Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine and joints, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Yoga can be a helpful addition to your treatment plan to help manage the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis. I was diagnosed with AS about 10 years ago and yoga has been a life saver! I'm now also a 500 hour registered yoga teacher and in this post we'll explore some of my favorite yoga poses for ankylosing spondylitis, including Sphinx pose, Legs Up the Wall pose, Cat Cow, Downward Facing Dog, and High Lunge. Lets dive in!
Sphinx pose is a gentle backbend that can help alleviate pain and stiffness in the back caused by ankylosing spondylitis. To practice Sphinx, lie on your stomach with your elbows under your shoulders and your forearms flat on the ground. Gently pull on the mat with your hands, imagine you're trying to pull yourself forward, shoulder blades are squeezing together. You should feel your upper back engage. Keep your feet as wide as the mat and press the tops of your feet into the mat. Inhale and lift your head and chest off the ground while keeping your elbows and forearms on the ground. Hold for a 3-5 breaths, then release.
Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog is a classic yoga pose that can help lengthen the spine and alleviate tension in the back, shoulders, and neck. It also helps build strength through the shoulders and back. Begin on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Tuck your toes under and lift your hips up and back, straightening your arms and legs to form an inverted V-shape. Keep your knees bent as needed, the most important thing here is to lengthen the spine so you want the pelvis to be tilted forward and sit bones reaching up toward the sky. Press your hands into the ground and actively push the floor away. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
Cat Cow is a gentle spinal stretch that can help increase flexibility and reduce pain and stiffness throughout the back. Its a wonderful warm up, cool down, or just a nice little flow to do on its own. Begin on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. As you inhale, arch your back and lift your tailbone toward the ceiling while dropping your belly toward the ground, pull the mat back with your hands and bend slightly through the elbows to really get into your upper back, This is Cow Pose - I suppose it somewhat resembles the shape of a cow :) As you exhale, round your spine, push the floor away, tuck your chin gently toward your chest, bringing your tailbone down toward the mat. This is Cat pose, a spitting image of an angry or stretching cat! Repeat this movement from cat to cow, cow to cat several times. See if you can make it as fluid as possible and maybe play with your breath, breathing in as you transition to Cow pose and breathing out as you move into Cat pose - or the opposite! If you feel a spot thats extra yummy, feel free to stay there for a few breaths. I love Cat Cow because it helps bring both movement and awareness to our whole spine, which is a very good thing when you have Ankylosing Spondylitis!
High Lunge is a powerful hip opener that gets into the psoas muscle. Lengthening the psoas can help relieve tension in the hips and lower back, as its often shortened from all the sitting we do. You can either step right into a High Lunge or feel free to begin in Downward Facing Dog, then step your right foot forward between your hands. Keep your left foot extended behind you, pressing into the ground with the ball of your foot. Inhale and lift your torso upright, extending your arms overhead or holding onto a chair or the wall for balance. Hold for 3-5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Legs Up the Wall Pose
Legs Up the Wall pose is a restorative pose that can help relieve tension in the lower back and hips, which are common areas of discomfort for people with ankylosing spondylitis. To practice this pose, lie on your back with your buttocks as close to the wall as is comfortable for you. If you have tighter hamstrings, you can move further away. Extend your legs up the wall and rest your arms at your sides. Hold for several minutes while focusing on deep breathing. Pro tip: Try placing a strap around your feet to keep your legs from sliding, it makes it very restorative and relaxing!
These are just a few of my favorite yoga poses for ankylosing spondylitis. Remember to listen to your body and only do what feels ok for you. Its ok to push ourselves, its necessary, but its key to learn to listen to your body and know when to push and when to back off.
Also, if you're looking for some more guidance you can try the below follow along yoga class, Yoga for Ankylosing Spondylitis:
As always, please consult with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise regimen!
Happy practicing, yogis!