The Ultimate Guide to Yoga for Osteoporosis (+ 3 Free

Table of Contents

Why Yoga is the Ideal Exercise for Older Adults | Dr. Fishman’s Research on Yoga and Osteoporosis | Before You Start: Yoga Foundations | The Fishman Method: 12 Yoga Poses for Stronger Bones (With Videos!) | 12 Yoga Poses: Free Printable PDF | Yoga for Osteoporosis Takeaways

If you’ve broken a bone or you have low bone density, you may not think yoga is for you… well, think again! 

Yoga does three things to your body no other exercise does — and that makes it the perfect exercise for low bone density. (More on this in a moment!) 

In fact, leading yoga for osteoporosis expert, Dr. Loren Fishman, has spent years perfecting a method to safely improve bone health through yoga. It’s a method he’s put to the test in two exciting clinical studies. Both of which showed that you can get great results by practicing 12 simple yoga poses a day… 

And now, you can try these 12 yoga poses from the comfort of your own home! Yes, I’ve put together three new videos demonstrating all 12 poses. Each video showcases a different variation of the pose, so folks of all physical ability can benefit.

But first, let’s take a look at how yoga can help you stay strong, flexible, and pain-free…

To skip right to the yoga videos, click here!

Why Yoga is the Ideal Form of Exercise for Older Adults

When you apply force to bones, it stimulates them to grow stronger — a premise known as Wolff’s law. 

Wolff’s law states that, “bone is formed and strengthens along lines of mechanical stress.” It also describes how the greater the forces applied to a bone, the greater the bone-building at the point of stress. (Bear these two points in mind, as we delve into the unique benefits of yoga.) 

So it’s clear why experts recommend high-impact, weight-bearing exercise to stave off bone loss. Simple enough, right? Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that. You need to consider your joints, and the length of time you’re activating your muscles for too… 

I recently had the pleasure of discussing this topic with Dr. Fishman himself when I traveled to Portland for his Yoga vs. Osteoporosis training! Click on the video below to hear his take on the benefits of yoga for your joints, and how long to hold a yoga pose for:

So high-impact exercise can do more harm than good by aggravating your joints and causing inflammation. But yoga provides a solution.

According to Dr. Fishman, yoga’s gentle, low-impact movements are ideal for those with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. These movements help distribute synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints and keeps them moving smoothly. (Synovial fluid is a thick liquid found in all your joints.) 

And in terms of your bone health, there are three main reasons yoga is an excellent choice… (Yes, the length of time you hold poses for is one!)

  • Yoga may be a slow and often stationary practice, but don’t be deceived by appearances. In yoga, your body is working incredibly hard. In fact, if practiced correctly, yoga can help keep your bones strong and healthy. 

    Here’s how: 

    1. Yoga puts unusual force on bones, which other exercises don’t.

      “By unusual, I mean two things:,” says Dr. Fishman.

      First, yoga doesn’t just put force on one part of your body. If you play tennis, your racket arm may be especially strong. If you jog, your legs gain the most benefit. But the different positions in yoga accomplish the impressive task of engaging muscles and bones throughout your entire body. 

      Second, yoga stresses bones at practically every angle. Yoga positions, or asanas, oppose one group of muscles against another and stimulate muscle-to-bone attachments. These forces signal mechanosensor cells (cells that respond to changes in mechanical force) in your body called osteocytes. Then, your osteocytes tell your osteoblasts (the specialized cells that build bone) it’s time to get to work!

    2. In yoga, you hold poses for an extended period of time.

      As mentioned in the video above, the length of time you hold yoga poses for is key. Often, yoga poses are held for several seconds. This isn’t something you do in many other forms of exercise…

      And research shows that levels of bone-building markers increase in as little as 12 seconds of subjecting bone to stress! So yoga stimulates bone-building due to the length of time you spend holding poses — which places your bones and muscles under continual stress.

    3. Practicing yoga causes your body to release a powerful anti-inflammatory.

      “Exercise causes your body to release something called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha (PGC-1a),” says Dr. Fishman. “That’s a mouthful, I know!”

      Simply put, PGC-1a is a protein that helps your body benefit from exercise. Most notably for those with osteoporosis, PGC-1α is a powerful anti-inflammatory. (Remember, chronic, low-grade inflammation causes bone loss!) 

      Now, high-impact exercises release PGC-1a just like yoga. But as we’ve seen, high-impact exercise can aggravate your joints and cause inflammation. With yoga, you get all the anti-inflammatory benefits of PGC-1a — without also causing inflammation. It’s basically a win, win for your bones. 

