Is Yoga a Prescription for Osteoporosis?

A reader named Nancy Fong shares how she got stronger one pose at a time.

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on March 24, 2016

I was diagnosed with osteoporosis in 2003 when I was 56. My husband and I had just retired and moved, and I had a new doctor who asked if I'd ever had a DXA scan to measure bone density. I was a smoker at the time, and my younger sister had been diagnosed with osteopenia a few years before. "No," I said. "But I've been wanting one." I did the scan, and that's when I found out I had osteoporosis.

I was prescribed calcium, vitamin D, and medication, which I took for years. Then in 2012, I was diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus, and I had to go off the osteoporosis medication. I thought, "Well, now what am I going to do?"

In early 2013, I saw an ad for a yoga class for osteoporosis. I had no idea how yoga could help. I'd never done yoga before and thought it was about meditation and things like that. But I thought it couldn't hurt, so I'd try it.

I started taking classes twice a week and really liked it. I found it's about stretching, bending, and strengthening your bones. We even lift small weights, and we use a chair to do some of the exercises. Yoga is also about improving your balance so you can catch yourself in a fall - which I've done several times.

In fact, just before I started taking yoga, I had a bad fall in the kitchen. I'm lucky I didn't break anything. I was taking some plates down, and I slipped and fell and hit the back of my head. I was badly bruised but didn't break any bones.

I've come a long way since starting the class in 2013. I remember the first time the instructor asked us to do the Vrksasana Tree Pose. She said to stand against the wall balancing on one leg. And then we were to bend our other leg and put it against the inside of our thigh. While we were balancing, we were supposed to stretch our arms above us, like a tree. And I thought, "There's no way I'm going to be able to do this." I could feel my balance was uneven.

Today I can do the Tree Pose and stand on one leg -- not for very long -- and put my other leg against my calf. And though I haven't tried stretching my hands above my head, I can hold them together in front of my chest.

I've also noticed my balance has improved. I like to walk, and if I'm walking too fast, or the dog pulls and jerks me, now I can correct my balance so I don't fall.

Last year, I had a DXA scan again, which showed no change in my bone density from the previous year. But before doing yoga, my scores were always going down, down, down, every time I took the scan.

I'm encouraged. A few of the other students in the class found their osteoporosis scores improved. And I'm hoping to be one of those people soon.

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