In 2015, The New York Times published an article that offered a strong picture of what bone health could look like for women and men practicing yoga despite diagnoses of osteopenia and/or osteoporosis.
A decade-long study showed that with an accumulated 90,000 hours of practice, not one of the 741 participants (average age of 68) reported new fractures resulting from their 12-minute yoga routine. Of the 227 participants who practiced the routine at least every other day, all showed improved bone density in their spines and femur bones.
Since the publication of this article, research continues at the Harvard Medical School and other locations to build a more complete understanding of the benefits of yoga for bone health.
We’ll take a closer look at five of the key poses used in this study and how they benefit bone health.
Image credit: Drinie Aguilar
As a standing, one-legged, balancing posture, Tree Pose is a fantastic choice for cultivating stability in your ankles, knees, and hips. This pose teaches you to find a strong connection to the ground and to realign your core and spine in relation to the earth. By extending energy from the earth through your spine, your posture improves with less effort. As you practice balancing on one foot, you train your body to avoid faltering and falling.
Image credit: Mandy
Another asymmetrical standing posture, triangle pose keeps both of your feet on the ground, but asks you to shift the weight of your shoulders forward of your hips. In doing so, you learn how to balance “off center.”
Additionally, you take a spinal twist while in this pose, which gives you a comprehensive awareness of your core muscles on the front, sides, and back of your body. Holding your spine straight in this pose and extending length through your midback helps you find your quadratus lumborum and oblique muscles (side core) like nothing else can.
Image credit: Heather Gjerde
This pose requires you to support your body weight by bearing down into the earth strongly through your knees, ankles, and feet, as well as your arms and shoulders. In addition to offering weight-bearing benefits for these bones, Bridge Pose benefits your spine. As an inverted posture (your heart and pelvis move below your head), Bridge Pose reverses the pull of gravity on your spine, easing compression in your spinal column.
Many standing and seated forward-folding postures are contraindicated for osteopenia and osteoporosis because of the amount of pressure they place on spinal vertebra; however, Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose allows for the same benefits of a forward fold (lengthening the spinal column, practicing healthy body mechanics by learning to “hinge” from the hips) without pressure on your spine and with the full support of the floor.
Image credit: Sanàa Jaman
Every yoga practice is a mix of doing and being. This pose is the perfect balance to your psychological need to “do something in order to get somewhere.” Savasana re-establishes the importance of rest amid any effort to maintain health and strength. The pose teaches you to listen to your body, trust its intelligence, and give it time and space to integrate new ways of stretching, stabilizing, and balancing in the moments following your practice.
Any yoga pose has the potential to harm or to heal. Each of these poses was taught to the practitioners in the study under the guidance of a DVD instructed by a certified professional. Among the recommendations provided was that each pose be held for 30 seconds and that it involve periods of breathing and integration before taking the next posture. If you are thinking about taking on a yoga practice to help improve your bone health, be sure to find good guidance.
Image credit: Kate Swarm