  • We’ve seen how yoga safely stresses bones without impact, and how the practice supports your bone health! But there are many other benefits that make yoga uniquely well-suited for those with low bone density… 

    Yoga can help improve posture, balance, coordination, strength, and mobility — all key benefits for preventing a fall.  

    It also promotes a sense of peace and well-being. And as you may know, chronic stress can lead to bone loss. So by relieving stress, yoga indirectly benefits your bone health! 

    Finally, yoga is highly accessible. It’s easy to practice from the comfort of your home, and you need very little equipment to do it. 

    Have I convinced you yet? Perhaps, you’d like to see some concrete evidence of these benefits? Not to worry, next up Dr. Fishman will tell you about his research himself!

Dr. Fishman’s Research on Yoga and Osteoporosis

For years, Dr. Loren Fishman has been fascinated by yoga’s potential to improve bone health… 

So in 2005, he decided to test his theory by running a pilot study. (A pilot study is a small-scale study to see whether a theory has merit.) And that pilot study led to a large-scale study published in 2016. 

I asked Dr. Fishman about his studies when we met in Portland. Click on the studies below to see his explanation of each:

Dr. Loren Fishman is an Assistant Clinical Professor at Columbia University, and the Medical Director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City. Dr. Fishman pioneered the use of yoga in medicine and has written several books on the topic, including Yoga for Osteoporosis and Yoga for Osteoarthritis.

  • “My pilot study involved 11 subjects and seven controls with either osteopenia or osteoporosis. These subjects practiced 12 yoga poses daily for two years. At the end of the study, the subjects who practiced yoga had better bone mineral density (BMD) in the spine and hips compared to the controls.

    Of course, I couldn’t draw a general conclusion from this small pilot study. But the results were encouraging. So I decided to conduct a much larger study next.”

  • “My next study involved 227 active participants. These participants completed a health history questionnaire and shared the results of a recent DEXA scan. All participants were sent a DVD of the 12 yoga poses from the pilot study along with descriptions of each pose.

    These participants were on average 68 years old and 83% of them had either osteopenia or osteoporosis. 

    After two years of practicing the 12 poses consistently, participants showed promising results. They reported bone density gains in the spine, hips, and femur.

    Curious about the 12 yoga poses performed in these studies? You’re in luck. AlgaeCal put together videos demonstrating all 12 poses! Click here to check them out now.

    What’s more, none of the 227 study participants experienced a fracture or injury related to the practice of yoga. That’s with more than 90,000 hours of yoga practiced largely by people with osteopenia or osteoporosis. So overall, the results of this study support the safety and efficacy of the Fishman Method for those with low bone density.”

  • “Despite the promising results from these studies, yoga hasn’t gained much traction in the medical community. 

    So, I’m conducting another, more robust study to show that properly chosen yoga poses can support strong bones. If you’re interested in participating, click on the following link and scroll down to “New Yoga for Osteoporosis: A Dose Response Study” for more details!”

Before You Start: Yoga Foundations

If you’re new to yoga, it’s a good idea to check in with your medical professional before getting started to make sure it’s suitable for you. I also recommend following along with a qualified instructor to start. That way, you can learn the basics of a safe practice.

For example, I studied how to teach yoga for osteoporosis with Dr. Fishman. (More on this in a moment!) So my videos are a good place to start.

But to give you a quick introduction, here are the basic principles of yoga:

    • The Breath. Pay special attention to your breath. Breathing smoothly and naturally enhances yoga poses. Holding your breath can cause fatigue and block awareness of your body. In general, inhale when lifting up or arching your back and exhale when settling into a pose or folding forward.
    • The Foundation. Your foundation is the part of your body bearing weight. This is often your feet, hands, or pelvis. The key is to spread your foundation, so that you’re well supported. With your feet, try and use all four corners of each foot in a balanced way. Stretch your toes instead of contracting them. The same concept applies to your hands. 
    • The Curve of the Spine. Your spine has a natural curve that makes it strong. The goal when aligning your spine is to achieve a balance of strength and flexibility. Always bend from as low down in the spine as possible. Tilt your pelvis from the hips, not the waist. This will minimize any rounding of the spine and keep your back safe. 
    • The Balance of Opposites. If you’re new to yoga, you may wonder why poses include actions that are opposite. For example, you may be instructed to press down through your feet and reach up through your arms. This is to create a stable pressure on your bones, which makes poses safer and more effective. 
    • The Knees. In most poses, you’ll want to align your kneecaps to face the same direction as the second toe of the same leg. This can be challenging for some. If that’s the case for you, work toward it gradually. Maintaining this alignment will help protect your knees from dangerous torque. 
    • The Stance. For many poses, your feet will be wide apart. How wide depends on your height, your proportions, and your flexibility. If your stance is too wide, you might feel unstable. Always adjust your stance depending on what feels right for you. Your stance should allow for both freedom of movement and stability.
    • The Full-Body.Every pose will draw your focus to certain areas of your body. While standing, you may feel your legs more. While sitting, you may focus on your spine. This is natural. But try and open your awareness to your whole body in every pose. Maximize your practice by engaging your entire body, rather than focusing on just one area.
  • You don’t need much equipment to practice yoga. But there are a couple props I reference in the yoga poses to follow. The good news is, you can easily swap in common household items for most of these props!

