Sunday, 26 June 2016

Yoga for seniors- Preventing osteoporosis

Around 3 million people in the UK are affected by osteoporosis.  When I was young I had a lactose intolerance at a time when it was poorly understood and there were no 'alternative' milks. In my 30s a chickpox virus damaged my right lung and repeated bouts of pneumonia followed making my weight plummet to 5 stone 8 pounds, my periods stop and making inhaled steroids non-negotiable.  With these risk factors I asked the doctor if I might have a DEXA scan and sure enough the results showed osteoporosis.  Medications for osteoporosis are harsh and I couldn't cope with them so I asked my doctor to give me a year to try and reduce the deterioration of my bones.  My treatment involves yoga, acupuncture and a power walk of 20 minutes five times a week with weights strapped to my ankles.  I am delighted (this is an understatement, it was all I could do to stop myself dancing when the results came!) to report that my bone density has increased a little.  I am not 'out of the woods' but I have found the path that leads out.

Remember bones are made up of living cells.  They are in a constant state of being built up and breaking down. Unfortunately as we get older the breaking down process tends  to be greater that the building up.  This is especially true after menopause for women and as testosterone levels fall in men.  This is why it is important to take steps to build bone up as we get older, such as exercising and eating a bone supporting diet.  

Yoga can help with osteoporosis in several ways:-

  • Yoga includes weight bearing exercise which helps increase bone density.  Often this involves using your own body weight.  For instance in arm balances such as Side Plank, and in standing poses and balances such as Warrior 1, 2 and 3, Half Moon Balance, Tree Pose etc. 
  • Yoga twists, forward bends and squats help with digestion thereby optimising the absorption of nutrients that help support bone health.  Please note if you already have osteoporosis or osteopenia deep twists and forward bending from the waist are not recommended.
  • Yoga calms the mind reducing stress which also has a positive effect on digestion and the absorption of nutrients to support bone health
  • Yoga stretches cause muscle to pull on bone which encourages increase in bone density
  • Yoga flows and twists purify the body enhancing bone health (deep twists are not recommended however if you already have osteoporosis)
  • Yoga helps maintain strength and flexibility in the hips, spine and wrists where most fractures due to osteoporosis occur.

Try the following sequence that focuses on building arm and hip strength (many fractures occur in the wrist and hip), core strength, spinal strength and flexibility and balance to prevent those age related slips and falls.

Before you start spend a few minutes watching your breath in Easy Pose.

Side leg lift (strengthens the core and the muscles around the hip joint)- lie on your right side with your legs together, supporting yourself on your lower elbow and fingertips of your left hand.  Breathe in and lift your left leg. Keep in the lifted position as you take a few steady breaths.   Breathe out to lower then repeat second side.

Cat/Cow (strengthens the wrists and increases spinal flexibility. Also brings nutrients to the spine)-  come onto all fours, breathe in lift your head and chest, breathe out tuck your chin, arch your back and tuck your tail bone under.

Balancing Cat (improves balance, strengthens the wrists and hip muscles)- come back to all fours, breathe in and extend your right arm and left leg. Hold for a few breaths keeping the back of the neck long, gaze to the mat. Breathe out to lower to an all fours position. Repeat with the left arm and right leg.

Side Plank Variation (strengthens the wrists, opens up the chest reducing stress) - from all fours take your left foot to the left and extend your right leg so that your right foot is in line with your left knee as you breathe in and raise your right arm. Hold for a few breaths then breathe out to return to all fours. Repeat second side.  

Plank (strengthens the wrists and core)- from all fours stretch your right leg back and press away through your heel.  Drop your right hip a little then bring your left leg level with the right pressing back through both heels. If this is too intense drop your knees to the mat.  Hold for a few breaths then if you have not already breathe in drop your knees to the mat and come to lying on your tummy.  

Cobra (opens the chest, reducing stress and brings nutrients to the spine) - take your hands to armpit chest area, elbows tucked and shoulders away from your ears.  Inch your feet back to create space in your spine.  Breathe in and come up. Press lightly into your hands so that you are using your back muscles in the main to lift.  

