This is a guest post from the wonderful Rachel over at Fusion Massage & Movement. She’s a punk rock business owner , yoga teacher, writer, massage therapist, all round sprinkler of fairy dust.
She loves cake, cats, pugs and early 90s Seattle. She also has osteoporosis, so who better to advise us on yoga for your bones than this lady?
My name is Rachel, I’m 38 years old and I have osteoporosis.
Now most people who get diagnosed with osteoporosis will be older than me, but one thing we will all have in common is we will have been told by well meaning healthcare professionals to do lots of weight-bearing exercise.
Walking is your best bet.
Research has shown the low impact exercise like brisk walking helps to build bone tissue – more so than higher impact pursuits such as running or aerobics. Too high impact work can be detrimental on osteoporotic bones.
Another great weight-bearing exercise is yoga of course.
But does this mean we should all be doing complicated sequences, deep twists, forward bends and jump-throughs?
No, no, no, no, no. And again no.
The important thing about your yoga practice after diagnosis of osteoporosis is that you do the right things for your body (although I’m sure Nadine would say that doing the right thing for your body was true for every single one of us!!).
Of the four directions in which the spine can move – forward flexion, lateral flexion, rotation and extension – only extension has no contraindications. So please go ahead and do as many backbends as you like (unsupported cobras are particularly good for you)!!
But what of all the other movements? Does this mean I’ll never be able to do a forward bend again?
Well no, not necessarily. Let’s look at each one in turn.
Forward flexion can cause excessive force on the front of the vertebral bodies and weakened bone may not be able to withstand the force. However this does not mean that all forward bends are contraindicated. The important thing to remember is to hinge from the hips and keep the spine nice and straight, lifting the breastbone away from the pubic bone.
- Standing Forward Bends (eg, Uttanasana, Parsvottanasana): hinge forwards to bring the arms on to a chair, wall or blocks to keep the spine straight.
- Downward Facing Dog: you may find that bending the knees will help keep the spine straight. You may need to bend them more than you usually do but I for one would rather have tight hamstrings than a fractured vertebra!
- Seated Forward Bends: on the whole I avoid seated forward bends and don’t teach them in my Yoga for Osteoporosis classes. Most of us have tight hamstrings and do flex the spines as we try to reach for our toes. If you would like to do them hinge forwards and lean onto the seat of a chair.
- Child’s Pose (Balasana) - best avoided, almost impossible to do without thoracic flexion. Try lying on your back hugging your knees into your chest (apanasana) instead, most people prefer it anyway!
Think big side bends like Swaying Palm Tree where you bend the spine over to the side. Lovely eh? Not so lovely for the compressed facet joints of already weakened bone sadly. However, don’t despair there are still lots of side bends you can do without missing Swaying Palm Tree!
- Trikonasana: In our endless attempts to get our hand to our ankle or to the floor in Triangle, we often bend over to the side like a hairpin. The truth is not everybody’s hips are made to allow us to reach the floor with a straight spine. Mine certainly aren’t. But you know it’s OK to just slide the hand down to the bottom of the thigh and keep the spine nice and straight (avoid the rotation of looking up to the top hand with osteoporosis).
- Parsvokonsansa: To keep the spine straight here bring the forearm onto the thigh rather than trying to reach the floor and avoid the additional rotation.
The jury is out on rotation. Of all spinal movements this is the one that puts the most pressure on the facet joints. Some might say you should avoid rotation altogether.
However back in the real world we need to be able to rotate our spine – how else are we going to reverse our cars out of the drive or look behind us when cycling? So some rotation is good, it keeps all those muscles nice and flexible for when you need them. My guideline is to avoid loaded rotation. So this means supine rotations only with the feet on the floor (once you lift the feet you are increasing the load through the facet joints to much – ditto in seated Sage Twists and Half Lord of the Fishes) – all the benefits of rotation, none of the risks.
It’s a lot to take in right? Sleep on it. Let it sink in. And then realise that there is still so much creative fun to be had with this practice. Don’t think of these things as limitations but instead as a plethora of new poses to play with.
Look after your skeleton folks, it’s the only one you’ll get
Nadine’s note: pop over & read Rachel’s Five Tips for Healthy Bones for added info.