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FAQ IV - Yoga and Osteoporosis

By Ann Barros, Certified Iyengar Yoga Instructor

How can yoga help osteoporosis?
The practice of hatha yoga can help to prevent osteoporosis by strengthening the bones as the practitioner bears weight in the legs in standing poses, and in the upper body in inverted poses such as arm balances and Headstand. Especially in the Iyengar tradition of hatha yoga- which places strong emphasis on correct body alignment -, the joints, muscles and bones are all challenged to hold and maintain a posture. This builds strength and endurance in all the bones bearing weight. Weight bearing exercises increase bone density; therefore yoga is the cure and/or preventative practice for osteoporosis.

  Have there been instances when women actually got better after performing yoga?
In my local classes and international workshops, I often hear women explain that they feel stronger in their bones and muscles from their daily yoga practice. One student locally who was so inspired by another 50-year old student's story of having just had a bone density test (analysis of strength, density, and health of her bones - and informed by the medical clinic that the test result showed her bone density to be that of a 20 year old), decided to become more diligent in her own daily practice. Within 2 years, this newer student to yoga had her own bone density test and the results were also that of a person much younger. The newer student of yoga also felt a loss of chronic pain in her right hip joint due to increased blood circulation. The connective ligaments in her hip joint, which used to always grip, began to relax and become supple as a result of her yoga practice.

 

What is it about yoga postures that help with osteoporosis?
Yoga serves the body in several ways. Many health practitioners recommend yoga as a means of combating stress—which, they point out, can compromise the neuroendocrine and immune systems. Yoga can stimulate the bones to retain calcium, provided the body gets enough calcium in the first place. It does this through weight-bearing poses (like arm balances, inversions, and standing poses) that affect the whole spine, arms, shoulders, elbows, legs, knees, ankles, and feet, while encouraging full range of motion. B.K.S. Iyengar, master of yoga's therapeutic applications, explains the benefits of yoga by means of what he calls its "squeezing and soaking" actions. He contends that through the process of squeezing out the old, stale blood or lymphatic fluids and soaking the area with fresh, oxygenated blood or fluids, yoga helps the body to utilize the nutrients it needs. Inverted poses offer a perfect example of this phenomenon, particularly Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and Halasana (Plow Pose). These poses, according to Iyengar, regulate the thyroid and parathyroid glands (critical for metabolism) located in the neck, by creating a "chin lock" that squeezes stale blood from the area. Furthermore, a consistent yoga practice can give us confidence and stability as we move through the world. Yoga can improve posture and coordination, strengthen bones and muscles, increase flexibility, and create balance.

What are some of the postures that one can practice to help osteoporosis.
Standing poses are extremely beneficial because they are weight bearing on the large bones of the legs and hips and they promote flexibility. Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Virabhadrasana I, II, & III (Warrior Poses), Parsvakonasana, (Side-Angle Pose) and Ardha Chandrasana (Half-Moon Pose) are extremely beneficial to the bones of the legs as they require us to be steady and strong as we hold our weight in the legs. These poses are weight bearing on the legs and feet, primarily, but also on the arms, wrists, and hands. They also encourage mobility in the hips and a lengthening to the spine, rather than a rounding or compression of the spine. Inverted poses, such as arm balances and Headstand, are especially good for women as we age to keep the bones of the upper body strong. In the half version of Full Arm Balance, for instance, one is standing on the hands with the bones of the arms straight - "bone-over-bone", as I would describe it, to build endurance and strength, and therefore promoting good density in the bones as well as strength in the muscles supporting the bones.  Forward bends quiet the adrenals, and backbends energize them. Twists like Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose), are equally effective for regulating the adrenal glands, which we rely on to provide adequate amounts of estrogen and androgen for healthy bones.

Can Iyengar yoga be medically therapeutic?
Iyengar yoga, a style of Hatha yoga, is the tradition of yoga master, BKS Iyengar, close to 90 years old and still very supple and strong.  Shri BKS Iyengar first came to the practice of yoga as a sickly youth in India. Through his early explorations in to the curative effects of the asanas (postures), he cured himself of hepatitis.

Have medical specialists been able to confirm the therapeutic effects of yoga on osteoporosis?

Even the most conservative, HRT-prescribing doctor believes exercise increases bone mass in postmenopausal women. The key, according to Kendra Kaye Zuckerman, M.D., director of the osteoporosis program at Allegheny University Hospitals in Philadelphia, is that you must exercise consistently—at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Exercise works, according to Krisna Raman, M.D., author of A Matter of Health (East-West Books, 1998), because it stimulates bone remodeling and “improves the absorption of calcium from the intestine and promotes its deposition on the bones.”

 

Keyword: Health, Jakartadoyoga, Yoga, Yoga Studio, Iyengar, Jakarta, Indonesia