Knee bone’s connected to your thigh bone.…
The adult human body is comprised of 206 bones all of which are cleverly hinged and connected across a range of joints to form the human skeleton.
As we age, we can anticipate the structure of our bones and joints changing but there are ways, through the practice of yoga, that we can support our bodies through these changes and a little self care now can go a long way later.
Osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are three of the more common skeletal conditions all of which feature in the list of chronic conditions we may come to experience in older age.
- osteoporosis – is the most common chronic condition of the joints. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation 54 million Americans are suffering from osteoporosis and as the aging population grows so too will this statistic. As our bones get older so the living tissue inside them loses density causing them to weaken. The closely packed honeycomb look of a young, healthy bone gradually changes creating a more loosely packed honeycomb that is far more brittle and prone to cracking and breaking. Most of us reach our peak bone mass between the ages of 25 & 30. By the time we’re celebrating our 40th birthdays we have already begun to lose that bone mass, a loss that progresses further as we age. Osteoporosis is a condition that can affect any bone and joint but is often found in the larger joints of the knees and hips.
- osteoarthritis – is a form of arthritis that can be genetic but can also be caused by previous injury, overuse or misuse of a joint and excess weight. Osteoarthritis occurs as the smooth cartilage lining where bones meet one another at a joint, begins to break down losing its smoothly gliding properties ultimately compromising the range of movement within the joint. Research conducted by the Arthritis Foundation found that those with osteoarthritis can be more at risk of having balance issues simply because of the decreased function, physical weakness and pain they experience in arthritic joints.
- rheumatoid arthritis – is another common form of arthritis which is an autoimmune disease caused by the individual’s own body mistakenly attacking the joints causing bone and cartilage damage.
This little trio of conditions makes for grim reading but the physical and meditational aspects of yoga alongside other healthy life choices can help reduce, limit and, in some cases, improve symptoms.
How Yoga Can Help
Firstly, we can help ourselves stay healthy by regular exercise. Something you’ve read many times before, I’m sure. The affects of osteoporosis can be improved through a regular yoga practice. Often described as ‘weight bearing’, the standing yoga poses such as the Warrior poses and chair pose are great ones to practice as they create movement in the joints and are excellent muscle strengtheners.
Strong muscles support and protect the joints as we move. By keeping joints fluid and open by working through their full range of motion we help to prevent joint stiffness and discomfort. In class we may recline and use a strap looped over the foot in hand to foot pose, for example, to help maintain hip joint flexibility.
A recent study by yoga loving physician Dr Loren Fishman MD, a life long practitioner and teacher, showed interesting results suggesting that the daily practice of a twelve minute yoga routine could help with osteoporotic bone loss. He started a similar study again this Fall – go take a look at sciatica.org to learn more.
With osteoarthritis & rheumatoid arthritis, regular exercise is also recommended. In both cases keeping the body moving to preserve flexibility and maintaining a healthy physical weight are key.
These are two common conditions which many of us may be confronted with further down the line, but research shows that exercise can help minimize and help with symptoms.
Yoga poses often practiced in a class setting include cat/cow, to warm up the spine, and triangle pose to strengthen the lower back and stretch the hip joints. Reclining poses are helpful too with poses such as bridge to strengthen the back body and gentle twists to open the shoulders, mobilize the spine and work abdominal muscles. Furthermore, a regular yoga practice is particularly helpful for stability and improving our sense of balance, in turn, making us less prone to falling.
The other great aspect of yoga, which mustn’t be overlooked, is the relaxation and mental focus of the practice. Whether this is in the form of a regular meditation practice, mindfulness techniques or simply enjoying an extended savasana at the end of class, the benefits are enormous.
These aspects of yoga assist with dealing with physical pain and offer support in coming to terms with a diagnosis. Additionally, the community element of joining a class cannot be underestimated. Practicing with others who may have conditions in common provides the perfect social environment to help with low mood or depression that sometimes occurs as our physical bodies change with age. Relaxation can reduce the stress and anxieties we may experience and, in turn, make our physical challenges easier to embrace and live with.
Be sure to track down a yoga instructor who teaches with strong alignment principles to ensure that you are practicing the poses correctly and safely. Iyengar yoga and Anusara yoga are just two of the styles that are particularly alignment focused and, of course, yoga therapists have a very thorough knowledge of the practice and of specific physical conditions.
So, make yoga a regular part of your self care routine. Go join a class and your joints will thank you!
By the way, as with all things researched on ‘Dr Google’, be sure to take advice from your primary health doctor before embarking upon any exercise program.
by Louise Muzio, 2016 www.yogaskinny.com