Watch television long enough and you’ll invariably come across commercials advertising drugs that treat the loss of bone density, or osteoporosis. For most people, sooner or later, bone density will become a potential health concern. Poor diets, sedentary lifestyles and the lifelong convenience of having machines do a lot of the work human bodies used to do will almost guarantee brittle bones for many of us. No doubt it’s part of aging, particularly in women, who face significant hormonal changes as they age. But just as we are bombarded with marketing for Fosamax, Boniva, and a slew of other drugs designed to treat or stave off the loss of bone density, wouldn’t it be wonderful if more medical practitioners would point their patients in the direction of a yoga mats as well?
Studies continue to show a strong link between yoga and bone health. The findings, published widely in major news outlets recently, point to the convincing conclusion that yoga appears to be an effective treatment for osteoporosis. In some cases, yoga has been shown to slow, if not reverse, bone loss. Key among the reports are the findings from Dr. Loren Fishman and Ellen Saltonstall, whose comprehensive research into osteoporosis and yoga gives the yoga world cause for celebrations – as if it needed more!
In their 2010 book Yoga for Osteoporosis: The Complete Guide, Saltonstall and Fishman, the Medical Director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City, make the case that yoga is one of the best treatments (and preventions) for osteoporosis. That’s an exciting conclusion for yoga teachers, who teach to classes filled with women, many of them entering middle age.
Yogis see firsthand what a lifetime of practice can do: Yoga, and its integration of proper alignment with the demand placed on bones and muscles, builds stronger hips, backs, knees and spines. Yes, high impact aerobic activities can promote bone health, but let’s face it, in our “all or nothing” world, our approach to these activities is often detrimental to our bodies in other ways.
In yoga, we work with the weight of our bodies. You can’t get more natural than that! After all, how often do we walk around with a barbell across our shoulders. Yoga teaches us to integrate proper joint function and movement to lift and carry our body’s weight. You don’t have to wait until you are on the yoga mat to reap the benefits. Almost any standing yoga pose or arm balance will deliver bone building benefits. A good one to try is Chair Pose or Utkatasana, which strengthens the legs, glutes and all the muscles around the hips, an area vulnerable to osteoporosis. Dr. Fishman offers a useful series to target osteoporosis here.
An added bonus: yoga focuses on balance, so while we are getting our weight-bearing fix, we also work on the art of balancing on one leg at a time, something that becomes crucial as we age. By no means am I suggesting that we – or our mothers and grandmothers – dismiss the medical advice from our doctors. We can, however, encourage them to try and embrace yoga and the many health benefits it imparts.
Are you at risk for or do you currently suffer from osteoporosis? Have had success with yoga as an alternative therapy?