The oldest existing body workout program Yoga, has been around for more than 5000 years, with deep mental, emotional and physical benefits. Besides mental serenity and a toned body, yoga poses work their way underneath the muscles promoting healthy joint function and a stable skeletal structure. These postures, while strengthening the muscles and bones, stimulate the flow of certain fluids which are responsible for supporting vital joint systems.
Our joints are the juncture where two bones meet like our neck, spine vertebrae, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles. Our joints are made up of two or more bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and a fluid called the synovial fluid. This fluid acts as a lubricating agent so that when there is any movement, parts of the joint do not rub against each other.
Practicing yoga asanas can help in maintaining muscle strength, bone density, and also joint flexibility. Well functioning joints improve posture, balance, and mobility.
Most of us think that our skeletal structure is a solid and lifeless part of us, but the truth is that it is alive like any other part of our body. Our skeletal structure constantly breaks down and renews itself in a two-step process called bone remodeling.
The rate of bone remodeling depends on the amount of calcium that is stored in the bones and present in our diet, along with the three catalysts, vitamin D, hormones, and exercise. All of these factors determine the effective use of calcium by our body to renew the bones and also prevent bone- loss through re-absorption.
About 90% of an adult’s bone mineral content or to put it simply, calcium- is deposited by the end of adolescence, with peak bone mass achieved by the age of 20 years. For adults, it’s not possible to add significant amounts of bone past the peak growth years .
The more we learn and understand bone health, the more it seems that yoga along with a green diet, helps creating a strong base for healthy bones.
Yoga is different from other exercises like walking, jogging, or other sports, as it is a weight-bearing exercise. This means that when we perform the asanas, we are holding the weight of our body up against gravity. However, like other weight-bearing exercises, yoga does not cause damage to cartilage or stress to the bones. Instead, the practice lengthens as well as flexes our muscles, holding them in place, creating tension on the bone. For instance, in yoga poses like Virabhadrasana I and 2 (Warrior Pose I and 2) , Revolved Anjaneyasana, Revolved Triangle, our legs become the weight-bearing points because they support the entire body’s weight.
Due to the benefit of stretching and increasing muscle length, yoga asanas enable us to increase our normal range of motion making us more capable of performing our daily tasks better. Each joint or group of joints in our body has a range of motion which is measured in degrees. For instance, our lower back, and lumbar spine, has a range of motion of about 30 degrees backwards and about 70 degrees flexion.
Yoga poses which are isometric train the smaller muscles that surround the joints so that they are able to endure more pressure, and we are able to work them harder to stabilize ourselves. We can take the example of yoga poses like Vriksasana (Tree Pose), wherein we need to balance our body on one leg and change elevation or Supta Matsyendrasana (supine spinal twist), wherein we rotate to train our supporting muscles to work for stability and balance. These poses help us in improving the functioning of the body parts involved in our daily chores.
Medical doctors also explain us that to prevent osteoporosis and bone loss, we need a calcium rich diet and weight bearing exercises, of which yoga is the best. And practicing any amount of yoga is better than no yoga at all. If we are looking to either prevent or reverse the early stage of bone loss, then we should be aware that yoga asanas involving a series of standing postures will strengthen our hip joint, knee joint, muscles of the legs and ankle joint and postures supported on our hands and feet.
The Downward dog, held for a while, will help with strengthening our arms, legs, shoulder joints, elbow joints, wrists, finger joints, hip joints, knee joints and ankle joints, and all back bends will strengthen the spine. However, as a beginner with osteopenia or osteoporosis, it is always best to take out time and find an experienced and trained teacher adept in a yoga style that focuses on alignment and safety. Before the start of a class, ensure that you explain your situation and needs to your yoga teacher.
Other forms of exercise do not isolate and concentrate on the muscles that surround the joints, like yoga does. In the process it also promotes a healthy flow of blood and the crucial joint fluid, the synovial fluid, throughout the body.
In yoga, we only compete with ourselves and we must only do what is comfortable and beneficial for us. Yoga can be a bone saver, but it should be practiced under guidance, correctly.