Five Pillars Yoga

Posts Tagged ‘Bone Health’

Your Bones On Yoga

It’s easy to forget that bones are living tissue, constantly being dissolved and rebuilt in a natural cycle. So, while statistics around bone health are quite staggering, the good news is that we can have an impact on maintenance and repair at any age.

Our bones are comprised of both minerals (like the obvious calcium) and a “gelatin matrix” of water and collagen. They appear solid, but, like bamboo, are healthiest when they are strong and but flexible, pliant and moist.

Surprise surprise: Yoga is one of the most effective practices for bone health.

There have been many studies published over the last few years that show yoga can not only slow bone density loss, but can in-fact increase bone mineral density.

In short, the three yogic practices below can help maintain bone health starting from a young age, slow or prevent density loss, and even boost bone density, restoring strength and elasticity.

Research has recently shown that 72-seconds is an ideal time to hold a yoga posture for maximum benefit. But no worries if this is too long, yoga is a practice so work at your capabilities and gradually over time you might find your endurance increasing.
As you practice these asanas, listen to your body’s signals and work to your edge but not past it. Uncomfortable strain on joints should signal you to back off.


1. Take the Path of Most Resistance

Weight-bearing yoga postures put the right kind of “stress” on the bones: enough to stimulate cellular production, but not too much that the bones break or fracture. Resisting gravity’s pull and supporting our body weight stimulates our bones isometrically, signaling the bones to build up their mass in answer to the challenge.

Warrior 2


Warrior I & II
These powerful standing postures activate the largest bones of the legs and arms, plus the ankle, knee and shoulder joints.



Low Cobra

Bhujangasana is an active back bend that supports spine health, lengthening vertebrae and keeping them supple and limber.





Resisting gravity in this shape strengthens wrists and builds core strength to support the spine.



2. Strike a Good Balance

The WHO estimates one in three women over 50 — and one in five men — will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture. Many bone injuries are caused by falling, and we’re not just talking about a serious fall. Even a little roll of the ankle off the curb (or from teetering on a pair of stillettos) can cause a fracture. Maintaining our balance as we age is a huge piece of preventing injury.




Tree pose is one of the simplest standing balancing postures to practice, yet has a powerful effect on developing balance and equilibrium. Best of all, it offers many different modifications suitable for all ages and levels.


Check out our Yoga Lab on Tree Pose to explore what variation is right for you


3. Make an Impact, Safely

There has been so much research done about various exercises that support bone health, and one that remains ahead of the pack is high-impact movements. The New York Times goes so far as to suggest simply jumping up and down!

Shaking Qi Gong
This simple Eastern exercise delivers many of the same benefits of jumping or running, and many more. Best of all, it decreases the intensity of contact, making it safer for those with fragile knees or limited capacity for cardio-vascular workouts.

Check out the video below that explains and demonstrates this easy movement. We recommend doing this for five minutes a day, several times a week. 



Additional Food & Lifestyle Tips for Bone Health

  • *Boost your intake of calcium-rich plants like Kale & Spinach
  • *Reduce or eliminate processed sugars from your diet – these sugars leach calcium from the bones and contribute to loss in bone density
  • * Stay moist – incorporate Abhyanga into your routine
  • *If you suffer from severe symptoms of Osteoperosis, check out this great yoga sequence created just for you – with modifications for all levels.
  • * When beginning any new type of exercise, always consult your primary care doctor, especially if dealing with acute physical problems.


Go Deep @

The 4 Surprising Health Benefits of Vitamin D

Do you notice that your energy is low during long winter months and high during warm summer months? Do you tend to get sick or feel low when the sun disappears?

If your answer is yes, you may be experiencing a vitamin D deficiency. Other symptoms of deficiency include weak bones, skin problems, depression, autoimmune disease, and a foggy brain. If you experience any of these symptoms, you are not alone. Vitamin D deficiencies are common, especially among those of us living in the northernmost regions of the world spending the majority of our time indoors under artificial lighting. Other factors that increase the risk of deficiency include weight loss medications, steroids and low-fat diets.

As you may know, the biggest source of vitamin D is direct sunlight. We tend to associate vitamins with diet and supplements, but most foods are surprisingly low in vitamin D, especially plant-based foods. Vitamin D is more than just a nutrient we consume. It is a hormone our bodies synthesize from food and sunlight that impacts the immune system and our hormonal balance. 

So do not be tricked by its name… Vitamin D is not just a vitamin that you can get by eating a healthy, plant-based diet. Getting enough of this super-nutrient is important. As with anything, we don’t need to get swept away with the hype. Instead, we can educate ourselves about how to get enough and why it is important, so we can stay healthy.

To learn more about the preventative benefits and best sources of vitamin D, read on!

