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Yoga for Osteoporosis – How to Adapt Your Yoga Practice

Certified to teach Yoga, Meditation, Reiki, Pilates; ongoing YogaU Online Yoga & Wellness Educator professional training. I love to write.

In my Yoga and Wellness Educator professional training, I learned the value of body awareness, and the importance of being humble enough to avoid doing some yoga poses and to adapt others. It is not a one-style fits all yoga.

As we age, we lose bone density and muscle strength. Bone density is the total of bone tissue that is in our bones. There is a way to slow the process, but we must realize that the aging process will still take place.

What we do on a regular basis influences how fast or slow we lose muscle strength or bone density.

Yoga is one of the best ways to help prevent fractures. The most common spots that are predisposed to fracture are the vertebra of the spine especially the middle and lower back, the thigh bone, and the wrist.

A lack of body awareness and balance occurs when we are not physically active. If people are physically inactive, they will lose coordination and strength. An increased risk of falling and fracture comes from a lack coordination, strength, and balance.

Benefits of Yoga for Osteoporosis

  • Improves body awareness and movement skills without speed or excess force.
  • Improves balance, coordination, and strength.
  • Can be modified to suit the needs of anyone.

Most yoga practices meet the American College of Sport Medicine’s criteria of “light-intensity physical activity”.

Compared with traditional forms of exercise, the modifiable nature of the low-impact yoga offers a middle ground for those who have movement limitations and clinical diagnoses. Modified yoga is appropriate for aging populations.

The focus of yoga on improving the self with its different physical and mental practices, integrates mindful features that are absent in traditional forms of exercise.

Tips for People With Osteoporosis

  • Be aware of your body and know what your postural tendencies are. Posture depends on the task and the context. There is no perfect posture.
  • Avoid spinal flexion. Know the difference between spinal flexion and hip flexion. Spinal flexion is the act of bending forward, what we are told not to do when lifting heavy items. Understanding how flexion works and its effect on the body may help manage back pain. Hip flexion is when we sit in a chair and safely get in and out of bed. Hip flexion happens every time you step, squat, or sit. You are doing a hip flexion when you lift your knee to your chest.
  • Use muscular strength so that the bones are stimulated by the muscles and you have more strength to safely do balancing and daily activities.
  • If doing a hip flexion while standing is hard, use a prop to keep your back straight. A yoga prop is an object that is used to help in the practice of poses such as a belt, a blanket, a cushion, a block, and a bolster.
  • If you want to bring your knee to your chest, lying on the floor is best as you will be physically relaxed. If you cannot get down to the floor, then use a chair.
Use a chair if getting on the floor is hard

Use a chair if getting on the floor is hard

Poses and Positions to Try

  • Check with your medical doctor to see if yoga is safe for your specific bone density and structure.
  • If your doctor recommends yoga, consider private lessons with a qualified yoga teacher to ensure your movements are correct. If you want to join a group class, you can have the poses modified for you. To get the benefits of yoga, make sure that the yoga poses are done with proper alignment.
  • Start Slowly with simple poses. Little by little increase the length of practice and the level of difficulty. Avoid pushing yourself beyond your limits.
  • To successfully build bone mass, practice yoga and other exercise regularly for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
  • Focus on poses that strengthens. Lunges like those in Warrior I and II poses strengthen the lower part of the body by adding strength to the thighbones and muscles. Poses such as the Dog, the Plank, the Crab and Balancing the Table strengthen the upper part of the body.
  • Simple back bending poses like the Cobra, the Sphinx, and the Bridge strengthen the spine. The Bridge pose and the Half-shoulder Stand stimulate the thyroid gland, which balances the endocrine system and supports bone growth.
  • For a great seated pose, sit on a block and wrap a rolled blanket around your ankles.
  • Do the poses step by step. A qualified yoga teacher will break each pose into parts. You do the parts first then the entire pose.
  • Improve your precision and body awareness. Do the poses with care and self-assessment. Check that you are keeping your spine long and extended upward.
  • Doing the cat/cow movement depends on how much body awareness you have and how you tolerate risk.
  • If you have low spine density, work on lengthening your spine and improving your overall balance.
  • To help your bones, use muscular strength to support your limbs. Muscular strength is how much force you can put or the extent of weight you can lift. When you do the chair pose for example, take your arms to the side and hug the muscles into the bones which has a stabilizing energy. Combine that with expansive energy where your arms become longer. Hugging the muscles into the bones and expanding energy sideways, will give you stamina.
  • The discs of the vertebrae of your spine will be nourished by expanding and absorbing nutrients from the surrounding tissues. The movement we do in different directions will help the discs to pick up the nutritive fluids.

