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If you are trying yoga for health reasons, you are in good company. Many people I know embraced yoga because of health issues and at the encouragement of a loved one or medical professional. However, a great number, including myself, were also hesitant to begin with — skeptical of the benefit and intimidated by the physical challenge it might present. When I met with Dan Reynolds for This AS Life Live!  I learned that he had the same experience.

Chronic pain can rob you of the energy needed to try many new things, especially being tossed into a room of healthy-looking pretzel people talking about gratitude, blessings and improving the spirit. However, after summoning up the courage to take that first step, I learned that yoga helps me tremendously, so much so that after twenty years of practice, I have become a certified yoga instructor in addition to my role as Associate Executive Director at the Spondylitis Association of America (SAA). Helping others living with ankylosing spondylitis was my motivation to become an instructor.

Yoga does not have to be intimidating – here are my tips to start your own yoga journey:

Always remember to consult with your physician before starting any new exercise regimen.

1. Remember that yoga is a practice, not a competition. Don’t get hung up on how flexible or experienced others are. Yoga provides great benefits to people of all levels and abilities. If you’d like to prepare for your first few classes, then you can familiarize yourself with some common poses including:

2. Modify and use props when appropriate. Learn how to safely and effectively modify your poses to suit your experience and comfort level, so that you can adjust your practice based on how you’re feeling that day.

3. Experiment with different styles. Someone once told me, “I tried yoga with a great teacher, but it wasn't for me and didn’t help.” To me, that's like saying, “I couldn't find anything good to eat in New York.” Like cuisines, there are many different types of yoga, so it’s a matter of finding what you like best. Find the type of yoga and teaching style that serves you best at the time.  If you are not enjoying it, try a different class. Be experimental.

4. Try a group or one-on-one class. Call your studio and ask for the best class/teacher for beginners. It’s also helpful to mention any limitations you may have in advance. There are also on-line classes, but it is good to be face-to-face with an instructor who can give personalized adjustments and suggestions.

5. Know the etiquette. As I mentioned, it’s helpful to the instructor if they know your yoga experience or physical limitations. Ask the instructor where they would like you to place your mat, and if they don’t have a preference, I’d suggest placing it in the middle of the room so that you have examples of poses on all sides. If you arrive after class has started, try to quietly set up your mat without disturbing others, and avoid stepping on other people’s mats. If you need a break, go into child’s pose (balasana) until you feel ready to begin again. If you feel “done” before the class is finished, it’s perfectly acceptable to go to the final pose (savasana) and wait for the class to catch up.

6. Add layers. My favorite definition of yoga is to unite. I find connecting movement to breath and thought is enriching. Breathing through your nose, try timing your movement with your inhales and exhales. That alone can help set aside stress and allow you to focus on your health. I always take a moment to dedicate my practice to someone. In addition, I like to choose an attribute that I want to foster (i.e., courage, strength, happiness, patience, kindness). Adding these layers can actually make the practice easier while aligning the physical body with the breath and the thoughts. 


This article was written by Richard Howard, with help from the resident experts at A social site helping the whole AS community to: Learn. Share. Inspire. Discuss.


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Richard Howard has been living with AS for 26 years. He is a steadfast advocate for people living with AS, having founded a support group in Los Angeles, California where he lives, and serves as the Associate Executive Director of the Spondylitis Association of America. Richard is a devoted husband, father of two, and even a certified yoga instructor!

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