Building strong bones with the 72-second weight-bearing yoga rule

Part Eleven in a Series on Yoga for Healthy Bones.

A new study tells us that a yoga practice can not only help prevent osteoporosis — it actually builds the bones back up!

In early March of this year, at the annual Yoga Therapy conference in Los Angeles, (www.sytar.org), Dr. Loren Fishman and his study partner, yoga teacher Ellen Saltonstall, presented the most compelling information about yoga and osteoporosis.

They emphasized that bones need STRESS ( not the anxiety building kind) to maintain strength. Yoga poses act on the bones by “applying forces of opposing muscle groups to them that greatly exceed gravity, stimulating bone cells (osteocytes) to create more bone.”

The 72 Second Rule

Dr. Fishman is quoted as saying that there is a magic number to initiate this process of new bone growth. 72 seconds. This is another reason that practicing with the support of a wall, chair, yoga block and other props, as discussed in previous Journal Entries, is so beneficial. The support of a wall not only improves your alignment but allows you to safely build enough strength so you can stay in Standing Poses, and other weight bearing poses, for 1 minute and 12 seconds, to reap the benefits.

The "72 second rule" should be approached gradually, as building up the strength to stay in a pose for this length of time may take several weeks or even months.

With the help of a wall, kitchen counter or other sturdy support, even my older beginners safely stay in key stength building Standing Poses like the Triangle Pose, Half Moon Pose (where you are balanced on one leg, which increases the weight-bearing benefits) and the Extended Lateral Angle Pose, where the front leg is at a right angle. (See photo links below)

Loren Fishman, MD, is a professor at Columbia University. Ellen Salstontall is a certified Anusara Yoga instructor. They are co-authors of the forthcoming book, "Yoga for Osteoporosis."

In his previous book, "Yoga for Arthritis," Dr. Fishman also suggest that yoga greatly improves arthritic joints by circulating synovial fluid, and stimulating all of the connective tissues around the joints, helping to mobilize these stagnant tissues.

The link below illustrates a wide-range of yoga poses. All the teachers and students (with the exception of the photographer's teen-age son) are over 60.

Please note that I do not recommend all of the poses shown in this link for people with osteoporosis. Pease see my previous Journal Entries ( especially Part One and Part Two ) for cautions, safe yoga guidelines, and how to find a qualified teacher.

In general, the safest and most important category of poses for building a healthy skeletal structure is the weight-bearing Standing Poses. Please see the chapters in my books, or other books on yoga and osteoporosis that have been recommended on this site, for more detailed guidance.

http://web.mac.com/jhjacobs/Jim_Jacobs_Photography_/Yoga_for_Healthy_Aging. html

Suza Francina, author
Certified Iyengar Yoga Instructor
www.SuzaFrancina.com

Edited October 7, 2009 at 10:07 am

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43 replies. Join the discussion

Hi SuzaFrancina ~

I looked at the photographs of the various poses. I understand that all of the poses are done by people over 60 years old, but I wonder if they are safe for people with osteoporosis. Some of them involve bending and twisting, which I've read on this website is a no no for people with osteoporosis.

May I infer that since you've posted the photos on this osteoporosis web site that they are safe for people with osteoporosis?

Susan

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Hi Susan,

Thanks for your Comment. Note the last sentence of this Journal Entry: " Please see previous Journal Entries for cautions, safe yoga guidelines and how to find a qualified teacher."

A trained teacher can show you how to bend forward safely from the hip hinge, with your spine elongated, your hands high up on a wall, or the support of a table, chair or counter, as needed.

People with osteoporosis can gradually learn to move in all directions safely by learning to lengthen the spine and aligning the whole body.

It may not be appropriate to practice certain poses in the beginning, but they can be introduced gently, with the support of props, as the body becomes stronger and more flexible.

The practice of yoga should be adapted to the needs of the individual. In other words, whether or not a pose or move is safe for someone with osteoporosis depends on how it is practiced.

Yoga poses have gentle, beginner variations and there are many ways of practicing with props or the help of a qualified teacher who adapts yoga to your needs.

The photographs in the slide-show demonstrate good alignment in all the categories of poses (Standing, Seated, Lying Down, Upside Down, Forward Bending, Back Bending, Twists, etc.,) I hope they inspire you to learn to practice safely, in a way that is healing for your body.

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A correction: I meant to say, "... practicing with props AND the help of a qualified teacher..."

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Bumping

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Hello Suza:
Although you qualify your postings by saying that people need to learn to move with hip hinge and elongated spine, I have found that people, generally, have no idea what that means. They definitely need the services of a very qualified teacher to learn to move safely--I would suggest a Yoga teacher who has been trained in working with people with osteoporosis.
Of course, that can be a problem also because virtually all physical therapists, yoga teachers and other health and exercise professionals will say they work with people with osteoporosis. However, it does not mean they know what they are doing nor does it mean they have a program or an approach.
People really need to be well-informed and check out credentials and options.

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P.S. I like the long holds--don't know if 72 seconds is a "rule" but longer holds definitely build strength and focus.

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Building Bone

Has anyone heard of crawling as a way of building bone?

A Feldenkrais practitioner suggested a sand-filled back pack instead of a weighted vest because of potential harm to your back.

Anyone heard of this sand strategy?

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Where do you put the sand pack? What harm comes from a weighted vest if you have it fit and wear it properly?
This discussion is on Yoga--maybe someone should start another on Feldenkrais. I'll bow out on that one but I have had Feldenkrais training and I'll be away for two weeks starting today.
Have fun!

