How Yoga for Osteoporosis Safely Rebuilds Strong Bones

MOVING INTO WHOLENESS

For information, contact:

Carol Verner, LMBT, RYT
Telephone: (919) 933-2330
https://carolverner.com
carol.somatics@gmail.com

Carol Verner owns Moving Into Wholeness in Chapel Hill, NC, a center for healing through embodied awareness. She is a Certified Somatic Coach through the esteemed Strozzi Institute, https://strozziinstitute.com/ . She is a Registered Yoga Teacher certified to teach the Fishman Method, a licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist (NC #1301), and Registered Craniosacral Therapist. Contact Carol to learn if in-person or on-line appointments or classes are right for you.

By Carol Verner, LMBT, RYT

Our bones reach peek density and strength in our thirties. Most of us are at our physical peak in every regard in these years. Gradually, even imperceptibly, our next decades see losses in many functions. Bone builds slowly up to our mid-thirties peek—and bone diminishes slowly thereafter. If women over 50 and men over 70 lose too much bone, this greatly increases their risk of fractures from falls. Osteoporosis is the thinning of bone statistically related to this higher risk of fractures. Osteoporosis is silent. Typically, we experience no symptoms until bone is so compromised that a fracture from a fall is the first indication.

The Source of Yoga for Osteoporosis

I am a yoga teacher certified to teach Yoga for Osteoporosis. What attracts me to this method is the rigor and application of both science and yoga. Yoga for Osteoporosis was developed and is taught by Loren Fishman, MD. Dr. Fishman is the Medical Director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City, and a world-recognized pioneer in the use of yoga in medical conditions. Now in his 80s, he is full of energy and enthusiasm, still working, and—of course—still practicing yoga! Before medical school, Dr. Fishman studied yoga in India with revered teacher BKS Iyengar, the originator of using yoga props to make poses safely accessible to older and unwell students. After completing his medical studies, Dr. Fishman used yoga in therapeutic interventions in his rehabilitative medicine.

Dr. Fishman continues testing his Yoga for Osteoporosis protocol in scientific studies. In an early pilot study, he found that people in the experimental group who learned and adhered to his method for the duration of the study gradually increased their bone mineral density. Those in the control group gradually lost bone. This has been repeated in larger and longer studies with consistent results. You’ll find additional information on Dr. Fishman’s approach on his website (https://sciatica.org/), and research information on the effectiveness yoga for osteoporosis at the journal Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation.*

Inside Our Bones

Throughout our body physiology, homeostasis is often maintained by paired, opposite chemical signals that maintain balance. Blood sugar control with hormones that raise and lower blood glucose is a familiar example. Not too much, not too little. Just right!

Bone mass is maintained by two principle cellular players: osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Osteoblasts create new bone cells. Remember our peek expression of health in our mid-thirties? Our osteoblasts have been actively increasing bone mass since childhood. They become less active progressively as we get older. Osteoclasts break down and remove old or damaged bone. They provide an essential function in cleaning out the old to make space for the new. However, past that peak around 35, with osteoblasts slowing down and osteoclasts still active, our bone mass diminishes gradually, steadily, predictably.

Bone mass is affected by several factors, including hereditary, hormonal, metabolic and nutritional influences; our level of activity or inactivity is a crucial factor. If we are born with a hereditary tendency for strong bones, we have bone in the bank, so to say, and we can lose more bone mass before we reach a threshold of risk for fracture. But what if we are blessed with these strong bones, yet are sedentary in our habits? If, for example, we spend years at a desk—our bones are not stimulated. If we are post-menopausal women, we also lose hormonal support for maintaining bone mass.

Nature gave me a greater risk for bone loss. I am a woman with a small frame, light bones, and have women on both sides of my family who suffered grievous bone loss. How fortunate for me that I was very active from childhood onward. I ran, biked, jumped rope, and danced in studios and on stages when most of my friends were becoming sedentary. I was putting bone in my bone bank account.

Take note: eustress (pronounced yoo’stress), meaning good stress, strengthens muscles and bones. Good stress comes from weight-bearing activities such as walking, running, jumping rope, dancing, or engaging in sports that are not high-risk. Good stress from these activities gives our bones a pounding that nature is ready to meet by increasing bone mass. This is great—unless or until we have injuries or conditions in our joints that contraindicate many of the high-impact activities that would have stimulated our osteoblasts to make new bone. This happened to me. I passed through menopause, then knee injuries prevented me from high-impact activities, and my bone bank balance began to go down.

Open the Door to Yoga!
How Yoga for Osteoporosis Restores Bone Density

When high-impact activities are contraindicated due to injured or arthritic joints, the low-impact/high strength practice of Yoga for Osteoporosis is an open door to restoring bone health. Yoga practice that is gentle and relaxing can be a tremendous boon to reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, aid in recovery from over-work or overwhelm—but, it will not help restore healthy bone density.

Yoga for Osteoporosis uses familiar poses that are common to almost every lineage and style of yoga. It is not what poses we do, but how we do them that will start rebuilding lost bone mass. Dr. Fishman’s method works by engaging intense muscle contractions that apply sufficient pressure to your bones to stimulate the osteoblasts. These are the bone-building cells that become less active as we age. The great news is that we can build muscle strength at any age with sufficient challenge, and with this strength applied in the right way, we can build strong bones. A dedicated Yoga for Osteoporosis practice creates the needed strength to apply sufficient pressure to your bones, thus awakening your wonderful osteoblasts to create new bone.

Medication, Too? Ask Questions!

I have taught students with very low bone mineral density, as shown on the T-Scores of their DEXA scans. This diagnostic imaging evaluates bone mineral density in the upper thigh bone and lower spine. The test is covered by insurance and measures these areas because they are the most common sites of fracture in falls.

Some people with very low T-Scores may need medication. I encourage a thorough conversation with your doctor to learn all you can about side effects, which can be severe. Learn what your options are, and what risks you face. I say this because, as Dr. Fishman points out, most of the medicines for bone building rely on inhibiting osteoclasts. Without the house-cleaning activity of our osteoclasts, old or damaged bone can block the growth of new bone and, ironically, lead to bone fractures. Sadly, this happened to a good friend who now has a titanium rod down her femur. The cause of her femoral fracture was identified on x-ray. It revealed a signature pattern of bone damage caused by the bisphosphonate medication she had taken some years before.

Safety: How to Practice Yoga for Osteoporosis

You will be encouraged to learn that in over 100,000 student hours in Dr. Fishman’s research using this method, there have been no bone injuries. It is essential to learn this method from a certified teacher, and be diligent in your practice. With a certified teacher you will learn these essentials: (1) what to do; (2) how to do it; (3) how to safely modify for your needs; and (4) what not to do. I require health history information from my students so that I know your T-Scores. This informs me on how to keep you safe, what modifications are essential. Then—we can have fun in class!

*https://journals.lww.com/topicsingeriatricrehabilitation/Fulltext/2016/04000/Twelve_Minute_Daily_Yoga_Regimen_Reverses.3.aspx