A woman does yoga toward a warm sun with soft circles and wavy lines in the background

Yoga and AS: When It's Right and When It's Wrong

When I first met my husband, Keegan, he was nearing his black belt in taekwondo. We were 17 and I remember being so impressed that he kept up with physical activity for so long. I grew up with asthma and still took steroids at the time to get around in my day-to-day. Then his AS kicked in and everything changed for us. I grew out of my asthma and he suffered from such pain and immobility he was bedridden at 23.

A yoga conversation over dinner

Throughout the years from 17 to 29 he tried yoga off and on. I asked him over dinner tonight when he knew yoga wouldn't benefit his body and when he knew he was ready to get back into a physical activity again.

When you tried yoga in the past and it wasn't beneficial, how did you know?

Keegan: When I hadn't started my biologic or had my hips replaced, doing yoga was agonizing. It was like moving through cement. My joints were tight and I knew to try to move them wasn't going to help. I kept trying, though.

What kind of yoga did you try?

Keegan: I tried mostly YouTube videos and a few in-person classes throughout the years. Nowadays I follow the "Yoga with Adriene" channel and have kept up with the practice every day for 10 days.

Auldyn: I remember when you tried yoga in Pittsburgh, at the peak of your AS symptoms. You couldn't sit cross-legged on the floor and the instructor asked you if you had any known limitations. She was the first one that made me wonder if there was something underneath all your symptoms that could be causing the problems.

How did you know you could start doing yoga, and it'd actually be helpful?

Keegan: After my hip surgeries I just knew. A lot of my immobility was in my hips, and they were new, so I just started doing it. I knew it was different because when I would do a session, I was sore, but like workout sore. Not sore from my disease. I could tell the difference. I kept up with it and it got better.

Has yoga changed anything for you day-to-day with your AS?

Keegan: Yeah, it helps with my pain and fatigue. Doing yoga is a nice way to give myself an energy boost. I usually do it in the late morning after breakfast and coffee. My body is looser than when I wake up.

What tips do you have for anyone with AS wanting to try yoga?

Keegan: Start slow. Find yoga that's more restorative and slower-paced. Don't go for the fast or really challenging yoga. Try a bunch of different instructors on YouTube or in a class until you find one that works for you.

Physical activity gave Keegan his hope back

As his caregiver, I'm relieved to watch Keegan getting relief and also starting back into physical activities again. The fact that he can even do yoga again is a luxury many with AS won't experience. My point is this: it was the hope of his that he held onto. He knew that there was a chance of physical activity again in the future but we weren't sure what it would be. I've seen yoga boost his confidence over the last few months. It's helped him feel like he's regaining parts of his old self while still acknowledging the boundaries of his AS.

It's not a cure, but it helps

Of course, yoga won't cure his AS, but it does keep his spirits up and his body and mind energized throughout the day. It reminds us that baby steps are actually big steps. Finding a regular physical activity keeps him up and moving, which prevents depression and boosts his mood. Even when just a 5-minute stretch felt like a lot, he was proud of each day he dedicated the time for himself.

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