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Yoga and Osteoporosis?

by Sarah Harvey

When asked, most yoga students can name more than one benefit they derive from their practice. Common advantages include better flexibility, enhanced strength and stamina, lower stress-levels, and a greater sense of general well-being. But did you know that yoga can be an effective treatment for osteoporosis and osteopenia? I didn’t, until one of my students sent me a link to an item in the New York Times on this subject. The piece focused on the work of Dr. Loren Fishman, which has shown that consistent yoga practice stimulates and augments the body’s own natural processes for increasing bone mass and strength.

Under his guidance, more than 200 of the original 741 participants completed a 10-year study that demonstrated yoga can improve bone mineral density and prevent fractures, two of the physical symptoms most closely associated with osteoporosis and osteopenia. For more info about the study and its results, check out the osteoporosis section of Dr. Fishman’s website.

Reading the NY Times article inspired me to pursue this idea, in my practice and studies, as well as in my teaching. Not surprisingly, Iyengar yoga is particularly well-suited for this task. The emphasis we place on specific actions within an asana is exactly how the “magic” happens at a physical level. When your body responds to the instruction “straighten your legs by lifting the knees and thighs,” your thigh muscles are also working to strengthen the femur (thigh bone) and the pelvis. You only have to hold the pose for 8 seconds to initiate this process.

More good news: Level 1 asanas achieve results! The sequence practiced by the study participants comprised 12 basic poses, all of which were offered with variations and modifications to accommodate limitations imposed by the severity of the osteoporosis, or lack of experience with yoga.

The Yoga for Osteoporosis workshop I’m teaching at Adeline on Sat, Feb 18, grew out of my experience teaching yoga to older students, many of whom have this condition. Offering the yoga community another tool to deal with its symptoms while providing folks with added motivation to practice yoga is a blessing to me.

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Yoga for Osteoporosis with Sarah Harvey
Saturday, February 18
1:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.


Sarah Harvey is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor, CIYT-1000. She has studied and practiced yoga since 1991, and has been teaching yoga throughout the Bay Area since 2002.  She teaches yoga for seniors at Adeline Yoga, Rossmor and San Leandro Hospital. Sarah is a a 2004 graduate of the 500-hour Advanced Studies/Teacher Training Program at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco.  She has studied with the Iyengar family numerous times at various locations in the US.  In 2008 she spent a month studying at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India. Her continuing education includes intermediate/advanced level classes with her teacher, Nora Burnett, as well as specialty workshops and classes with other senior Iyengar teachers.

Sarah brings a light, humorous approach to her teaching, combined with direct, detailed instructions for each student.  Although yoga is central to her life and key to her well-being, she is also an avid sports fan (Go A’s!  Go Dubs!  Go Sharks!)  She lives in a small cottage in Oakland with her two cats, and enjoys gardening and gourmet cooking.