My favorite yoga students are those who are “aging with gusto,” because most of them truly appreciate what their bodies can still do. Many have overcome serious illnesses or injuries and are happy to be going strong. They know how much of a difference yoga makes in their lives. It is a joy to watch their practices.
Because I was teaching an all-level class, I would try to do some challenging asanas each week to keep the practice interesting for the younger people. I also liked to throw in some core work; a strong core helps all the asanas. My 68-year-old with her thin bones tried every asana, and said “yes” when I asked if they wanted one more round of core-strengthing exercises. She’d told me she knew how important it was to stay strong, and that’s why she gave it her all each week. If she didn’t, her bones would get weaker and she wouldn’t be able to run around with her grandchildren.
For most people, bone mineral density is highest when they turn 30. From then on, existing bone cells are reabsorbed by the body faster than new bone cells are made, and the bones lose mass. Exercise helps to build bone mass, so people who were active in their youths will have a higher bone density when they hit the 30 year mark, and will therefore have more to spare as they age. For those of us who weren’t high school jocks, we can still stimulate bone growth with exercise to prevent or slow osteopenia. Exercises which cause muscle to pull on bone, such as walking, running, cycling and yoga, help the bones to retain, or even rebuild, bone mass.
Many of yoga’s asanas are weight bearing and oppose one muscle group against another, which can help reinforce the bones. Yoga also offers some additional benefits as we age. Yoga promotes balance and coordination, which helps prevent the falls which can lead to broken bones. The deep, relaxed breathing reduces tension and toxicity, slowing the overall aging process. Since yoga is accessible to everyone, regardless of current fitness level, it’s never to late to start.
If you are suffering from osteopenia or osteoporosis, it is important to tell your yoga teacher. Brittle bones can break if forced into very deep twists or folds. Your teacher can help you adjust poses to avoid injury.
No matter how old you are, it’s important to stay active. So get out there and walk or run, ride your bike, and, of course, do some yoga. It’s for your bones.