11 Jun Can Yoga Reverse Osteoporosis?
What does “reversing” osteoporosis even mean?
I think we have to be careful about using the word “reverse” when it comes to osteoporosis. Some folks interpret that to mean they would gain back all the bone they lost and have a skeleton that is just as dense and strong as a 30 year old. Unfortunately, this is really not going to happen. Biologically it just can’t as we move on down the road of aging.
But as we attend to our own case variables and continue down that road, we can most definitely slow that cascade of bone loss down, even build some back, and not fracture!
With that in mind, you know that I live and breathe yoga but I would never tell you that yoga will “reverse” your osteoporosis – especially not all on its own.
I will say – loudly and with emphasis – that no matter our treatment path (with or without prescription drugs), yoga can be a significant contributor to an effective, holistic bone health game plan.
I bring this up because the results of Dr. Fishman’s studies on yoga for osteoporosis are often exagerated – stating that they prove yoga will “reverse” osteoporosis. And some claim this puts yoga head to head with bone drugs.
This is misleading based on the semantics I just pointed out on the word “reverse” and also because osteoporosis is a very complex condition that, for some, bone drugs will be necessary. Yoga is amazing but it can’t solve all bone loss problems.
Dr. Fishman’s 10-year study concludes that “yoga can reverse bone loss that has reached the stages of osteopenia and osteoporosis.” To be clear, it doesn’t say they reversed osteoporosis. It shows there was some bone gain in the participants and the status of the bones of those who were in the study were in the osteopenia/osteoporosis range to begin with (there was no control of anyone without low bone density.)
Nevertheless, the results of his study were groundbreaking because it changed a common misconception that yoga is just a touchy-feely, relaxing and stretching exercise.
His studies (the pilot and the 10-year) brought to the forefront that yoga can be a “safe and effective” weight bearing exercise, which science does say stimulates bone mineral density (BMD).
(There is a whole other semantic argument to be had on whether an increase in BMD means the bones are “stronger,” which is not always the case.)
When I took Dr. Fishman’s training a few years ago, I already had over 25 years experience studying yoga so I know yoga is so much more beneficial to our bones than just another form of weight-bearing exercise.
I tend to emphasize the breadth and depth of those benefits, which impact our fracture risk, mobility, and quality of life. I’ll write another blog about those soon, but if you take any of my classes I share a lot about them.
I tell you all this because you can find many videos online about how to do Dr. Fishman’s 12 poses (in fact I have one too). But I want to emphasize that there is nothing particularly magical about the 12 poses themselves. The value to our bones comes in how they are done (e.g., attention to alignment and duration of holding them for about 30 seconds – i.e. focus and presence – i.e. – yoga!) So we can extrapolate beyond the 12 poses to practice other poses with similar intention (as Dr. Fishman, himself, is doing now in his own classes.)
The beauty of the 12 poses is that they do indeed provide us with a nice, solid template for a practice for our bones – especially if we can work on doing it daily!
A little every day is super beneficial!
The study headline says it takes 12 minutes to do these 12 poses, so how do you get to such a succinct practice?
You practice. 🙂
And I feel there is even more value to get from learning to practice yoga not just putting ourselves into the postures. This is what I offer in my classes.
Try my 12+ Poses for Bone Health: Step by Step course.
I take you through the 12 poses studied by Dr. Fishman so you can learn how to do them well for your own body and practice yoga.