The 4 Surprising Health Benefits of Vitamin D:

1. Vitamin D helps to manage weight

A study presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Prague in 2015 suggests that taking a vitamin D supplement may help people with an unhealthy weight to lose weight more rapidly than those who do not take a vitamin D supplement. Read more: Click here.

2. Vitamin D prevents cancer, particularly breast, prostate and colon cancer

Of 63 observational studies of vitamin D in relation to cancer risk, the majority discovered that vitamin D acts as a preventative measure. Read more: Click here.

3. Vitamin D keeps your bones strong

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, keeping the bones strong. A study found in the US National Library of Medicine by Peter R Ebeling suggests that vitamin D intake coupled with calcium intake creates optimal bone health, preventing bone loss and fractures. According to Ebeling, rates of hip fractures peak during winter months, suggesting seasonal variation of vitamin D deficiency may strongly affect bone health. Read more: Click here.

4. Vitamin D prevents heart disease and diabetes

According to several studies, increased vitamin D intake lowers blood pressure and helps to regulate insulin. According a study reported by Harvard School of Public Health, men who were deficient in vitamin D were twice as likely to have a heart attack as men who had adequate levels of vitamin D. Read more: Click here.

So what do we do to make sure we are getting enough vitamin D? 

Meeting the RDA of 200-600 IU/day for most adults requires daily meals centered around fish, eggs and fortified foods or a healthy dose of sunlight and/or supplements if you do not eat animal products. And recent research that highlights the importance of vitamin D for long-term health compelled Dr. Andrew Weil to increase his daily recommendation to 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day! With this increased recommendation, how do we get enough?


With the seasons changing, we can get some vitamin D from the sun without risking the dangers of skin cancer. WebMD and Holick, the author of UV Advantage, have some simple and doable suggestions.

“Let’s say you’re on Cape Cod or a New Jersey beach in the summer,” Holick tells WebMD. “Just five to ten minutes in the sun two to three times a week — exposing your hands, legs, and arms — is more than adequate to satisfy your vitamin D requirements, and you’re not likely to significantly increase your risk of skin cancer in the process. Then after that five to ten minutes of exposure, put on a sunscreen of SPF 15 or greater for the rest of your time in the sun.” – Read more: click here.


Learn more from Dr. Axe: Click here.


You can also get vitamin D by taking supplements or focusing on your diet. 

Dr. Axe’s infographic shows that consuming fish, milk and eggs can help you meet your needs. If you follow a plant-based diet, getting enough vitamin D from food may be next to impossible. So if you are not into eating fish, eggs and dairy on a daily basis, you may want to consider taking a supplement, especially when you are not able to spend time in direct sunlight.

Vitamin D is proving to be a super nutrient that impacts the ability to absorb calcium, our nervous systems, our cardiovascular systems, our structural and muscular systems, and more. When we are experiencing a deficiency, we may be more susceptible to the common cold at first, but a deficiency can progress into life-threatening illness. So let’s get on the prevention train today! To learn more about Right Nutrition, consider attending Stacy Leung’s upcoming FREE talk. To learn more, click here.



Wednesday May 10th 6:30-8pm

Click here to reserve your free spot 


Therapeutic Essentials: Dynamic Stretching

I recently came across a New York Times article titled Stretching: The Truth, revealing new findings on the effectiveness of stretching on boosting athletic performance. More specifically, which kinds of stretching actually can boost athletic performance. Studies revealed that static stretching, the type we’ve all been doing since middle school gym class, didn’t actually help athletes’ performances, nor did it increase the health of their muscles and joints. In many cases it actually had detrimental effects on their sporting performance.

What does this have to do with Yoga Therapeutics?

Well, our Therapeutics classes integrate many different healing modalities – Yin and Restorative yoga, strengthening and core work, breath work, guided meditation, Ayurveda, and, Self Awakening Yoga Movement Inquiries… some of which I’ll fondly refer to as “rolling around on the ground.”

When I came across the article I was struck by the images… there were a few that looked remarkably similar to some of the Self Awakening Yoga Movement Inquiries. Like this “Scorpion” and “Straight Leg March” examples below. The images drew me in, and the article itself reinforced the significant value of these movement inquiries.


According to the research complied by the Times:

“The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds — known as static stretching — primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them…

Stretching muscles while moving, on the other hand, a technique known as dynamic stretching or dynamic warm-ups, increases power, flexibility and range of motion.”


I’ll often describe one of the intentions of Self Awakening Movement Inquiries as: Reclamation of Our Inherent Range of Motion. That’s a big fancy phrase, and sometimes I imagine a king’s trumpeters blowing in the background as I say it. But the truth is, that kind of effect in the body does deserve a little fanfare. We move through this life, stub a toe here, break a leg there, slip a disk here, pull a muscle there, and pretty soon we’re lopsided, sore and in pain. Don’t we deserve to reclaim a bit of our mobility and suppleness? Turns out, we’re empowered to do exactly this, just by rolling around on the ground.


