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. Osteoporosis is considered a “silent disease” with no symptoms or warnings signs, but can be prevented and treated through regular weight bearing exercise with proper diet and lifestyle habits. Weight bearing exercise is any movement that requires your muscles to work against gravity. Yoga is an excellent weight bearing exercise as it stimulates bone building for both the upper and lower body while being low-impact.
Yoga helps in creating a balanced harmony between the ovaries, adrenals, parathyroids, pituitary and pineal gland, thus ensuring that the body receives a steady supply of the right hormones for maintaining bone strength and maximum health and well being. The regular practice of weight bearing hatha yoga postures offers women everywhere a safe, scientifically proven way to build bone strength and avoid this debilitating disease.
To build bone mass with yoga and other exercise, it must be done consistently—at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
Simple back bending poses, like sphinx, cobra and bridge help to strengthen the spine as well as help prevent and correct kyphosis (excessive curvature of the upper spine). Practicing bridge pose, full and half shoulderstand will not only help strengthen the spine, but also stimulate the thyroid gland to balance the endocrine system and affect its ability to encourage bone growth. To strengthen the upper body use poses such as downward facing dog, plank, crab, and balancing table. Lunging poses, such as Warrior 1 and 2, will be the most strengthening to the bones 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.
Start slow with simple yoga poses and gradually build up the length and difficulty of both the postures and your practice. Increasing the intensity of your yoga practice will build stronger bones, but never push yourself past your edge to reduce any risk of injury. When you feel ready to crank your practice up a notch you can experiment with advanced strengthening poses such as inclined plane, crane, half downward dog, dancer, warrior 3, bow and wheel.
Warrior 1 Take a kneeling position and make sure your legs are at a 90 degree angle. Extend your arms up alongside your ears and enliven your hands. After 3-5 breaths, go to Warrior 2 on this side.
Warrior 2 Stay up on your left knee and move your right thigh out to the side, making sure that the knee is directly over the ankle. Press into the floor with your right foot and lift up through the crown of your head. Feel your arms as if they begin at the center of your chest and extend out to infinity
Warrior 3 Start on hands and knees. Extend your right arm and left leg in opposite directions. Reach out through the top of your head and your tailbone to find length in your spine. Lift your belly softly up toward your spine. Stay here for 3-5 breaths, then do the other side.
Although yoga can build bone density, great caution is recommended once osteoporosis is suspected or diagnosed. Osteoporosis dramatically increases the risk of bone fracture, even from seemingly simple movements. For this reason, women with osteoporosis should approach the practice of yoga slowly and mindfully. Ask your physician whether a yoga practice is safe for your specific pattern of bone density. If your physician approves, the following guidelines can help reduce the risk of fracture during a yoga practice. Women diagnosed with osteoporosis should consider private instruction with a qualified teacher before attempting to modify the movements in group yoga classes.
- Avoid flexing the spine (rounding the spine forward) to stretch the back, stretch the legs, or strengthen the abdominal muscles. All of these intentions can be achieved in a lying-down position that involve lifting/moving the legs rather than lifting/moving the head and shoulders.
- Avoid twisting the spine in any way that uses gravity or leverage to rotate (for example, reclining twists or pulling yourself into a twist using your arms). Rotation should be gradually introduced using simple and slow movement, without force.
- Backbends and spinal extension (arching the back to open the front of the chest and belly) should also be approached very gently. For example, back muscles can strengthened using arm movements that gently open the chest without overarching the back. Gentle supported backbends (such as placing a rolled towel under the upper back in a reclining position), if comfortable, may also be helpful for restoring posture.
- Avoid supporting body weight with the hands. Wrist fractures are common in osteoporosis. Wrist/arm muscles can be strengthened through mudras, arm movements, or sustained arm positions (such as keeping the arms raised in tadasana), rather than through positions like plank pose
- Standing poses and balances are excellent for building leg strength and hip bone density, but the risk of bone fracture from a fall is extremely high. For this reason, challenging standing poses and standing balances should only be practiced with the support of a wall (or chair) and a teacher.
- Inversions (such as headstand or shoulderstand) are not recommended. However, you can receive many of the benefits of inversions by practicing restorative poses, like legs-up-the-wall pose.
- Note that the above guidelines are conservative. Women who wish to build bone density but who have not yet developed osteoporosis do not need to follow such a cautious approach.
Yogic Diet for Osteoporosis
A yogic diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and high protein foods with moderate amounts of dairy will provide the calcium and other important minerals to both prevent and reduce the development of osteoporosis. In particular, add fruits that are high in Vitamin C and dark green vegetables in your diet, and use small amounts of low-fat dairy products, and omega-3 and Vitamin E rich nuts, seeds and fish. Beware of consuming too much salt and animal protein as these can both leach calcium from your bones. Caffeine, alcohol, carbonated soft drinks and nicotine can also deplete your body’s calcium supply and a diet high in sugar has also been linked to low bone density. Make sure you get outdoors for your daily dose of Vitamin D from the sun. While supplementing your diet with calcium and other vitamins and minerals is important to help meet your daily intake requirements, these vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, are much readily absorbed and utilized when they are obtained from the food you eat.