A woman meditating outside with a rising sun and lush trees and greenery around.

Alternative Therapies and Ankylosing Spondylitis Treatment

I have always been interested in spirituality, mental health, and alternative methods of healing — even before I realized I was passionate about these topics, and well before I had AS. As a kid, I would hold "energy balls" in my palms — I'd visualize hot balls of 'energy' forming in my hands — and pass them to my friends. This invisible 'force' was very obvious to me — and it led me later to alternative and energy healers who would perform acupuncture, reiki, visualization, stone massage, or other forms of therapeutic touch.

I was always interested in creative visualization, journaling, and even getting in touch with our shadowy, dark selves. I believe the mind and body are inextricably connected and that mindset matters. More so, I've become more and more invested in nutrition, movement, and nature as ways of managing my disease.

"Traditional" versus "alternative" medicine

The thing is, I don't view these methods as entirely "alternative," just as I don't view "traditional" medicine as wholly divorced from folk or natural methods. I do know that whenever I read about meditation or energy work in relation to health, it's always in a journal of alternative or complementary therapies. Somewhere along the line, the chasm occurred and we began thinking one approach was better than the other. I think a lot of this has to do with capitalism and systemic racism since a lot of "native folk remedies" seem to be disregarded as silly or unhelpful or uncivilized. I remind you: Aspirin comes from willow bark. Pharmacology is rooted heavily in nature; the links are there.

Deep divides between Eastern and Western views or holistic and integrative versus traditional medicine is painfully clear to me, judging by how many medical practitioners aim for medical intervention before asking the patient how they're even doing. For example, my rheumatologists have always offered medication, but they've never asked about diet, movement, social support, or mental health. I've heard from many patients that they've experienced this as well.

All methods are helpful to me

I believe that merging "alternative" therapies with "traditional" ones is helpful. One can approach disease management with a holistic touch, without ignoring the benefits of traditional medication. Meditation, yoga, green juice, or reiki won't cure me of AS — please don't ever tell a patient that they will! — but that doesn't mean they can't help improve my quality of life or disease activity! Likewise, if I need medication, I'll take medication. If I need a cortisone shot, I'll take it. There is no shame in medication.

In the end, I think merging the physical, spiritual, mental, and psychological is key when it comes to managing this disease. Mindset matters as much as medicine. Nutrition matters as much as physical therapy. Meditation matters as much as movement. We are complex beings who must tend to our many aspects.

Just don't tell me green juice or yoga will cure me. That's just a bit too far.

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