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Yoga Helps Prevent Osteoporosis: Key Points to Optimize Bone Health
Reverse Osteoporosis—A Yoga Teacher’s Firsthand Account
By the time we get to our 50’s, most women are thinking about their bone density, or at least starting to. Certainly, yoga can help prevent osteoporosis. I’ve been practicing yoga since I was in my 20s, which is why I was shocked at the age of 59 when I received a diagnosis of osteoporosis. “Really? How did that happen?” Even though my diet and lifestyle did not include any risk factors, the focus of my yoga practice was not helping.
Can Yoga Be Considered Weight-Bearing Exercise?
Well, yes, it can. But it all depends on which poses you choose to practice. In my case, as a practitioner and thought leader concerning yoga for back pain relief, I had spent 20 years teaching and practicing the best poses for healing back pain. However, the poses I practiced regularly to manage back pain did not do a very good job of maintaining my bone density. The success of those practices led to my book, Healing Our Backs with Yoga, along with three nationally distributed DVDs for back care.
Key Yoga Poses Help Promote Bone Health and Prevent Osteoporosis
Dr. Loren Fishman led the first extensive research study on yoga for osteoporosis back in 2005. Here are the critical points to remember from that research:
Avoid forward folding poses where the spine rounds over. Instead, keep the front spine extended to its length and flex at the hip joint. (Also excellent advice for anyone who suffers from back pain.)
Make your legs strong by practicing standing poses and holding each pose for 30 seconds. When balance is an issue, have a chair nearby, or stand next to a wall for support.
Add poses to extend the side body like an Ardha Chandrasana (Half-Moon Pose) (above right) or Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side-Angle Pose) (shown at the end of the article). Do your best to avoid collapsing the lower side of your spine. Both sides of the spine need to stay long.
Include twisting poses. Not all twisting poses, but the ones that allow you to keep the length in your spine.
Even though recommending twisting poses for osteoporosis is considered controversial, my years of experience teaching yoga matches that of Dr. Fishman’s. He says that in all his research, he has never seen twisting poses cause fractures.
“Twisting poses would be helpful to put some pressure on the spine. The bones respond to the pressure by building more bones. You want to put pressure on the bones, but you don’t want to put too much pressure on the vertebrae,” says Fishman. Mild twists like the seated twisting poses apply gentle pressure to the bones without harming the vertebrae.
5. Practice poses that extend the spine, such as Salabhasana (Locust Pose). Extension poses were recommended in a Mayo Clinic study that suggested that spinal extension exercises are safer than flexion exercises in reducing the risk of fractures in osteoporosis and that strong abdominal curls are to be avoided.
Although spinal extensions are recommended for osteoporosis prevention, they are the more challenging poses to teach and practice. We must first cultivate the length and suppleness of the spine before extending. Attempting to extend the spine without lengthening creates compression in the facet joints and discs along the spine and could result in back pain.
What Yoga Poses Lengthen the Spine?
To lengthen the spine, several areas need to be addressed: the length of the psoas muscle, the muscles of the side body, the small spinal muscles used in twisting, and intentional extension of the arms and legs.
The best poses to start with are the standing poses, for as we extend the legs, the spine also receives length and extends. A pose such as Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose) is excellent to practice, as it is both a standing pose and a spinal extension pose, i.e., a baby backbend. Another excellent standing pose to cultivate bone density and spinal length is Parsvakonasana. (shown below right)
Did Yoga Help Reverse My Osteoporosis?
Well, yes, it did. But I had to shift the focus of my practice from back pain relief poses and Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand Pose) to more rigorous standing poses and baby backbends several times a week. For those of you who have a regular yoga practice that is not so difficult. Both of those categories are considered weight-bearing poses, and appropriate versions for your ability can be learned, which is why and how the development of my YogaU Online Course “Yoga for a Healthy Spine: The #1 Key to Enhance Strength, Improve Posture, and Prevent Osteoporosis” came to be.
You Can Practice Yoga If You Have Osteoporosis
Considering my history with back pain, required time sitting at the computer, and the need for dynamic practices for bone density, I crafted the course below to help both teachers and students.
Lillah's three-hour course (below) includes a one-hour PowerPoint and four 30-minute practice modules with clear guidance to help you understand and apply yoga poses to release and progressively extend your spine for better posture, bone health, back pain relief, and strength:
Yoga for a Healthy Spine: The #1 Key to Enhance Strength, Improve Posture, and Prevent Osteoporosis.
Reprinted with permission from Lillah Schwartz's Yogawithlillah.com.
Lillah Schwartz, C-IAYT Certified Yoga Therapist, is an Asheville-based yoga teacher, teacher trainer, and author with more than 35 years of experience. A certified yoga therapist, her specialties include her book, Healing Our Backs with Yoga: An Essential Guide to Back Pain Relief, which came out in 2016. Lillah also has three therapeutic yoga DVDs for back pain relief.