Yoga for Healthy Bones
About half of all people over age 50 have low bone mass, says yoga teacher and wellness practitioner Beata Barnard (Savitri-Devi). Bone loss is in such high proportion that an estimated 70 percent of hip fractures are related to osteoporosis.
This epidemic among the aging population can be countered, she argues, with a program of low impact, weight-bearing yoga exercises. “This will improve strength, joint mobility, reduce stress, and calm the mind,” Barnard says.
Fear of falling is a major concern and the main reason for fractures of the hip and wrist among the elderly, she says. “The spinal column is often the problem. The thoracic area is often the area that shows signs of deterioration,” leading to the rounded back sometimes seen among seniors.
In her program at the ashram, Yoga for Healthy Bones, participants learn methods that can help prevent fractures and even prevent bone loss. They will improve posture and build confidence and walking, as well as improving circulation and muscle flexibility and heightening metabolism, she says.
Using Swami Vishnudevananda’s Five Points of Yoga as her guide — proper exercise, eating, relaxation, breathing, positive thinking and meditation — the series of yoga postures that Barnard recommends focus on weight bearing, spine decompression, and posture. One of the best is Savasana, the relaxation pose. “When the mind relaxes the muscles, the stress that can compromise the immune system dissipates,” she says. The posture also sets a relaxing tone for the class, calming the mind and increasing awareness in the body-mind connection.
The Bridge pose is also crucial, done slowly, to strengthen the core. “It starts with connecting the mind and body through the breath. By pressing the heels into the mat you apply resistance,” she says. “This stimulates the abdominal organs as well as strengthening the feet and ankles.”
Another important posture is the Sphinx pose, a variation of the Cobra in which the body, face on the mat, is raised on elbows. This puts pressure on the hands and forearms, she says, and helps decompress the spinal column and correct the thoracic part of the spine. The Tree pose is also used to stimulate the bones in the legs.
Osteoporosis is not just a disease of the old, according to Barnard. “I suggest people do yoga every day for 10 minutes, then go into a group to monitor progress. They need support and nourishment.”
Beata Barnard (Savitri-Devi) is an advanced Sivananda Yoga teacher with more than 20 years experience, who was initiated by Swami Vishnudevananda. An honors graduate in recreation therapy and a Yoga and Ayurveda Wellness Counselor, she received post-graduate training at Sunnybrook Health Science Center Hospital in Toronto, Canada, where she facilitated yoga classes to support the Falls Prevention Program. She has developed a comprehensive yoga system to improve balance, endurance, and strength for healthy aging and people with osteoporosis and teaches in many Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Courses.