learn challenging poses. If you can’t decide which is right for you, why not try both?

Pilates and yoga classes are offered at most health and fitness clubs and YMCAs. Some physical therapy centers also offer classes. If a class isn’t for you, look for Pilates or yoga DVDs and YouTube videos so you can exercise in the comfort of your own home. Many television services offer exercise programs on demand.

Be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Your first few sessions may be challenging. You may feel mild discomfort at first, but not severe pain. Don’t give up! If you’re consistent, you’ll reap the benefits.