    Here’s a table outlining basic yoga equipment, and how to make do without:

    Equipment Alternatives
    Yoga mat A towel, large woven blanket, or carpet that won’t slip
    Yoga block A stack of books wrapped in a towel, one thick book, or a shoebox filled with towels to make it solid
    Yoga strap A regular belt, robe tie, men’s tie, or piece of rope
    Chair A folding chair, dining room chair, or non-swivel desk chair would work best
    Wall If you don’t have an unobstructed wall to use, you may need to clear some space for your practice, or set up in a space like a garage

The Fishman Method: 12 Yoga Poses for Stronger Bones

From years of research and experience in the field, Dr. Fishman developed a method for improving bone health through yoga. 

Recently, I had the pleasure of learning this method directly from Dr. Fishman! I completed his Yoga vs. Osteoporosis training this past November. I’m also a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) and one of AlgaeCal’s Community Managers. All this to say, I’m well-versed in the intricacies of bone health and the importance of a safe practice. 

So today, I’ll be demonstrating 12 yoga poses for osteoporosis. These are the same poses practiced in both Dr. Fishman’s studies — where participants improved their bone health.

Watch the full yoga regimen by clicking on the video below! You’ll see there are three videos with different variations of the poses:

1: “Osteoporosis Variation” – This class provides the easiest variation of the poses. It’s the orange thumbnail below.

2. “Osteopenia Variation” – This class provides intermediate variations of the poses. It’s the dark green thumbnail below.

3. “Prevention Variation” – This class provides the more challenging variations of the poses. It’s the light green thumbnail below.

You can click on the thumbnail of each video to skip between them. (Note you’ll also find detailed written instructions for each pose next!)

12 Yoga Poses: Step-by-Step Instructions and Tips

Now, there are three variations for most of these yoga poses: Osteoporosis, osteopenia, and prevention. Prevention is the regular version of the pose, commonly performed by those with normal bone density. But don’t take these labels as law!  

In other words, just because you have osteoporosis, doesn’t mean you should do the osteoporosis version, and so on. I say this because the more challenging the pose, the more you stand to gain from it. So if you can do the osteopenia version, or even, the prevention version, go for it! 

That said, it may be a good idea to work your way up depending on your skill level. You may also need to experiment a little to discover what’s right for you. Just remember to start slow, listen to your body, and give each pose your best effort.

To see the different variations for each pose, simply click on the black arrows!

12 Yoga Poses for Osteoporosis: Free Printable PDF 

I hope you benefit greatly from these 12 yoga poses. Remember, practicing them can help you improve your bone health in just 12 minutes a day! 

But I know this is a lot of information to take in. So to make it easy for you to adopt this regimen, we put together a free printable PDF of all 12 poses. That way, you can have a hard copy to study, mark up, and follow along.

Simply, click on the button below, input your name and email, and your PDF will be on its way promptly!

Yoga for Osteoporosis Takeaways

For anyone with low bone density, I can’t recommend yoga enough. 

If you’ve never tried it before, don’t be frightened by all the impressive feats of flexibility pictured in the media… 

The 12 poses in Dr. Fishman’s regimen are accessible for almost everybody. Practice them every day, and not only will you cultivate peace, strength, and balance, you’ll also be doing a wonderful favor for your bones. 

If you’re looking for some variety, you may enjoy my yoga videos from the AlgaeCal YouTube page too! Check them out at the following links: 

>> Yoga for Osteoporosis

>> Chair Yoga for Osteoporosis 

Dr. Fishman also offers weekly online classes on his website here! Simply, click on that link and scroll down to recorded web events. Then, click on the meeting recording and enter the access password.

I hope this has been helpful, and I wish you all the best in your practice. Please, don’t hesitate to ask questions or share your thoughts on these yoga poses in the comments below!

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