05 Oct Is Yoga Enough to Build Your Bones?
Recently, a popular exercise coach declared that “yoga is not enough” when it comes to building bone.
I wanted to take a moment to give you an alternate perspective.
On the one hand, I agree with her because the truth is there is not one single thing that will make the difference in our bone health – not just yoga, not just weight training, not just eating healthily, not just supplementing, not just bone drugs, not just addressing underlying causes, etc..
It takes a unique combination of all those things to address each of our unique bone circumstances.
But that’s not exactly what she was getting at. Her bold and unsubstantiated statement is something that I hear from many exercise leaders. They refer to studies of resistance training and bone health and say that yoga does not provide what weight training does. It is a misleading, if not outright false, interpretation of the exercise studies to declare that “yoga is not enough” (compared to weight training) when the fact is that comparing yoga to weight training for bone health has never been studied. These statements are extrapolating, hypothesizing, and narrowly defining “yoga” as physical poses, while majorly discounting the value of the other benefits of yoga for our bone health.
Studying yoga scientifically is tricky because “yoga” is a broad spectrum of many different styles and practices. The one study by Dr. Fishman that was specifically looking at practicing Iyengar-style yoga poses vs. Osteoporosis is often dismissed because it was not a randomized controlled study.
I think it would be really interesting to try to design a study that did compare weight training to specific yoga practices for bone health but in the meantime we can consider the fact that yoga has been studied and found to be effective in helping many other health conditions like stress, anxiety, auto-immune conditions treated by steroids, alcoholism, depression, high blood pressure, and others that contribute to some of the root causes to osteoporosis, or potentially to falls.
Building stronger bones begins by stopping the loss of bone.
You will never hear me say that yoga is THE answer, but I will say that a yoga practice is uniquely beneficial to our bones as a significant contributor to an effective, holistic, bone health game plan (with or without bone medications.)
A yoga practice can indeed be designed to be a weight-bearing exercise that stimulates bone building (specific asanas/postures are more weight bearing than others – and there are a broad array of poses that bear our body weight through all our limbs.)
A yoga practice also greatly reduces our fracture risk by increasing strength, flexibility, proprioception, interoception, mindfulness, balance, range of motion, and a confident gait. This is truly invaluable. We can have osteoporosis without much consequence until we fracture, which are often caused by falls. These benefits of yoga help keep us from falling.
AND, most importantly, yoga – working with the breath and mindset – brings our body back to a balanced state. With a balanced nervous system our body thrives. With a calmer mind, we can tune into our own circumstances and make better choices in our diet and lifestyle to support keeping it in balance. A consistent yoga practice can help the body integrate all the tools at hand, heal itself and regain equilibrium.
I think the message that is missed when we think of yoga as just another form of exercise is that the power of a yoga practice is not only “what” we are doing with our physical body (which is what most asana-based exercise teachers and physical therapists tend to emphasize), but also “how” – i.e., how we are using our breath, how we are feeling in our body with the postures, how we are focusing our mind.
I teach and practice and study yoga from the perspective that it is a holistic, therapeutic practice. And I talk and write from this standpoint. Here are some links to a few of my other blogs that bring more context to the conversations on yoga and bone health: much of the controversy is about semantics; and not understanding how deeply important the breath is to an effective yoga practice; and that yoga is not just a physical exercise.
From my perspective, bringing hand weights into an asana practice isn’t really necessary as the exercise coach suggests it is, but if that’s fun and you like it, by all means.
My issue with statements like “yoga is not enough” is that it confuses and exasperates folks looking to take part in bone-healthy exercise. I know we all have limited time to dedicate to an exercise program and we are looking for something that is safe and gives us the most bang for our buck, so to speak.
I believe that the “best” form of exercise for your health, including bone health, is one that you will actually do, consistently and often.
A yoga practice can check all the boxes – and then some.
If you want to learn more, like:
- The Why: why yoga is uniquely beneficial for the health of our bones
- The What: what is yoga and how to setup to do it at home
- The How: how to practice safely so you can maximize those benefits
Try my free course: Getting Started with Yoga for Your Vital Bones.
And join me for my weekly classes to hone in on the mechanics of the poses and refine the nuances over time.
Rosemary StocksPosted at 11:39h, 06 October
Thank you for highlighting the holistic aspect of bone building and reminding me that the best form of exercise is one I enjoy and therefore I’m likely to practice consistently and more often.
Mary Beth RayPosted at 14:00h, 06 October
You’re welcome Rosie.