Osteoperosis is a bone density disease. Osteoperosis leads to abnormally porous bones that are compressible like a sponge. This disorder affects the skeleton, causing the bones to weaken and suffer from frequent fractures (small breaks). Osteopenia is the name of the condition that causes slightly less density in the bone which makes someone prone to Osteoperosis. Although x-rays can reveal the presence of osteoperosis, by the time they are usually taken, at least 30% of the bone has already been lost. Treatments of this disease usually come in the form of hormone therapy and vitamin D and calcium supplements, but yoga is a wonderful preventative measure to take in order to have strong bones with the proper density.
Normal bone is composed of protein, collagen and calcium. These give bones their strength and create bone density. All three of these compounds are regulated hormonally, and through the prana or life force coursing through the body. In yogic terms, our bodies are just vibrating energy, so any ailment is due to problems with energetic flow. This ancient practice can reduce tension, strengthen and stretch the muscles, tendons and connective tissues, balance and rejuvenate the circulation, and since many asana (poses) in yoga are weight bearing, they stimulate bone building by creating osteoblasts that create new bone. Further, yoga can promote the reduction of toxins that accumulate in the body by helping to eliminate them more expeditiously through pranayama (breathing exercises) and asana, and eventually through meditation. Finally, yoga helps to promote balance and coordination with its many balancing asana. This helps those who suffer from Osteoperosis to avoid falls that are more likely to cause fracture than in someone not suffering from the disease.
The spine, hips, ribs, and wrists are common areas of bone fractures from osteoporosis although osteoporosis-related fractures can occur in almost any skeletal bone, and these areas of the body are stretched and aligned in ways that put pressure on the bones, causing them to become stronger. Some specific asana one can practice to help build osteoblasts are the standing poses, such as chair, warrior one, two and three, tree, and tadasana. To avoid further complication; however, persons with Osteoperosis should abstain from practicing forward bending or twisting asana. Since the body is fragile, these asana can cause spontaneous spinal fractures in areas of low bone density. Once the bone density has been increased, then these postures can gradually be added back to one’s practice.
To practice chair pose (Utkatasana) begin in Mountain pose (Tadasana). Stretch your arms over your head, keeping the shoulders away from the ears, and the arms as straight as possible. Lengthen the spine, and keep the lower ribs in neutral, do not press them forward. Breathe in, and on the exhale, sit back as if you are about to sit in a chair, bending the upper body forward at a 45 degree angle. Be sure that the back is straight. You will wan tot use the erectus spinae muscles on either side of the spine, the lower abdominals, the rectus abdominus and the large muscle of the legs to maintain the posture. Let the weight of the upper body sink into the pelvic floor. Relax the calves, and allow the weight from the hips to sink into the floor. You can imagine your feet are actually sinking into mud, and this will keep the energy body active in the pose. To the same effect, send your energy all the way out through your finger-tips, and beyond. If the shoulders become too tight and strained, drop the hands to the heart in the heart seal, or prayer position (Anahata mudra). The chest should be slightly ahead of the belly. The breath should not be held, but deep and steady. Hold only as long as the body allows, especially for beginning students and those with advanced osteoperosis. You can build up the duration of the pose as your leg muscles become stronger. Those with lower back problems will need to find an alternate version of this posture to practice, as it is counterindicated in this case.
Any of the warrior poses are wonderful for building bone density as well, because they use the larger muscles of the legs to bear the weight of the body. Additionally, when done correctly, the legs are grounded well into the floor and ‘spread the mat’ making use of the leverage and traction of the feet to intensify the strength of the legs. To practice warrior one (Virabhadra’s Pose), begin by standing in Tadasana. As you exhale, step your feet 31/2 to 4 feet apart. You should have a relatively wide stance to help with balance. Raise your arms perpendicular to the floor (and parallel to each other), and reach actively through the little-finger sides of the hands toward the ceiling. Firm your scapulas (shoulder blades) against your back and draw them down toward the coccyx (the tail bone). Next, turn your left foot in 45 to 60 degrees to the right and your right foot out 90 degrees to the right. Your toe should be slightly ahead of the heel. Align the right heel with the left heel. Exhale and rotate your torso to the right, squaring the front of your pelvis as much as possible with the front edge of your mat. As you square your hips forward, press the head of the left femur back to ground the heel. Lengthen your coccyx toward the floor, and arch your upper torso back slightly. More advanced students can add a slight backbend. Beginner students should be sure to drop their hands to prayer position of the upper body gets too tense. Otherwise, the arms reach overhead. With your left heel firmly anchored to the floor, exhale and bend your right knee over the right ankle so the shin is perpendicular to the floor. They should form a 90 degree angle. More flexible students should align their right thigh parallel to the floor. This will cause you to drop deeper into the lunge, and feel a more pronounced stretch in the front hip flexor and lower back as it arches to support the legs. Warrior II and III can be added once this first posture can be practiced with stability and ease for at least one minute on each side.
To round out your practice, do some gentle stretches like cat/cow, and child’s pose (Balasana). You can also practice legs up the wall (Viparita Karani) to relax the spine into the floor, with support. End with some gentle breathing, and a focused meditation on the strength and resilience of the bone cells to help create the atmosphere of supportive healing in the body. Osteoperosis doesn’t have to be an insufferable disease that you just live with. You can heal your body through yoga.