Swan - come towards the back of the mat and have your big toes touching, knees wide.  Walk your hands forward and bring your forehead to the mat or to a block, keeping your elbows lifted.  When you are ready come back to all fours as you breathe in then as you breathe out lift your hips into Downward Facing Dog.  Hold for a few breaths then walk your feet forwards towards your hands.  When your shoulders come over your hands, breathe in and roll up slowly to standing.

Fierce Prayer (strengthens the hip and leg muscles)- from standing with your feet hip distance, breathe in lift your arms up, breathe out, bend your knees deeply as if you are sitting back in a chair placed a little too far back.  Hold for a few breaths then breathe in to straighten your legs, breathe out to lower your arms.  

Warrior 1- Warrior 2 (strengthens the hip and leg muscles)- come to the front of your mat and step your left foot back turning the toes of your left foot out.  Level up your hips to the front of your mat.  Breathe in take your arms up, leaving space for the neck, breathe out bend your front knee.  Take 5 breaths then as you breathe out lower your arms to shoulder height, turn to look down the fingers of your right hand.  Hold for 5 breaths then inhale straighten your front knee, breathe out turn your feet forward, bring your hands to your heart.  Step to the top of your mat and repeat second side.  

Tree Pose (improves balance and leg strength)-from standing take your weight into your left leg.  Find a drishti, a gaze point then bring the sole of the right foot to cup the left ankle, to the left shin or reach down and bring the right foot to the left thigh (never place the right foot on the knee).  Press the right foot into the left leg and press back into the right foot with the left leg.  From this stability in the legs, inhale and take the arms up.  Keep the tail bone lengthening down towards the mat.  Hold for several breaths then release on a breath out. Repeat second side. Use a wall or a chair to help with balance if you need to. 

Up Plank (strengthens the arms) - sit with your knees bent, your hands behind your hips fingers pointing back to your hips.  Breathe in, press into your hands and feet and lift your hips.  Look down at your knees , keeping the back of your neck long.  Hold for 3 breaths then breathe out to lower your hips.  For more intensity, sit with your legs outstretched, your hands behind your hips. Breathe in, roll the soles of your feet towards the mat and lift your hips.  Look down your body, keeping the back of your neck long.    Lie back on your mat and hug your knees in. Rock from side to side.  

Savasana (reduces stress) - lie with your feet at hip distance, little toes releasing down to the mat.  Have your arms a little way from your body, palms facing up, fingers relaxed towards the palms.  Have your head and neck in line with your spine and gently close your eyes.  Rest here for several minutes receiving the benefits of your practice then take a few deep breaths, take a stretch or whatever movements you feel you need.  Before you come up,turn onto your right side and rest there for a minute or two before come slowly up.  Please make sure you are fully awake before continuing with your day.

To increase the effectiveness of your yoga practice, I would recommend an alkaline diet.   This means eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, lentils and limiting red meat, saturated fat, processed foods, salt and sugar which enhance bone loss.

  • Make sure your diet is rich in calcium.  Foods rich in calcium include skimmed milk, low fat yogurt, low fat cheese such as cottage cheese, fortified soya milk, fortified cereals, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, Brussel sprouts etc.
  • As well as calcium other minerals are important to help maintain such as magnesium (in beans, soya milk, white fish, whole wheat bread, almonds, walnuts, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds) which regulates calcium metabolism, and boron (in fresh fruits such as apples) which aids calcium absorption
  • Vitamin D is vital to the absorption of calcium.  Try to get some natural daylight each day. The sun on your skin can produce vitamin D. Please see 'Bring on the sun - vitamin D the sunshine vitamin'
  • Include vitamin C rich foods to help with collagen production, a component of the bone matrix.  Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, kiwi fruit and peppers.
  • Avoid fizzy drinks which contain phosphoric acid which accelerates bone loss.  Caffeine in drinks such as coffee also should be avoided as it interferes with calcium absorption as does alcohol.

Please see also 'How Yoga can help Heal- Osteoporosis' on my YouTube channel-
Osteoporosis 1-Part 1-
Osteoporosis 1-Part 2-
Osteoporosis 2-Part 1-
Osteoporosis 2-Part 2-
also How Yoga Boosts Health-Bone strength-

Please note if you suspect you have osteoporosis please see your doctor.

Janet x

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