If yoga makes you think of stretching and improving your flexibility, think again. The ancient practice of yoga actually has something in common with walking, running, dancing and weight training—all are weight-bearing exercises. That’s right—many yoga poses require you to hold your body weight, which puts pressure on your bones, stimulating new bone to form. So, if you need to do weight-bearing exercises to protect your bones, consider yoga—especially if you don’t have access to weights or want a form of exercise that’s easier on your joints than an activity like running. Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine and author of Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain (New Harbinger), shares some of the yoga positions that can improve bone health…
One of the benefits of yoga for bone health: Many yoga positions require that you support your body weight with your legs and/or arms. In some positions, such as downward dog or plank, both your arms and legs support your body weight. These postures provide a boost to bones in both the upper and lower body, a claim that can’t be made by activities such as running or walking, which just involve the lower body. A 2009 study by researchers at University of California at Los Angeles found that yoga reduced the curvature of the spine in adults with hyperkyphosis (also known as “dowager’s hump), a condition that often is caused by bone loss. Another 2009 study by researchers based in Bangkok found that postmenopausal women who practiced yoga had significantly lower levels of bone degradation than those who didn’t practice yoga.
Here are a few simple yoga poses that help to build bones. For best results, do each pose three times a week. (For details on how long to hold each pose, see below.)
Bone-building yoga poses…
What it does: Strengthens the bones of the legs and hips.
How to do it: Stand with feet hip-distance apart. Extend your arms forward at shoulder height. (To make the move more difficult, you can put your arms over your head with your upper arms parallel to your ears.) Bend your knees, bow forward at the hips, stick your bottom out and lower it down as if you were going to sit in an invisible chair. Make sure that your back is straight, not rounded, and that your knees are not in front of your toes. Hold the position for two or three slow, deep breaths, then return to standing. Repeat five times, working your way up to 10 times.
What it does: Strengthens bones in the arms, shoulders and thighs.
How to do it: Come onto all fours—with your knees directly under your hips and your wrists directly under your shoulders. Moving slowly, extend the left leg out behind you and raise it to hip height, toes toward the floor. Next, extend your right arm forward and raise it to shoulder height. Hold for one full, easy breath. Then return to the starting position and switch sides. Repeat three times on each side, working up to holding the pose each time for three breaths.
What it does: Strengthens bones of the lower body.
How to do it: Step your feet about three to four feet apart. Extend your arms out to both sides and parallel to the floor, palms facing down. Turn your left foot 90 degrees to the left and angle the toes of your right foot toward the left. Bend your left knee (make sure that your left knee is over your left ankle) and align the arch of your right foot with the heel of your left foot. Straighten your right leg, pressing the outer heel into the floor. Gaze out over the left fingertips. Hold for three to five breaths, then switch sides and repeat.
What it does: Strengthens bones in the arms, shoulders and legs.
How to do it: Come onto all fours with your palms flat against the floor under your shoulders, fingers spread wide. Extend your right leg out behind you, toes tucked under. Next, extend your left leg out behind you, toes tucked under, so that your body forms a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Stay here, balanced on your hands and toes, for three full breaths. If you can’t breathe easily with your legs straight, bring your knees to the floor and perform the pose with your knees on the floor. This version of the pose is easier to do but still strengthens the arm bones.
When starting any new physical activity, including yoga, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor to ensure that it is safe for you. To learn the postures accurately, you can take a class with a registered teacher. The Yoga Alliance, a national yoga education organization, which maintains a national registry of teachers who have completed at least 200 hours of yoga teacher training, can help you find a teacher in your area.