(Image Courtesy of the New York Times article mentioned below)
Yoga & our Bones
Studies have shown the efficacy of a Yoga practice for helping build & maintain bone strength; even going so far as to show that Yoga can help improve the bone health of existing osteoporosis patients & those with its pre-cursor, osteopenia.
The research, carried out & then published in late 2015 by Loren M. Fishman M.D. & team & shared in the New York Times showed that a Yoga practice can help improve bone density in the spine, hips & femurs (our large thigh bones). And the information from this research can help us ALL, no matter our age or gender, no matter whether we currently practice or indeed, modify our asana practice (Yoga poses) or not.
In so much of our asana (Yoga poses), we employ some muscles to strengthen, while at the same time, other muscles, the 'partner'/corresponding muscles, get to lengthen. We're 'opposing' some muscles against others; say the 'front' thigh muscles, the quadriceps, against the 'back' thigh muscles, the hamstrings. This opposition creates a strengthening force that physically stimulates osteoblasts. These are the bone-creating cells that initially live on the outside of the bone. These in turn develop into osteocytes, which are cells that become embedded within your bone.
Often we are using multiple muscles in any one given pose; & when we build muscle, we help build bone, by stimulating those lil osteocytes. We don't need to go 'bananas' either; we do however want to make 'enough' effort though. We want to feel the muscles working, contracting, tensing. We also need to stay in the poses awhile.
This is why a more steady-state paced class is actually 'better' for us than say a super fast-paced multiple-poses-in-any-given-minute type of class. You can guess from that last sentence that I am not a fan of classes that pack in crazy tricksy-pixey 70 poses per class; for a whole VARIETY of good reasons Yogis! I call that 'running on your Yoga mat'!
All jokes aside, the research shows that the benefit of both the stretch & the strengthening actually only really gets to come about when we 'inhabit' a pose for up to & even over a minute & that's in each asana, on each side.
This kind of stable strengthening practice also really lets us LEARN & DEVELOP good alignment; something that is just not really feasible, no matter how good the teacher, no matter how many words a minute they can rattle out, in a 'FAST' class. The funny thing is, a slower, steadier practice is also actually more of an EFFORT, as some of you EDYI Yogis sure know & have humorously shared with me when you message me the next day after class 😀.
Please take comfort from knowing that sometimes, less is indeed MORE.
Less number of asana in a sense, but more time in those particular fewer asana.
Our own attitudes really do matter too; unknowingly, people can sometimes bring a 'MORE MORE MORE' frame-of-mind to class. Maybe doing a 'complicated' pose by themselves, before class has even begun & even before warming up. Maybe fidgeting & fussing, chafing at having to be in even 2-3 minutes of stillness at the beginning of practice. Maybe racing their arms up straightaway in say poses like Warrior I or Warrior II. Maybe snubbing props & not letting themselves even try suggested modifications or offered adaptations of a given pose.
Now we can ALL learn to let go of that; we can learn to let go of preconceptions & expectations. I know I sure had to, both as a student & as a Teacher. Yes I teach but I also continue to learn, both from the students who come to class, from my own teachers & from life itself!
So why not allow ourselves the kindness of being a 'student? Of shaking off the need, even the burden of always having to 'be the best'; of 'doing it right'? Maybe enjoying the ease of taking things as they come, of being curious & receptive.
It truly is a lovely & loving act of self-compassion to simply allow ourselves to be a 'student' for another reason Yogis.
That is, we get to take off the 'Being-In-Charge' hat; whether that's as a boss, a parent, a teacher, an older sibling, a community leader, a carer & so on.
We can instead choose to simply surrender to the process of being guided. There is release, relief & indeed relaxation at letting someone else 'take charge'.
I mention this because this, in a way, is another benefit of Yoga to yes, even our BONES. Through patience & attention, through sticking with our Yoga practice, through receptivity, we cultivate AWARENESS. I truly believe this is likely THE most important benefit of Yoga.
Everything else will actually flow & grow, on & off our mats, when we are aware.
So how does this help our bones? With awareness, we can enhance our focus & indeed even become better at balancing (probably the most challenging part of our Yoga asana practice & maybe even the most frustrating too!). We get to improve our coordination & gain better range-of-motion/flexibility. These are known key factors in helping to reduce the risk of falls & fractures; maybe even helping us avoid accidents in the first place by being more alert, 'sure-of-foot' & 'present' in the world around us.
We improve our interception, our proprioception & our exteroception.
Put more simply, we will become more in tune to the messages & signals from within; we will better manage our bodies through the space around us; & we will be better placed to react to stimuli around us in the wider world too.
Finally, what is also so interesting is that the less 'active' part of Yoga, that is, the relaxation, slowing-down, meditative part of our practice ALSO helps with keeping our skeletal structure in good nick! The 'other' limbs of Yoga play a key part here; it's not all about 'Asana' Yogis. Meditation (Dhyana), concentration (Dharana), breath-work (Pranayama) are just as important.
Yet another reason to NOT skip Savasana Yogis!
Through entering deep relaxation mode, we let go of stress, we release tension & we start to inhabit what is known as Parasympathetic mode. This is the so-called 'rest+digest' part/branch of our Autonomic Nervous System, namely the opposite, or more correctly, the BALANCING partner to the 'fight/flight/freeze/fawn' part, the Sympathetic branch.
When we relax, truly & deeply, we can bring about a reduction in our circulating Cortisol levels (Cortisol is a stress hormone). Most of us probably have some idea that elevated Cortisol levels on an ongoing basis are not a good thing for our cardiovascular health. However we would likely NOT know that another risk associated with higher Cortisol levels is that it breaks down bone when it’s chronically elevated. So the softer, more quiet, restful & contemplative parts of Yoga are just as beneficial to include in our practice Yogis. Even for our bones 😮.
You might want to check out a class I recorded for the EDYI TV Channel earlier this week (click video here), based on the chosen 'sequence' that Dr Loren Fishman used for his study. It's called Yoga All Sorts II - The Bone Health One. It's important Yogis to note that, as this blog has shared, ALL aspects of our Yoga practice helps us. So while it's great to practice the specific sequence & know you're doing some good, do be receptive to having a varied & adaptive practice; Yoga that suits you now in short.
With Yoga, we will become more aware, agile, mobile, flexible, relaxed, centred, focussed, stronger, & with healthier bones to boot 🦴💪🏽.
Yoga Lili ✨🙏🏽