The Benefits of Yoga for Bone-Health
Growing old is not for the weak, especially the weak-boned
This year, 2 million people will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by loss of bone mass as we age, resulting in bones that are weak and fragile, increasing risk for fractures. There are no symptoms—you can’t feel your bones weakening, and unfortunately, breaking a bone is often the first sign that you have osteoporosis. Although many people believe that osteoporosis is a normal part of the aging process, and while it is typical to lose some bone mass as you age, osteoporosis is not an inevitable part of aging and can be prevented, halted and in some cases overcome.
There are many things you can do to keep your bones healthy as you age. Proper nutrition, optimizing your digestion, reducing stress, weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises and smart supplementation are all things you can do to keep your bones strong.
Yoga, an ancient method that promotes fitness of the body, mind and soul, is a perfect adjunct to supporting your bones and keeping them strong and fit.
Yoga can be a safe mode of physical activity that includes weight-bearing, as well as non-weight bearing asana, pranayama (breath work) and meditation, all of which has been shown to improve bone mineral density in post-menopausal osteoporotic females.
Ancient yoga is all about finding that healthy balance. Many western yoga studios and gyms often focus solely on the asana, the physical practice, which helps strengthen the body. Yet the spiritual practice of yoga is just as important for nurturing your bones. Pranayama, meaning life-force, focuses on breath work that is vital for cellular energy and relaxation. Meditation messages to the body that you are safe to relax, repair, rest and digest. The yoga sutra describes sthira and sukha, translated to “finding the balance between” effort and ease.
Benefits of yoga for people will osteoporosis:
- Safe weight-bearing exercises to stimulate bone remodeling
- Strengthening of the muscles of the back and neck to protect against fractures and improve postural alignment
- Stretching of the muscle of the chest to improve breathing, digestion and postural alignment
- Exercises to improve balance, reducing the risk of falls
- Controlled flow of movements to enhance lymphatic flow aiding the immune system in removing and destroying pathogens, as well as encouraging the movement of essential nutrients inside the bone and removal of toxins
- Breath work to release stress and decrease the circulation of the hormone cortisol which causes the breakdown of bone
- Meditation to stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system which signals relaxation throughout the body—most of us live in a constant state of stress and you cannot build bone, digest food, or heal and repair, when your body thinks it is running for its life
Everything in the body is interconnected, so it is natural that practicing yoga would be beneficial to supporting the health of our bones.
However, being mindful of exercises that can increase the risk of fracture in people with osteoporosis is important. The “no pain, no gain” mentality is counterproductive. Movements that are too rapid, too forceful or produce too extreme of a stretch could fracture brittle bones. The vertebrae of individuals with osteoporosis are very fragile, such that even a non-traumatic event, such as a sneeze, can result in a vertebral compression fracture.
Yoga movements involving spinal flexion or extreme twisting can increase risk for vertebral fractures, however, there is evidence that a combination of mild spinal flexion and extension may prove beneficial. Some flexion poses can be performed more safely if done ensuring that the flexion comes from the hip and not the spine and twisting is performed slowly and only through midrange. It is also important to focus on poses that enhance balance.
No two people have the same degree of bone loss and it is important to be knowledgeable in what poses are safe for you. It is wise to find a yoga instructor with a rehabilitation specialty who can modify poses to make them safe for people with fragile bones. A healthy yoga practice is safe and produces feel-good hormones and endorphins and aids bone health.
Our miraculous body is self-healing and self-repairing, but only if cared for appropriately. Yoga integrates all aspects of health and well-being. The integration of the physical, energetic (breath), mental-emotional and spirit that yoga delivers allows healing of the whole being, including your bones.
Susan Brady, founder of Nurtured Bones, is a physical therapist, doctor of integrative medicine and nutrition consultant whose practice is dedicated to helping you keep your bones strong and healthy, practicing in Northern Virginia. Her Strong BONES Method provides an integrated system of assessing and addressing all aspects of building and maintaining a healthy skeletal system. Nurtured Bones provides a holistic approach to building strong, healthy bones so you can age with vibrancy and vitality. Susan provides a free 15-minute consult for anyone wanting to learn more about her method and how it can help you achieve better bone health. For more information, call 703-738-4230, email at Susan@NurturedBones.com or visit NurturedBones.com.