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The Best Yoga Style for Back Pain and Ankylosing Spondylitis

Morning lovelies!

Happy Saturday! I'm sitting here waiting for hubby to wake up. I love waking up early and have my coffee and just enjoy the sun coming up. Everything is so quiet and its just this sense of opportunity for the day to come! Speaking of coffee, this week I started a new thing - I put turmeric in mine! I'm trying to get more turmeric in my diet as it has such amazing healing properties and it has been used in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine for centuries.

Turmeric has so many health benefits. It has for example been shown to help combat arthritis and joint pain, and it also has significant anti-inflammatory properties. It can help reduce anxiety, reduce cholesterol, help prevent Alzheimers, and it might even be helpful to fight some cancers! So a real superfood.

Anyway, today I wanted to talk about yoga. As you all know I'm having some serious issues with my back, and have been for quite some time. They diagnosed me with Ankylosing Spondylitis which means I have chronic inflammation in my spine. Its extremely painful and my spine basically degenerates over time and eventually fuses together. I also have disc issues and had a disc herniation last year which left me completely incapacitated for a week, and I'm still recovering from it. Everyone (including my doctors) kept telling me to do yoga. So I did. And I hurt myself even more. Time after time. I kept trying but I simply couldn't do yoga without my back getting worse. I was about to give up and just felt like yoga wasn't for me, but then all of a sudden I was listening to Yoga Girl's podcast and she talked about her horrible back issues growing up. She said yoga didn't really work for her either, until she found an Iyengar teacher that worked with her over TWO YEARS to heal her back by strengthening it and increasing flexibility. I had never heard of Iyengar and immediately Googled it and tried to find a studio in DC. I could only find one: Until Woods. They have locations in Bethesda, DC, and Arlington and the first time I tried Bethesda.

What struck me at first was how humble the studio was, and how old the teachers and clientele was! The yoga studios I was used to were very fancy, in city centers with modern interiors, and teachers all in their 20s. Everyone runs around in Lululemon and Aloyoga outfits and they look so fit and trendy! That was NOT the case here. In my first class the average age was 75 - I was BY FAR the youngest person in there. The teacher herself was 50+ I think, if not over 60. I found this quite interesting. After attending my first class it took me a few months before going again, and when I did - the same experience! I went to the Arlington location and again found myself to be the youngest person in class, and with a teacher who was probably over 70 this time. Yoga Girl talked about the importance of finding a teacher you really like and while I was impressed with these two ladies, I didn't really vibe with them. I couldn't quite relate to them for some reason and they didn't seem very friendly. I had shown up in pink Aloyoga outfits both times and I actually felt a little judged! Maybe it was just in my head but I didnt quite like the feeling I got. However, I was determined to give this Iyengar thing a serious try so I went one more time, and this time the teacher was great. She was a tad younger and wore Lululemons, which sounds silly but it just helped me connect with her a bit more and she certainly didn't judge my Aloyoga leggings. There were a few younger people in this class but most were probably in their 50s, except for me and one other girl.

Alright, so on to the actual yoga! The main difference between Iyengar and other styles, especially the very popular Vinyasa taught in most studios, is that Iyengar is much slower. You only do a few poses each class but you do them over and over until you perfect it - its all about proper alignment! You use a LOT of props so you can make each pose work for you, regardless of your ability. Speed is not considered at all. Its not a cardio workout by any means. In a classic Vinyasa class on the other hand, its all about moving with the breath and building heat in the body. Its a very vigorous style with little to no attention to alignment, which for someone like me is extremely dangerous. If you're healthy, Vinyasa might be a great choice but for someone with back issues or any kind of injury, Iyengar is much better. Iyengar yoga is often used as therapy and it can help heal all kinds of issues. It gently works both strength and flexibility in a very safe way. Another thing to mention is that to become an Iyengar teacher you need to go through years of training. These days almost anyone can become a yoga teacher but Iyengar requires a lot of time and commitment, and they're very knowledgeable about physiology so they're qualified to help with various types of injuries and physical limitations.

Iyengar Yoga props
This is my set-up in Iyengar class. I use all kinds of props to make sure I can do each pose safely.

Iyengar Yoga is not a style that has been widely commercialized yet, there isn't a lot online, and not a lot of people know about it. Heck, most people don't even know that there are multiple styles of yoga (I didn't)! I wanted to write this post as part of spreading awareness about it, and make sure that people know it exists. I asked Unity Woods why they don't do any marketing (they don't even have an Instagram account) and they feel word-of-mouth is the best method for them. While I believe that works well, I think they could help so many people if they just put themselves out there more. I understand not wanting to commercialize it, but I now have a very personal experience with it and I'm quite passionate. Had I not randomly heard about Iyengar from Yoga Girl my back would be in a much worse condition and I might still be on opioids and muscle relaxants! So I've made it my mission to spread the word about Iyengar. It has helped me so much and it kills me to think that I almost gave up on yoga because I kept going to the wrong style for me. Yoga is truly wonderful and can help heal both your body and your mind, but you have to be very careful and make sure you practice safely. Im not bashing Vinyasa but to think of all the things I did in those classes and how little the teachers actually knew about how to help me or how I could modify the poses safely is quite scary. You can get horribly injured if you do it the wrong way and for someone like me with all kinds of back issues Iyengar has been a godsend. My spine feels longer, more spacious, and I got off the painkillers! And I've only been going for a month.

If you're in the DC area, I highly recommend trying out Unity Woods. This post is NOT sponsored, I'm just sharing it because it has helped me so much and I want to spread the word. Check them out here:



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