My Journey to Yoga for AS
Growing up as a competitive skateboarder, the pain I experienced from the age of 15 in my “hips” (actually SI joints) was considered some sort of injury. This pain fluctuated but continued until at the age of 18, I was unable to walk and was completely debilitated.
Relief, then not
I eventually had to push my orthopedic consultant (who was adamant the pain was due to a mechanical injury) to refer me to rheumatology. After the first appointment I was diagnosed with AS (I was also diagnosed with Crohn’s disease). At first a relief! Now I knew what was going on and how I could fix it. Only to realize this was a lifelong, incurable condition. Unfortunately, I turned to the internet for answers and support, only to find myself encapsulated by awful stories and negativity.
I spiraled into depression, feeling fear and dread for the future. I thought things were never going to improve and the messages and advice I was receiving reinforced that.
A support group and a chance meeting
I decided to go to a support group for other people living with AS where they did hydrotherapy and exercise. When I arrived at the group it was overwhelming. 90% of people there had a lot of degeneration from the condition and a forward stoop posture.
There was one man though, he was around 70 years old, standing with good posture. He showed me how from standing straight legs he could put his palms flat to the floor. He told me he started yoga in his 40s and had taken this practice seriously and consistently and this is what made all the difference. Geoff took me through a Yoga for AS session and a lightbulb went off. It was the moment I realized that you could do something, you can decide to choose how you react and treat your body. I felt good after the session, less pain and stiffness, but also lighter. That evening I had a vision that I would become a yoga teacher and one day teach this practice to thousands of others with AS.
I committed to yoga every single day for a year
This was not just the physical postures but also increasing my mind body connection, finding gratitude for AS and starting to look at the condition differently. What was the teaching? Through working with other yogi experts, I learned that being an AS warrior was hurting me and the more I focussed on illness the worse I felt. Instead, I adopted an outlook on this was an opportunity for healing my whole life, mind body, spirit and identity.
I became frankly obsessed. I delved deeply into yogic practices, bio-hacking, functional medicine, philosophy, physiology and psychoneuroimmunology. I trained to became a yoga teacher and learned techniques that not only helped manage my symptoms but also help to heal my life.
The purpose came, I was in a "re- mission." A mission to share Yoga for AS with the world.
After a few years I joined forces with Geoff and founded Yoga for AS, an organization serving people all over the world with AS, teaching methods adapted for all levels of ability, teaching practices for managing fatigue, stiffness, and pain.
I realize now that AS is a gift
This is not toxic positivity. By no stretch am I perfect, I still experience stiffness and fatigue from time to time, and I still manage my AS lifestyle. However, I have very little pain and I am still skateboarding and have fallen in love with life (something I could not say even before the diagnosis). I realized life is too bloody short to only suffer, life is suffering after all. Despite suffering you have a choice, a choice to look back on your deathbed and say, "I lived, and I didn’t live in suffering, but I lived a full and beautiful life despite the suffering."
My philosophies and outlook aren’t for everyone, I am not expecting everyone to agree with me. But I am so passionate about making peace with AS, learning to love and cherish your mind, body, identity, and spirit.
Can you tell when a flare is coming?