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The Gift of Yoga – Bone Health PDF Print E-mail

Give yourself the gift of Yoga. Yoga brings us so many gifts!

Most people come to yoga to lose weight, get stronger, find peace or get more flexible. It can do all of these things, but it can be so much more. Most people don’t realize that yoga can improve many of our health issues. One of which is Osteopenia and Osteoporosis.

Osteopenia refers to bone mineral density that is lower than normal but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. Bone mineral density is a measurement of the level of minerals in the bones, which indicates how dense and strong they are. If your bone density is low compared to normal peak bone density, you are said to have osteopenia. Having osteopenia means there is a greater risk that, as time passes, you may develop bone density that is very low compared to normal, known as osteoporosis. Losing bone density is a natural part of the aging process, but when too much bone is lost the bones become weakened and susceptible to fracturing and breaking. (1)

By the time you have reached your mid-fifties, you may discover that you have shrunk. It may not be much – a half inch or possibly more. This loss of height may not be such a big deal initially, but by the time you reach your 70′s, you could possibly lose 2-3 inches in height.

Osteoporosis is considered a “silent disease” due to no warning signs or symptoms. Though it can be prevented and treated by diet and regular weight bearing exercise. Yoga is an excellent weight bearing exercise as it stimulates bone building for both the upper and lower body while being low-impact and appropriate for any age. (1) Walking, jogging and running are all effective for osteoporosis but are not for everyone. Yoga is for everyone – any age.

Impact exercise such as running has been encouraged in the past for the treatment of osteoporosis, but in turn, could lead to osteoarthritis (loss of joint cartilage) for which impact exercise is not prescribed. Non-impact exercise such as swimming is encouraged for osteoarthritis, but does not help with osteoporosis. Yoga, however, may be the answer for both of these bone problems confronting millions of older people and may also help younger ones prevent both conditions. (1)

“Yoga is the solution for both these problems,” says Dr. Loren Fishman, the doctor who completed the clinical trial showing statistically significant evidence that a short daily yoga routine can reverse bone loss. (2)

Dr. Loren Fishman, a Manhattan specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation (and yoga trained himself) has cited significant gains in bone density for subjects who participated in his 2-year home yoga routine (10 minutes a day) in a new clinical trial. Dr. Fishman, who is associated with Columbia/Presbyterian Hospital, states that some participants who had osteoporosis improved enough to fall into the category of osteopenia, and others with osteopenia progressed to normal. These findings are significant because nearly an estimated 44 million Americans currently have osteoporosis or are at risk because of low bone mass. (2) (From this clinical trial Dr. Fishman has authored the recently published book Yoga for Osteoporosis: The Complete Guide (co-author Ellen Statonstall). Published 3/29/10.)

Yoga is low-cost, portable, and in general low-risk, and can easily be done at home. Yoga posturing can be part of our daily routine; in the office, at home and any time when we sit. Whatever brings you to yoga, be it flexibility, strength, self confidence or weight loss, you will find many more benefits. These benefits come from centuries of wisdom.

All of yoga’s standing poses will bear weight on the bones in the lower spine, the hips and the legs, encouraging them to strengthen. Lunging poses (Warrior Poses) that use the large muscles of the leg will be the most strengthening to the hips and muscles of the legs. While standing balancing poses will not only build bone but improve balance to reduce the risk of falls. These poses should be practiced with caution and utilize a chair or wall for support if necessary.

Simple back bending poses, like sphinx, cobra (see below) and bridge poses help to strengthen the spine as well as help prevent and correct kyphosis (excessive curvature of the upper spine). Back bending poses have also been known to stimulate the thyroid gland to help balance the endocrine system and affect its ability to encourage bone growth. To strengthen the upper body use poses such as downward facing dog and plank.

Fishman has stated in his book that there is a magic number to initiate this process of new bone growth. 72 seconds. Yes, you must hold your pose for 1 minute and 12 seconds to reap the benefits. This should be approached gradually, as building up the strength to maintain a pose for 72 seconds may take months — but it will be well worth it. Plus, you will be rewarded with less stress (the anxiety-producing kind) and improved breathing, sleep and coordination. You have nothing to lose … and you can gain bone density! (2)

Below are some simple and easy ways to implement bone building yoga into your busy day. (3) Remember to always listen to your body. And always check with your physician before attempting any exercise.

Chair Pose: This pose strengthens the muscles around the hip, one of the most common sites for osteoporosis. This improves your balance as well.

Start by standing in Mountain Pose with your feet hip distance apart. Inhale and raise your arms perpendicular to the floor, palms facing inward. Exhale and bend your knees as if you are going to sit on a chair but stop before you would actually sit. Focus on your hold for as long as feels comfortable. Inhale as you return to Mountain Pose. (Remember to try to increase the time you hold this pose to 72 seconds if possible. You will have to of course inhale and exhale while holding for the 72 seconds).

Cobra Pose: This pose strengthens the upper back muscles and the spine. Osteoporosis patients often suffer thoracic spine compression fractures causing a person’s posture to look bent forward. And of course will help prevent our society’s prevalent computer hunch also.

Begin by lying on your stomach with your legs slightly wider than hip distance apart. Place your palms on the mat next to your ribcage with fingers forward. Keep elbows close to your body and draw your shoulder blades together and down your back towards your waist. On an inhale raise your head and chest off the floor using your back, not your arms. Exhale as you lower to the starting position. (6)

On a personal note, I myself was diagnosed with Osteopenia about 3 years ago. I have a very strong family trait for this disease. My grandmother and mother both developed Kyphosis (rounding of the upper spine). I had been doing yoga on and off most of my life but decided for reasons other than bone health to start a more serious yoga routine of at least 3 to 4 days a week. Just recently I had another bone density test done. It found that I am no longer in the Osteopenia stage. My bone density has increased and is now within normal ranges and not only that but I feel good about myself and am much happier being who I am. Consider making yoga part of your life.

Good luck to you and your bone health. Feel yoga. Feel your body. Feel the stretching and the pulling. Feel the increased strength of your muscles and joints and bones.

 

Lori Ushio

 
 

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