Yoga for Osteoporosis

The benefits of a yoga practice and Osteoporosis for an ageing population by Leah Nylander of West Coast Yoga, Australia.

There is no getting around it, we are an ageing society, we are all ageing day by day and how we manage our bodies now will determine how well our bodies and minds age. For me as a late starter in Yoga one of the main reasons I took to yoga was to help my body as it aged; I want to be as healthy as I can if I’m blessed with grandchildren so that I can fully enjoy the experience by having the life and enthusiasm to want to be a major part of their lives.

One of the greatest threats to my body functioning to its full potential; age considered is Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a common disease that currently affects over 1 million Australians. This disease makes the bones brittle which results in higher risks of breakage and fracture from even the most mundane of daily movements. Osteoporosis occurs when the bones loose essential minerals such as calcium, faster than the body can replenish it; this can result in loss of bone density or thickness. Osteoporosis is referred to as the “silent disease” as you quite often do not know you have it until you suffer a breakage. Osteoporosis affects all bones within the human body, but the main areas of concern are hips, wrists, and the spine.

Over the years there have been many studies conducted as to what exercise would best benefit the prevention and care of Osteoporosis and low impact, weight bearing exercise which can help build bone mass seems to be leading the way. There are many practitioners and enthusiasts out there that have their educated beliefs about the benefit of Yoga for Osteoporosis and one well-published scientific study was conducted by Dr. Loren Fishman. Dr. Fishman has gained an International reputation as a back-pain specialist and has authored more than 70 academic journal articles and six books, Dr. Fishman has worked as an Assistant Clinical Professor at Columbia Medical School.

Dr. Fishman studied Yoga in India with BKS Iyengar and uses it in his rehabilitation practice and has written extensively about Yoga as an adjunct to medical treatment. Dr Fishman enlisted 741 participants who suffered from Osteoporosis to do a daily 12-minute yoga routine over a 10-year period. These participants were given 12 postures, which needed to be held between 20 and 30 seconds, the poses were made up of balancing and strengthening poses. The bone mass measurements of each participant were taken using a Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometric scan at both the start and end of the study. Results show that of the 227 participants who were fully compliant with the study had improved bone mineral density in the spine and femur. 18 of the participants also had improved bone quality, which is critical to resisting fractures. During years of study Dr Fishman observed “Yoga puts more pressure on the bone than gravity does”. “By opposing one group of muscles against another it stimulates osteocytes, the bone making cells”. Think of that next time you are doing Warrior II!

The aim when teaching a class of Over 50s is to build strength and balance whilst maximising stability and safety. When teaching any class teachers need to encourage students to have patience, honesty, and humility, this is especially true for Over 50s. Whilst some may have been practising yoga their whole lives, their bodies are changing, and care must be taken to avoid injury.

What postures best to be mindful off with Osteoporosis?

Forward Bends:

Forward Bends can place significant pressure on your vertebrae, which are commonly weakened with Osteoporosis. Poses where you lie on your back and pull your legs in towards your chest can also damage vertebrae.

Spinal Twists:

Spinal Twists can damage weakened vertebrae, seated spinal twists such as Marichyasana (Marichi’s Pose) and Ardha Matsyendranasa (Half Spinal Twist) can put excessive strain on the spine.

Standing Balance Poses:

Standing Balance Poses are great for promoting body awareness; concentration and strengthening of muscles however should be practiced with care for someone with weakened hips and compromised balance. Try avoiding Garudasana (Eagle Pose) and when practising poses such as Vrksasana (Tree Pose) use a wall or chair where possible.

Abdominal Poses:

Abdominal Poses are great for promoting a strong abdomen that supports the spine and good posture, however avoid poses when the neck and spine are unsupported such as Salabasana (The Locust) or vertebrae is compressed such as Sirsana (The Headstand).

Neck Compressions:

Neck Compressions for people with Osteoporosis can further damaged weakened vertebrae by placing one’s body weight onto the cervical spine. It is best to avoid Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) and Halasana (The Plow).

It is important when practising Yoga to maintain the balance and equilibrium that the discipline seeks to instil, all the while enjoying yourself. You need to approach your practise with commitment but also listen to your body. Whenever a posture is performed it is vital that you feel physically balanced and secure; this is even more so with students suffering from Osteoporosis. Always maintain good contact with the floor, also use the props given to you for support be it a bolster, strap, a wall or even a chair. Each practise should be done with mindfulness and care. To avoid injury, it is vital that the Teacher is interacting with students, ensuring they are working in a safe and caring environment.

People with Osteoporosis are keen to improve their posture, agility, and balance. They also want to strengthen their bones without prescribed medications, which can have awful side effects such as gastrointestinal issues, heartburn, chest pain, nausea, muscle and joint pain. Pointing to the importance of further research into the benefits of Yoga for those seeking a low cost, healthier alternative to prescription medication.

We can only hope as an ageing population being bombarded by prescription medications to “Help” our ailments, that the medical and holistic worlds come together with their views on the benefits or Yoga and perhaps offer sufferers an alternative therapy that will benefit not only their bodies, but their minds and souls along the way. Perhaps leading them closer to their own Samadhi!

References:

  • Live Strong Foundation – Yoga Poses to Avoid with Osteoporosis (July 21, 2015)
  • Yoga Journal – Stay Good to the Bone with Yoga (July 1, 2011) and Stand Strong; Yoga for Bone Health (July 24, 2013)
  • Yoga U Online – Study Indicates Yoga Can Prevent Osteoporosis (No date given)
  • The Expanding Light – Teaching Yoga to Seniors & People with Osteoporosis (July 15, 2014)
  • Happy Healthy Long Life – A Medical Librarians Adventures in Evidence Based Living (June 19, 2010)
  • It is All Yoga Baby – Interview with Dr Loren Fishman
Leah Nylander
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