Poses and Positions to Avoid

Follow these guidelines to build bone density and to strength and keep your bones safe.

  • Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara). The sequence of poses in the sun salutation is unsafe for people with osteoporosis because of the intense and rapid forward bends and back bends that take place.
  • Sit-up or crunches.
  • Bending the spine forward. Avoid flexing the spine forward to stretch the back, the legs, or the abdominal muscles. Work with a trained yoga teacher at first to learn how to keep the spine in proper alignment.
  • Proper alignment in yoga is the way in which the body should be positioned in each pose to get the full benefit from the pose and avoid injury. For instance, the proper alignment for the cat-cow movement is to have the shoulders over the wrists and the knees over the ankles.
  • Doing standing poses without proper support. Standing poses and balances are excellent for increasing leg strength, but they should be done with the help of a teacher and the support of a wall or a chair, as the risk of fracture rises in these positions.
  • Challenging inversions. Inversions are never recommended. Try restorative poses such as the Legs-Up-the-Wall pose. Do partially inverted poses under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher.
  • Twist with care. Do the twisting poses with a straight spine. Avoid bending your upper spine forward. Proper pressure produced in twists, by the twisted triangle and the seated twists for instance, builds the bones.
  • Using props is good but people who have a lot of osteoporosis should not lie on a block on their side to avoid fracturing a rib.
  • Hyperkyphosis or excessive curvature of the thoracic spine. People who have a severe Hyperkyphosis must be extra careful when they do twist poses. They should consult with a medical doctor on how best to do yoga poses.

Movements

Any movement (not exercise) in every direction increases or decreases the space between the discs which allows it to hydrate itself equally all the way around.

The strength of the bones comes from holding a pose for a minimum of 15 seconds. Coming in and out of a pose before holding it is good because it increases awareness.

Dr Baxter Bell recommends holding a pose that is physically demanding for about three to four normal breaths without holding your breath. Come out of the pose, then repeat it a few times. If your blood pressure becomes regular with time and practice, gradually hold a pose for up to six to eight breaths. Take your time and be cautious when you increase the length of time you hold a pose.

Child pose

Child pose

Recommended Poses

Body Alignment

See my “4 Yoga Poses to Help Correct Posture and Body Misalignment" article.

Child Pose

Using a bolster makes the pose most comfortable and pleasing. If a bolster is not available, then place a block or two under your head. See my article “How to Breathe in Yoga”.

Chair Pose

Doing the Chair pose is helpful as it strengthens the muscles to get in and out of a chair. It is especially helpful if you open your arms to the side as this puts less stress on shoulder and neck and lets you focus more on the spine.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the spine, shoulder, hip, and thighs.
  • Stimulates the and spinal vertebrae and the femurs. The femurs is the bone of the thigh, forming a joint at the hip and knee.
  • Promotes body integration and vigor.

Avoid:

  • Turning your leg out or in. Keep your feet parallel and your knees pointing toward to the second toes.
  • Rounding your upper back. Stay high enough with the torso to allow the spine to stay long.
  • Arms are underused. Stretch the arms actively to the sides as this stimulates the bones of the backbone that attach to the ribs.

Pelvic Tilt

Doing the pelvic tilt brings awareness to the range of motion available in the lower back and the pelvis and how they affect each other. It fosters doing the movements in sync with the breath.

How to:

  • Move fluidly and with ease
  • Move locally; avoid pushing with the arms and legs
  • Feel the difference between the spine arching or curving.

Summary

We can ease the impact of osteoporosis with body awareness, being humble enough to avoid doing some yoga poses and to adapt others and working diligently to maintain strength and stimulate the bones.

Source

Yoga for Osteoporosis. Saltonstall, E. (2020). YogaU Online.

Yoga for Osteoporosis 12 Do's and Don'ts. Fishman, L., Saltonstall, E.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Liliane Najm (author) from Toronto, Canada on August 20, 2020:

Good luck in getting your sister-in-law to start practising yoga. It’d be better for her to contact a yoga teacher who specializes in that. Let her contact me if she has any questions; I’ll be glad to answer her query.

RoadMonkey on August 20, 2020:

I really must take up yoga, not for osteoporosis, because I don't think I have it (thankfully) but for flexibility. I am getting stiff these days and think taking up yoga might help. Interesting hub. I wish I could get my sister in law (who has osteoporosis) to take some kind of exercise like this as I think it would not only benefit her body (and bones) but also her mind.

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