Yoga works on the body as a whole. “It connects the mind and body together, so there are both physical and mental benefits,” says Cara Ann Senicola, a board-certified orthopedic specialist and certified yoga teacher at the Weill Cornell-affiliated Hospital for Special Surgery.
And, yoga postures mimic many of our day-to-day postures, she says, so they can be adjusted to fit anyone’s abilities and lifestyle. For instance, the chair pose is like getting up from a chair, and the tree pose helps us with balance, going up and down stairs, or negotiating curbs. “Yoga’s breathing techniques even help regulate our nervous system.”
Yoga Helps Us Destress
We live in a hectic world with many competing priorities. “Yoga allows us to slow down and turn our attention inward to listen to our bodies,” Senicola says. It focuses on both strength and flexibility. Over time, she adds, we tend to lose a bit of both. “We bear weight through our arms and legs, so practicing yoga can help build bone strength.”
Yoga and Osteoporosis
Many poses in yoga are weightbearing. “Standing exercises are good for bone density and are a great way to help improve and, in some instances, reverse bone loss,” Senicola explains.
However, some poses are not indicated for women with osteoporosis, especially if a woman has low bone density in her spine. “Speak with a yoga instructor about your specific health needs prior to joining a class so you can get appropriate modifications,” she says.
The poses that focus on lengthening the spine are great for spine decompression and overall mobility. “Stretching muscles like the hip flexor, hamstrings, calves, and pectoral muscles are great, as we tend to sit most of the day, and some of these muscles being tight can lead to a poor postural position, which can lead to injury over time in the spine,” says Senicola.
Listen to your body, she cautions. “Many people who are quite flexible get drawn to yoga because they crave that ‘sensation’ they get at the end range of the joint (getting to the extreme of a pose). “This sensation is not always healthy, so I would caution people to listen to their body. It’s important to do strength training as well, because you need to have base strength in large muscles to support your body in poses.”
Modifications can be performed. Also, a harder class is not always a better class for your body. There are many types of yoga. “Some, like yin/restorative yoga, are gentle and use props to support the body,” Senicola says.
Iyengar focuses on alignment. There are many props used in this type of class that can help modify poses for people who have limited flexibility and strength (like chairs and a rope wall). Vinyasa, she explains, is a flow class which can be fast or slow.
Stick to one to two times a week to start. Stay away from jumping, heated rooms, or quick movements, and check with your health-care provider for a more individualized set of guidelines.