The previous blog discussed how yoga can be part of a programme to counter bone loss, and revealed the yoga poses that are unsafe once you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis. But if you are in the fortunate position of not having either osteoporosis or its precursor osteopenia, this is the blog for you. This blog about preventing osteoporosis looks at the factors that contribute to bone loss, and at some of the yoga poses that could help strengthen muscles and bones.
Some causes of osteoporosis we can’t control, such as genetics, hormonal changes and premature menopause. When you are older than 30, it also doesn’t help to know that it is extremely important to build bones in childhood, teens and twenties through a good diet and exercise. Unfortunately, we have already built maximum bone density by age 30. Still, after 30 you can avoid a rapid worsening of bone weakness by cultivating good habits with exercise, lifestyle and diet. In terms of diet, it is important to have an adequate mineral intake, such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and potassium. Also vitamin D (through sunshine and/or supplements) is essential to aid the absorption of calcium.
Bad habits contributing to osteoporosis include smoking and an excessive intake of alcohol, red meat, salt, sugar and caffeine. Depression and anxiety can also be worsening factors. It may not come as a surprise that stress plays a negative role in the development of osteoporosis. This is because chronic stress disturbs the balance of our hormones: cortisol, the stress hormone, inhibits the production of oestrogen and progesterone, which are the hormones involved in bone production.
How yoga can be part of preventing osteoporosis
Yoga is often thought to be a practice that makes you more flexible. However, as the poses below demonstrate, this is not the whole truth. Many of the standing poses and balances require strength, as do poses such as plank and downward dog. As explained in the previous blog about osteoporosis https://beneyoga.co.uk/osteoporosis-how-yoga-prevents-or-reverses-bone-loss/ holding these poses for at least 20 to 30 seconds, helps to strengthen muscles and stimulates bone cells to form more bone cells. Yoga also improves our balance, which is important to avoid falling later in life. Finally, yoga helps us deal with stress.
Here are a few examples of poses that can be classified as preventing osteoporosis. They include weight bearing, balance and relaxation.
The downward dog pose is good for arm strength, elongation of the spine and is beneficial for the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands produce a variety of hormones, among which those that regulate the stress response.
-Start in child’s pose and place your feet hip-width and your hands shoulder-width apart. Spread the fingers.
-Unfold the legs but keep them bent at first to help you lengthen the spine.
-Allow the head to hang down so your neck can relax.
-Feel the tailbone reach away behind you, in the opposite direction to the head.
-Keep the shoulders broad and definitely do not push the chest down to the floor.
-Stay for a few breaths, gradually building up to staying about 30 seconds.
-Rest back down in child’s pose.
Dog pose can be tricky when your hamstrings are tight. Feel free to keep the legs bent all that time as that encourages the spine to release.
The side plank is strengthening for the whole body, one side at a time. Definitely practise this pose near or even with the back against a wall to start with. You can also place the lower knee down to make it easier, see below.
-Start in plank pose, with the hands underneath the shoulders. Bring the weight over onto the left hand and shift the feet so the side of the left foot is on the floor and the right foot rests on top. The right foot can also be in front of the left one to help with balance.
-Lengthen the whole body and bring the right arm up to the ceiling.
-Hold for up to 5 breaths and then change to the other side. This position is difficult to keep much longer because of the weight on the wrists.
An alternative is baby half moon, which could also be called a mini plank, with the knee on the floor:
-Line up the right hand, right knee and left foot. The right foot can go behind the body for balance. Once you have found the equilibrium in this pose, you could bring the arm up to the ceiling or next to the head for a lovely side stretch.
Once you have mastered the baby half moon, you could try the half moon.
This is my favourite pose, as it feels expansive and exuberant. It is strengthening as well as good for hip flexibility. Again, try this pose against a wall to start with because the balance is not easy.
-Place the left foot alongside the wall, about one foot-width away from the wall.
-Looking down, slowly start balancing on the left foot, while you peel the other foot off the floor.
-Keep your back long and lift the right leg to be in line with it. This can be parallel to the floor or lower. Never force.
-When you find your balance in this position, slowly rotate the body to the side so it is facing away from the wall. Don’t force the hips against the wall, as we usually don’t have this complete hip flexibility: keep it gentle. Lean against the wall for balance and alignment.
-The length of the spine and feeling of ease in the back is more important than the final pose. Whether you reach the final pose or not, keep the head, spine and leg in line.
-Feel the length of your body, as if the head is attracted one way and the foot the other way.
-Try the other side and alternate a few times if it feels ok. You may not be able to stay long in the position at first and that is fine. Best not to hold it longer than about 30 seconds, anyway, as this is a strong pose.
Finally, rest in child’s position or on your back on the floor.
If you would like to create your own programme to prevent osteoporosis or avoid further bone loss, do contact me here to discuss: https://beneyoga.co.uk/contact-for-yoga-classes-in-chiswick/. Five private yoga therapy sessions will give you your own strengthening and balancing programme, taking into account any other health issues or restrictions you may have. If you already have osteopenia or osteoporosis, your programme will focus on the poses that are safe and can help you stay strong.