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Hi Suza
Thank you for your info on Yoga for better bones. I would like to find out for a friend of mine who's daughter is a paraplegic and has now started with osteo penia in the hips. She is 19 year old and other than taking extra calcium as prescribed by her specialist, is their some passive exercises in Yoga that the mother can help her to do to help restore and improve some bone density? How can she do extra weight bearing exercise to help if she can not stand? I think that she has a kind of a wheelchair that keeps her strapped in upright, but i do not know about the standing part. If there is some form of exercise that will be able to help her, i would appreciate this information and I will be able to help her.
sunshine greetings from South Africa
Lynn (PT)

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Hello Suza, I'd like to add my five cents' worth of thoughts on yoga and osteoporosis. When first learning that I had osteopenia bordering on osteoporosis in the spine, my first reaction (when going for my twice or thrice weekly gym workout) was to stop all movements that had to do with spine twisting, forward bends etc. Then, aside from conferring with my orthopedic doctor, I started reading up and also consulted a physiotherapist. The reason was, of course, that I hated giving up exercise and movements that made feel good and were also beneficial for my bones. Yoga was among the routines I stopped. Your recent post and some reactions to it, make me want to add this: that only people with severe or "established" osteoporosis (i.e. with a history of fracture) should perhaps stay away from yoga or practise it --if practise it they must-- with extreme caution. But those with osteopenia or not severe osteoporosis, should go ahead and practise, always carefully of course, because yoga and, perhaps especially the standing poses, are wonderful weighbearing and co-ordinating exercise for the body.

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Maroulina, while I have not given up yoga, my instructor has given me alternatives for some of poses. I am 62, fracture free in the -3 range both hips and spine. People with osteopenia can fracture because we do not have a test that shows us the strength of our remaining bone. If we practice a pose that places strain on our lumbar spine, we may be causing ourselves the possibility of a fracture; not necessarily at this time, but over a period of time. A yoga instructor that has knowledge of bone loss will be able to alternate poses. It doesn't matter if we have been diagnosed with osteopenia, osteoporosis, we must take safeguards to protect our bones.

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Thank you, Maroulina, for your important obsrvation.

One obvious but often overlooked thing I want to repeat is to not lump "yoga" in one basket. There are now dozens of "styles" plus there is a world of difference between working with, for example, an older teacher who has had eight or more years of training and experience, including yoga therapy for various common health issues, and a (often) younger teacher with one-month (or less) training. Volumes have been written on this -- but just had to say it once more!!!

In one of my "Yoga for Healthy Bones" articles (posted on my profile page or click link on my web site below) I describe how my mother (now age 88) slipped on a hallway rug and broke her thigh bone. My mother has never been interested in yoga and the doctor said her thigh bone was like egg shells--fractured 18 places. Wthout weight-bearing exercise she would have either wasted away in bed or ended up in a wheel-chair.

I learned a valuable lesson from having her progress from standing upright for about ten seconds to eventually one-minute (a milestone) to walking again. Even if we can only do an exercise or yoga position safely for a few seconds, it is important to grasp the concept of working with whatever capacity we have, rather than deteriorating further from lack of use.

Suza Francina
Certified Iyengar Yoga Instructor
www.SuzaFrancina.com

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I just now saw sdivas comment. I agree that the cautions and guidelines posted by myself, Sara Meeks and others apply to all levels of bone health. I have to get ready to teach a student in her 70's with osteoporosis but will discuss more in days to come.

Sorry for any typos in these Comments --my keyboard sticks...

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Sdivas, you are absolutely right in that we should be mindful of not straining our spine. That had been my main concern initially and still is. The question is how do we know when we are doing too much, especially since, as I understand it, we cannot actually feel the tiny damage done to the vertebrae (which in time becomes worse). The answer, as you say, is to be guided by an experienced yoga instructor and here is the rub: I really do not trust the young yoga instructors at my gym. Is there a yoga exercise book (or a DVD) that explains which poses "work" which parts of the body, thus helping me stay away from those that place a burden on the spine?
And, by the way, thanks for your response because it helped me temper my eagerness to go back to yoga with a vengeance, so to speak!

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I will post some tips, later, about "feeling" your spine that might be helpful...

Here in Ojai we are in the worst heat wave, fires nearby...

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PS All my books have chapters on yoga and osteoporosis.... best is the most recent one, "The New Yoga for Healthy Aging." You can view it free on www.amazon.com

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PPS

I hope you will read ALL the articles in my series. The way not to put a "burden" on the spine is to align your whole body and learn to work the muscles in your legs and all the other "core" muscles, etc.

Never forget that the whole body is connected!!!

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Maroulina, I'm not a fitness protessional, but we really don't have any way of knowing when we are doing too much or which move may be the one move that places us more in a risk for fracture. Along with yoga, I take Pilates Reformer and ballet barre. Unless you are working privately, it often is difficult in class to use a chair. If you visit www.sciatica.org, Loren Fishman, mentioned by Suza, shows Yoga poses for osteoporosis. Suza book, while not specific to osteoporosis, shows yoga exercises using the chair and props. Sara Meeks will have a new book the first of the year with yoga information. But I know that will not help you at the moment. There is a gap for a Yoga dvd for people with osteoporosis. When I am in class, I don't do any forward flexions or twists. I understand that may not be easy for you in a class because most yoga classes flow from one pose to another pose. I'm sorry, I'm not much help because I don't really have an answer for you. Sandi

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Thank you, Sandi, your response has some helpful pointers which I will pursue. Thank you too, Suza, I will be looking at your articles and possibly the book as well. Signing off from Greece, good night everyone!

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Hi,
I was wondering if you knew when the book you mentioned would come out and where one could purchase it - "Yoga for Osteoporisis"
Thank you,
Cynthia

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