Q: I have been going to a yoga class 3x a week for about three months. It's at my gym, and my teacher trained with one of Erich Schiffmann’s students. I used to weight train, for about ten years, but found my motivation ebbing, but loved having muscle definition. I love doing yoga! My body feels so much better, I walk better, my shoulders feel more open, and I have a wonderful sense of peace. My questions are, is yoga enough to maintain my bone mass? (I am small, with slender bones, have osteopenia). Also, are cardio and walking ok? Not strenuous enough? I want to incorporate a daily yoga practice in addition to my classes. I can tell my energy and strength are different now, how to stay healthy now that I'm almost 61?
A: Thanks for your interesting question. I am so excited to hear how the yoga practices are feeling for your body and your life! A balanced yoga asana practice may indeed provide enough stimulation to your bones to stabilize or improve your condition of osteopenia, the precursor state to osteoporosis. We know that yoga asana can increase the density or mass of bones, and we think it also may add the added benefit of changing the structure of the bone to be stronger and more pliable. In addition, as Loren Fishman, MD points out in a recent interview on this topic:
“There are numerous other important ways in which yoga benefits people with osteoporosis, such as improving balance, muscular strength, range of motion and coordination, while lessening anxiety.”
In fact, I recommend that you read this interview on YogaU Yoga for Osteoporosis - An Interview with Loren Fishman, M.D. and Ellen Saltonstall, as it is quite informative.
Cardio workouts and walking are certainly good additions for your overall health, and walking is beneficial for your osteopenia as well. You do need to be mindful of any forward bending in your regular yoga classes, as these are usually contra-indicated for osteopenia, and go easy on any side-bending poses, as they are also a potential problem. We’ll have more on osteopenia from Shari next week, including information about how to modify your yoga practice, so stay tuned!
I love Erich Schiffmann’s style of yoga and have studied with him over the years, but for your condition I would recommend adding in a more alignment-based style of yoga (such as Iyengar or Anusara) with a well-trained, experienced teacher. As you become more familiar with the poses that are likely to benefit your bones, you can start doing some of these each day at home as the foundation for your home practice. Another good resource for your home practice is Dr. Fishman’s book Yoga for Osteoporosis: The Complete Guide. It sounds like with all that, you’ll being doing a lot for your health each week. Please let us know how things go for you!