Full scorpion


Many of you know, I’m super nerdy about the science of yoga and love me some cutting-edge research. But I’m also in the fortunate position of being able to witness the powerful effects of this practice first-hand. What I see in class and in private sessions absolutely upholds what the experts are finding.


The other day I was working with a brand new client, he has arthritis in his neck, symptoms of Lyme disease in his joints, has had numerous surgeries and does not practice yoga. He started as we often do in class, by lying on the ground and noticing how it felt. He shared that was very uncomfortable, and he had to bend his knees and place the soles of his feet on the floor to alleviate pain in his lower back. We began with some head rolls from side to side and I asked him how it was going. He said “Fine. Well, I just go to where I feel resistance and push.” This is something we’ve all done and in fact most of us were taught in grade school. I explained that this was a little different, that movement inquiries aren’t about pushing past our edge, but that the exploration was actually where the benefit lay. I suggested something that many of you have heard me say — that he not worry about getting all the way to the edge, and instead focus on feeling every millimeter between one side and the other. Feeling the shifting of the weight of his own body and exploring all the places the head could roll.


He was able to slow down and really try this unfamiliar (and, admittedly, kind of strange) practice. We went through the whole therapeutic reclining spinal series and then I asked him to notice how he felt. He was lying fully on the floor with his legs outstretched, his back and his whole body felt “settled” on the floor, “not like before when there were just a few painful points touching the mat.” He was really surprised at how comfortable he felt when he had begun in such agony a mere hour prior.


Hmmmm. So there’s really something to this dynamic stretching thing.

Movement Inquiries take dynamic stretching it one step further – a key distinction being the act of paying attention. Bringing consciousness to our bodies, our sensations, our movements and even our stillness. This is where stretching can become yoga. Inviting the body to move, and turning our attention on that movement, is like shining a flashlight into all the little nooks and crannies that time forgot. Sometimes just by shining that flashlight of awareness on a forgotten nook is enough to re-enliven it and reawaken even more range of motion. This is where movement becomes Movement Inquiry.

Leg walks

Now, does all this mean there is no place for stillness in stretching? Absolutely not. For example, both Restorative and Yin Yoga incorporate stillness for longer periods of time with profound health effects. Over the coming weeks as we continue this Therapeutic Essentials series of articles we’ll #Go Deep into these modalities as well. Instead, what this article reveals is that, whether we are athletes or not, we benefit from this “dynamic stretching.” In considering regular body maintenance, or as we prioritize healthy aging and self-recovery from physical issues, I believe this form of Right Movement is absolutely essential.


I encourage you to read the full article and to incorporate some of the concepts into your regular routine. Better yet – see you on the mat!




Yoga 101: The 6 Directions of the Spine


“A healthy spine is a healthy body!” So has said a teacher of mine, and I doubt we’d find any medical expert or average Joe who would argue this simple logic.

In your very first yoga class you were likely introduced to the Cat/Cow spinal warm-up. And since then, it’s probably made an appearance in 99% of classes — so much so that you might have even found yourself getting bored (“not Cat/Cow again!”). It’s critical to warm up the spine as we go into a practice. In fact, it’s critical to the health of the spine (and thus the body) to warm it up every day, even a couple times a day, and especially at the start of the day. Cat Cow moves the spine in two primary directions, and there are four more directions that make up the complete spinal spectrum. These six movements elongate the spine, encourage elasticity of the spinal column, wake up the cranio-sacral “highway,” and provide a host of other benefits.

Beginning your day by easing your body into each of these six directions will ensure you’re loosened, lengthened and lubricated – ready to take on the world with a supple, strong spine.

“Warm up When you Wake Up” and Move the Spine All Six Ways Every Day

Direction 1 – Spinal Extension

aka arching the spine as in Cow Pose

This shape lengthens the spine, expands the chest, strengthens the lungs and facilitates deeper breathing.
From an emotional standpoint, this shape helps us “open our heart.” Best of all, this shape is the exact opposite of how most of us spend our days – hunched over a computer or slouched looking down at a phone.

The simplest version of Spinal Extension is just a seated arching stretch, and cow pose is also a gentle option for the morning. Poses such as cobra, upward-facing dog, bow pose, and wheel are more dynamic versions of this shape, typically called “backbends” but perhaps wisely reframed as “front extensions” going for length over bend.


