I have Ankylosing Spondylitis. It is a type of arthritis that can be difficult to diagnose. It’s been quite a journey and have learned a lot. This is how I stay pain-free…

I love everything about yoga. It’s usually done in a warm, dark room and I get to wear comfortable clothing. But there’s more to it than this. I think yoga saved my life.

Yoga came into my life at a time I really needed it. In the year 2000, I was hurting so much every day that I could not walk. I had the flu and couldn’t get better and everything got worse. For 9 years I had sporadically had lower back pain and limped around holding on to the chair rail in my home, army crawled or my husband carried me.I first noticed the pain when I was 23 after my daughter was born naturally– against my wishes! I was in the hospital a total of 15 minutes before I was holding her! Oh, that’s a different story. I had been to a couple of chiropractors and doctors for years to try to figure out why I had pain in my back and hips and there was not an answer at the time. Obviously, I didn’t put much effort into finding out what it was. The pain would come and go and usually, it happened that I was fine when I went to a doctor. But this time it was bad, so after going to Instacare twice from the flu, they sent me to my family doctor. Ihad other crazy things going on besides the flu like a bleeding ulcer, my ribs hurt to touch, I couldn’t sleep, I had numbness that changed to different parts of my body, I lost some of my memory like phone numbers and putting a name to a face and I literally couldn’t move in the morning. Now my doctor tested me for weeks for scary things like lupus, bone cancer, MS, etc and luckily I passed those tests. My doctor had me call a specialist, a rheumatologist. I thought it was so funny, when I called, the lady answering the phone told me the appointments were 3 months out and I said laughingly, “I could die by then!” She told me if I felt like I was going to die to please go to the ER.” Whatever- she didn’t get it and she didn’t move up my appointment.

My cousin told me to try yoga. I didn’t really know what it was, so I went to the library and got a DVD to try it out. Oh wow- it was stretching and I was not limber at all. I used to be able to fold up like a pretzel, but not anymore. I could hardly bend over. I was 2 feet from touching the floor! It was also balancing- yikes I couldn’t even put all the weight into one leg, let alone balance on it! Then there was the final resting pose. I couldn’t sit still and do nothing- what’s that all about? And then I also couldn’t get back to my feet without a lot of time and pain. But I thought I would try it for 20 minutes 3 times a week. Why not?! I had tried lots of other things like a treadmill, chiropractors, and medicine. After the first week, I started to notice a difference in my pain. Very interesting, let’s try this again. The next week was the same- a little less pain. I even could tell I was a little more flexible. I think there is something to this! I started to do it regularly and it really helped. I realized when I would practice yoga, the next day the pain was better. So I had to pay it forward. If I missed a day, the pain was back. I still had some episodes that nothing would help though, not even yoga, so I was still baffled what my body was telling me.

Finally, my appointment with the doctor came. He asked me questions for a few minutes and knew what it was. Ankylosing Spondylitis, AS, a form of arthritis. He did a blood test and confirmed it- I have a gene that produces a protein- HLA-B27. This protein is found in over 95% of white people with AS. Also, scientists suspect that a bacteria infection triggers AS in susceptible people. It comes between the ages of 17-45 and it is more common in men. I was so relieved to have a name for the pain! BUT ARTHRITIS? I had no idea it could be so painful! He gave me medicine to try, but I soon found out that yoga helped me much more than anything I took. I did get cortisone shots right in the sacroiliac joint. WOW! Talk about sheer pain for 30 minutes! But it was worth it- for about 3-6 months it took much of the pain away. Now the other issues I was having like memory loss and numbness, we figured much later, was a breakdown. More about that later.

I also think stress was a huge trigger for AS. Probably the biggest cause of my pain. I didn’t realize it then, but the times I was in the most pain were the years I had large amounts of stress with my marriage, finances, kids, and job. Yoga also helped with that. Yoga taught me to listen to my body and be good to it.The most interesting thing happened and made me realize how much stress was involved– when my husband passed away, the pain of AS did as well. Today I can still feel some pain when a storm is coming and I have had one or two episodes in 10 years that lasted a few hours, but for the most part, I have no signs of AS anymore. I still practice yoga often because of the way it makes me feel inside and out. So find something that relieves the stress for you.

Another thing I found that helps my AS is spinning. Spin is a stationary bike. Different bikes use different muscles, so find a bike that helps you the most. Spin is safe on your joints, are a consistent movement and something about the muscle usage really helps my hips and low back. Hey, it’s also the thing that helped me lose inches around my waist!

Don’t forget swimming- the ultimate exercise that is so amazing on your joints. Each year I make a goal to learn something new. A few years ago my goal was to learn to swim and it was probably the hardest goal I have set. I took 10 weeks of swimming lessons and wow, was it tough! But so worth it.

Now, why would I say Ankylosing Spondylitis is good for me? I have learned from this experience quite a few things…

*Don’t go years living in pain. Go to the doctor and get second opinions.

*Follow your gut- if you think something is wrong, get it checked.

*Sometimes in life things that seem like an obstacle, like finding out you have a health issue, can really be a blessing down the road. I learned how to care for myself and I had to put my body as a priority.

*Yoga worked for me. It was my cure for a happy and healthy life. I wish everyone could feel the peace that comes from practicing yoga. I believe that it can help with many diseases, even ones that say there is no cure- such as Ankylosing Spondylitis. It can even help with the disease of “busyness”.

*Stop and give your body a little self-care. It’s the only body you’ve got.

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