Two years ago, I started on a journey to improve my bone density with yoga. The results are in, and yes, I did in fact improve my bone density. Following is the whole story.
Bone density is measured with a DEXA scan, which is an x-ray of certain areas of the bones in your body. Because osteoporosis and osteopenia progress slowly, these tests are usually done every 2 years for women 65 and oder and men 70 and older. At least that’s when the insurance starts paying for the scans unless there is a mitigating circumstance that causes a person under those ages to need the scan or to need it more often. If your insurance won’t pay, you can always get the scan and just pay for it. It’s not *that* expensive, and some places do it fairly cheaply.
My last DEXA scan was October 3, 2014, where I found out that I have osteopenia. Osteopenia is the precursor to Osteoporosis. It means your bones do not have “normal” density, but you are not quite bad enough to call it osteoporosis and end up having to take those awful drugs with terrible side effects (which I won’t take).
The “normal” density is between +1 and -1 on the DEXA T-scale. Normal is defined as the bone density of 30-year-old “healthy” white women. Right there, I would say the scale has flaws, because that normal is probably not normal for a naturally small woman, who might never have “normal” bone density on that scale. Smaller people don’t fall as far or take as much weight with them, so their naturally smaller bones might be just fine even if they don’t register as “normal” according to the standard DEXA scan.
First DEXA Scan
In 2014, my doctor ordered the DEXA scan for 2 areas: my lumbar spine and the femoral neck because these are the bones that carry most of the body’s weight. At that time my T scores were -1 (lumbar spine) and –2.3 (femoral neck). A diagnosis of osteoporosis starts at -2.5 so my femoral neck was very close to dropping into the osteoporosis diagnosis. Osteopenia starts at -1 so I was just starting to lose bone density in my lumbar spine.
That same week, I went to see my chiropractor who told me about a woman she knows who does yoga and has maintained her bones that way. When I went home, I searched the web and found Dr. Fishman who had been and continues to be conducting studies on how yoga can improve bone density. I got in touch with him and joined his Yoga for Osteoporosis study.
Second DEXA Scan Two Years Later
This time after 2 years of yoga, my T scores are .6 (lumbar spine, normal) and -2.1 (femoral neck, a little better). I was hoping for a better T score for my femoral neck, but improvement is improvement, and just means I should keep at it. The effects of the yoga are cumulative, and I could eventually over the years get that score to normal or close to it if I keep going with the yoga.
There is also another measure called bone quality. I haven’t done anything with this, but Dr. Fishman says that bone quality is even more important than bone density. Thin, high quality bones are much less likely to break than “normal” bones that are brittle (poor quality). He has started studying this as well, and apparently, there is a way to measure it. He says that he is finding that yoga helps your body create high-quality bones.
Hopefully, over these past 2 years my bones have also increased in quality! I’m not participating in the bone quality studies he’s doing.
The Yoga Poses
The osteoporosis study is with specific poses – a sequence he developed that works your spine. I don’t think that just doing a lot of yoga will have the same effect so it’s important to do the specific poses and to do them regularly (at least 4 times a week) and correctly by working with a teacher and attending classes.
I’m sure the first year (at least) of my setting out to improve my bones with yoga, I was not doing the poses correctly. I believe that’s true even though a friend and I paid for 2 private sessions with a yoga teacher (Jito Yumibe) at the Iyengar South Bay yoga studio. Jito got us on the right track, but it was when I started attending regular classes at the studio with Jito and later with Linda Bostrom that I really started to understand how the poses are supposed to be done, and how to get the maximum benefit from my practice at home. It’s something that just takes time and repetition to learn and continue to learn.
This past year (or so) of attending classes and applying what I was learning to my home practice is probably why my bones improved. I’m sure the first year was beneficial, but not as much. Perhaps over the next 2 years, I will see even more improvement in my femoral neck and maintain the improvement in my lumbar spine as I continue to improve and advance in my yoga practice.
See http://manhattanphysicalmedicine.com/dev/ for more information about what Dr. Fishman is up to with yoga.
You can find out what the poses are, see study results, and watch a video of how to do the poses here: http://manhattanphysicalmedicine.com/dev/?page_id=70.