I remember getting the call from my mom a few years ago; at age 58, she had been diagnosed with osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis. “And your aunt has it too … you better watch out,” she warned. There are many factors that contribute to the weakening of our bones as we age: poor nutrition, genetics, smoking and lack of exercise, to name a few. But a new study tells us that a yoga practice can not only help prevent these crippling conditions — it actually builds the bones back up! Here’s how to use the 72-second rule plus photo and video how-to’s for two yoga moves to help you build bone density.
In early March, I attended a Yoga Therapy conference in Los Angeles, www.sytar.org. Dr. Loren Fishman and his study partner Ellen Saltonsall presented the most compelling information about this killer disease. They emphasized that bones need STRESS (no, 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.” They 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 72 Second Rule
Fishman then said that there is a magic number to initiate this process of new bone growth. 72 seconds. Yes, you must hold your pose for 1 minute and 12 seconds to reap the benefits. This should be approached gradually, as building up the strength to maintain a pose for 72 seconds may take months — but it will be well worth it. Plus, you will be rewarded with less stress (the anxiety-producing kind) and improved breathing, sleep and coordination. You have nothing to lose … and you can gain bone density!
Before she began studying Yoga Tune Up® with me at Equinox in Santa Monica, 57-year-old Judy came to me with doctors’ orders to begin practicing yoga because of her newly diagnosed condition: osteopoenia. In a year, she made significant changes in her posture and health. Although Judy’s progress came to a screeching halt in February when she suffered a terrible skiing accident and fractured her pelvis and collar bone, her improved bone condition has helped her heal quickly from what could have been tragic.
“My recovery from the multiple pelvic fractures has been remarkable,” Judy says. “I attribute this to my ‘core strength’ that has improved a lot from taking your classes. I was able to get in and out of bed on my own four days after I fell, and was able to drive after two weeks. Each day I had so much more strength and mobility than the day before, and I was dancing after four weeks! I also think that I am much more aware of my body and how to isolate and work different parts of it which has helped in my physical therapy.”
Judy’s progress has been off the charts in part because she has “banked” a lot of new bone in her body over the course of the past year, priming her tissue to quickly and easily repair the damage caused by the accident. In this picture, she is performing a supported version of “Leg Stretch #2″ at the wall, where she can push her strong legs into the wall for 72 seconds without placing too much undo stress on other parts of her body. Voila!
Hey Mom, this Stretch Is for You! Safe Spinal Therapy
Try this gentle seated side bend from my new Yoga for Weight Loss DVD. It has all of the components of a healthy stretch for the spine. This will lubricate your vertebrae and tone the finer muscles of your spine, as well as open the ribs and abdominal obliques. This is a perfect stretch to begin a safe therapeutic exercise practice that can help you keep your bones healthy for a lifetime, and it can also be included as one alternative therapy for arthritis sufferers.
When beginning any type of physical practice, please always consult your personal physician. For more info on Dr. Loren Fishman see Sciatica.org. And for superior care of any related injuries or conditions that need some extra attention, please visit my favorite Physical Therapists: in Los Angeles, Sean Hampton of ADI Rehab, and in NYC, Shmuel Tatz, creator of Bodytuning.