Osteoporosis affects some 10 million American women and 34 million more have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for this disease. 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.
Weight-bearing Yoga All standing poses will bear weight on the bones in the lower spine, the hips and the legs, encouraging them to strengthen. 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. 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.
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Increasing Intensity Builds Stronger Bones If you have been diagnosis with Osteoporosis or Osteopenia (decreased bone density) talk to your doctor before starting a yoga or other exercise routine. To build bone mass with yoga and other exercise, it must be done consistently—at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Obviously, more would be better, but too much can also be damaging. The best course of action is to 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.
Cautions and Contraindications If the spine has developed kyphosis, deep backbends like camel, bow and wheel can be painful and even cause injury and should be avoided or approached with caution. All forward bends, twists and side bending poses are contraindicated for anyone with osteoporosis and thus these poses should be approached with caution with osteopenia. With osteoporosis the bones are vulnerable to sudden movements and strong pounding, so use caution when moving in and out of poses and avoid jumping in and out of poses as in a vinyasa or ashtanga practice .
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.
Combining effective weight bearing exercise with proper high nutrient nutrition is the key for both prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Both are required to build strong, dense and healthy bones. Yoga is a naturally effective treatment as it encourages both a whole body weight bearing exercise and a healthy and high nutrient diet.
A complete list of yoga postures that benefit osteoporosis is now available in our premium yoga therapy section. A yoga pose sequence for Building Strong Bones is available in our premium yoga sequence section.