Direction Two – Spinal Flexion

aka rounding the spine as in Cat Pose

This shape expands the backbody, stretching the back of the lungs increasing breath capacity, and tones the abdomen with an engaged core. On an emotional level, these shapes help us turn inward for reflection and calm. This shape can be done via the usual cat shape, or seated by rounding the spine forward. Deeper versions of this shape are seated forward bending like in pachimotanasana, standing forward bending in utanasana, or even balancing shapes like devotional warrior.


Directions 3 & 4 – Lateral Side bending

as seen in crescent arches

By bending up and over to the left and right, we lengthen our side bodies, improving rib cage mobility and again, create even more space for the lungs. These shapes lengthen the muscles between the ribs and pelvis, plus parts of the lower back. They also support the health of the lymph system. It’s easy for things to get “stuck” in life, and side body stretches clear out often-neglected nooks and crannies. These gentle C-shaped curves can be created from a seated position, or from table top by reaching “cheek to cheek” – reacing the cheek on your face towards the hips and the hips towards your face. Standing crescents poses are also a gentle lateral side bend, and more active variations include peaceful warrior and extended side angle pose.


Directions 5 & 6 – Twists

as experienced in seated or reclining twists to both sides

Twisting to the right and left completes the set of six directions, mitigating against fusing and limited-mobility of vertebrae. Twisting also hydrates the intervertebral disks and massages the organs within the abdomen supporting digestion. It also asks us to “look forward and look backward” which can help us find the middle ground of the present moment. You can be seated in a cross-legged position, or atop bend knees to twist side to side, thinking about lengthening on the inhale and gently twisting deeper on the exhale. Or opt for a reclining twist and let gravity do most of the work! From table top, threading the needle is a good option, and revolved triangle pose is a powerful standing variation.











Have you ever seen those incredible yogis who look and feel ageless? Timeless? They might be 45 they might be 65? The wisdom of their years is reflected in their soulful gaze, and their smile lines actually make them look more attractive? Our “cover woman” for this post, Tao-Porchon-Lynch, is one such example – she’s 97 years young and still teaches yoga four days a week.

Put simply: In the quest for youth and longevity – Yoga Works!

In addition to all the things we do internally (such as eating properly and taking supplements) and all the things we do externally (like sunscreen!, creams and body treatments), Yoga offers some activities and principals to help us stay youthful, energetic and radiant!


Here is an easy sequence to support “Aging Gracefully”

Shaking Qi Gong – 5 minutes

Begin with this standing movement to get the circulation going, the prana flowing and the skin glowing!

~ This practice supports bone health (in the far east the rates of osteoporosis are negligible, and this movement is practiced by many for 15 minutes a day!).

~ This gentle vibration also supports lymph function and removal of waste and toxins from the body, which helps keep the skin clear and glowing.

** Check out our recent post on Bone Health for a Shaking Qi Gong video demonstration


Chair Pose (Utkatasana) x 3

Incorporate strength building by taking chair pose three times. Start with 30 seconds each time with a short rest in between, and try to build your endurance. Eventually perhaps you can hold the pose for 30, then 60, then 90 seconds.

~ Holding this strengthening pose builds the large muscles of the thighs, not only protecting knees from injury, deterioration and pain, but maintaining a shapely derrière!


Tree Pose  (Vrikshasana) x 2

Next up: Standing Balancing for a nimble mind and nimble body. Take Tree Pose in whatever variation(s) feel interesting and slightly challenging.

~ By practicing balance we maintain our equilibrium as we age, a key factor in preventing falls and broken bones (like hips) which have challenging recovery periods. To challenge yourself, get into the pose and then imagine a wind blowing – allow your body to flow and blow in the wind to build your stability.

~ Balancing on one foot takes focus! Cultivating our attention and focus in this posture helps keep the mind sharp and agile.


Standing Forward Bend x 3

Choose either Uttanasana and keep your legs together (with bent or straight legs) or open the legs into a wide straddle and bend forward in Prasarita Padottanasana. Or mix and match!

~ When the head is below the waist, as in these postures, blood flows to the head delivering oxygen and nutrients, boosting collagen production and cellular regeneration – great for youthful skin!


** If you’d like to get fancy – you can collate the three standing postures – instead of taking each one three times, go from Chair –< Tree –<  Forward Bend and repeat!

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.44.18 AM  yogapedia_270_01_450x450 PrasaritaPadotanasana



Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani) – 5-10 minutes

Finish up with this sweet restorative posture that delivers a host of rejuvenating effects


yoga_legs_up_the_wall_ART~ Inversions like this improve circulation, and “reverse gravity/reverse the flow of time”

~ This posture also helps the lymph system detoxify the body – keeping organs healthy and skin glowing

~ Legs up the wall helps reduce excessive cortisol in the system, which can lead to a host of chronic issues.


So there you have it – a quick and easy sequence specifically designed for anti-aging and vibrant longevity. The practice may be age-old, but the results are timeless!