Yin Yoga - Older Women + Osteoporosis - safety concerns

This discussion group is for questions about Yin Yoga and other body parts, such as shoulders, feet, wrists, etc.... Also, this is the place to discuss various conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, etc.
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Yin Yoga - Older Women + Osteoporosis - safety concerns

Post by Lydia »

Hi Bernie,

I have a question regarding contraindications for Yin Yoga. I have been teaching Yin Yoga to a group of students who tend to be under the 50 year old age bracket so I do not caution regarding osteoporosis and forward bending although I have some concerns. I will be starting to teach a new group this week who may be older. I wonder if I should caution women over 50 regarding long holding forward bends and possibly indicate that the Yin Yoga may not be indicated for older women. Being 51 myself, I am aware of bone issues but I personally don¡¦t feel at risk, and I practice a lot of Yoga and in many traditions including Ashtanga and some Moksha. However, my students are generally are not in the ¡§fit¡¨ category. I find that some students come to Yin classes as beginners expecting ¡§restorative Yoga¡¨ and I do not find that that descriptor fits the Yin tradition, or at least, doesn¡¦t fully explain it. (Coming from the Kripalu tradition I have been trained to always go for length in the spine in forward bends, so you can see where some of my concerns is coming from. Paul Grilley told me that if it feels ok then do it. That¡¦s ok for me does that hold for everyone?)

I think you know what I am getting at. If you can offer any suggestions regarding class descriptions and possible precautions for older women, I would very much appreciate it. If I am off on some weird tangent, please let me know. I won¡¦t take it personally. ƒº

Namaste and thank you.

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Bones as we age

Post by admin »

Hi Lydia ... interesting topic, especially as the boomers reach the critical age you are talking about. Is Yin Yoga safe for folks with osteopenia or osteoporosis? I would say, yes ... it is not only safe, it is necessary! The following is an excerpt from my book YinSights that talks to this topic. But let me preface this by saying, as we get older we do dry up; we enter our yin time of life. This is when we need to do more yin exercises and less yang (but not no yang!) Yin exercises in later life will help stress the bones and hydrate the body. There are two keys though:

1) if a student does have osteopenia or osteoporosis, they should definite ask their doctors if it is ok to do this practice, and
2) when they do the practice, don't go too deep too early. Listen to the body and at any sign of pain, back off.

So rather than be afraid to have older students in your class, I think you should encourage them to come. This style of yoga is very good for them. You are also right that this is not "restorative" yoga. Restorative yoga helps to heal areas that are damaged. Yin Yoga is like all other styles in that we try to make our tissues healthier and stronger. But if there is a problem in some tissues, we want that area to heal before we try to make it stronger. If a student has difficulties already, yes ... she should be very careful about how she does the practice and, again, check with her doctor first.

Here is the excerpt:

[From YinSights]

The body continually creates bone and absorbs bone. If this gets out of balance we can start to gain bone mass, causing strengthening of the bone, or we can start to lose bone density and the bone degenerates. Up until our mid-twenties to mid-thirties we generally gain bone mass. If we exercise conscientiously, we can continue to maintain or even add bone mass past these early years of life. However, eventually the balance is tilted more and more in the opposite direction and we start to lose bone density. This condition is known as osteopenia or, in more severe cases, osteoporosis. This condition is more common in women than men, especially as women approach menopause.

One estimate suggests that ten million Americans suffer from osteoporosis and another thirty-four million suffer from osteopenia, or low bone mass, which leads to osteoporosis. This weakening results in almost one and a half million bone fractures each year, with the majority of them occurring in the lower back. Other common sites for breakage are the wrists and hips, all areas with higher trabecular bone compared to cortical bone. Generally, it is a continual weakening of the trabecular bone that develops into osteoporosis.

Eventually fifty percent of all women and twenty-five percent of all men in North America will develop osteoporosis. Starting just before menopause, and over a four- to eight-year period thereafter, women begin to lose bone density. Eventually twenty to thirty percent of their trabecular bone mass is gone, and they also lose five to ten percent of their cortical bone mass.

For a variety of reasons, osteoblast (bone-creating) activity may diminish or osteoclast (bone-absorption) activity may increase, causing osteoporosis. A lack of vitamin D or calcium can cause bone degeneration. Certain hormonal deficiencies such as testosterone, estrogen, or parathyroid hormones can also contribute to bone loss. So too can immobilization or lack of use.

Fortunately physical activity can cause bones to grow stronger, and actually change size and shape. It is well known that active people are less likely to develop osteoporosis. Autopsies have shown that attachment sites, where muscles join to the bone, grow bigger through continued use. One example is the lesser trochanter. In runners this site is highly developed. Too much stress, however, can be dangerous; marathon runners have been known to develop osteoporosis late in life. As in everything, balance is needed.

The bones need to be stressed to remain healthy. And the stress needs to be appropriate. Yin Yoga provides compressive stress on the bones, especially the lumbar spine. Other forms of yoga also stress the bones; most standing postures will do this. In Yin Yoga the stresses are held longer, allowing the bones more time to be stressed. This generates a larger recovery response – the bones having been stressed longer will grow stronger. Very few active yoga postures will stress the lumbar bones like Yin Yoga does.


I hope this helps!
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Yin Yoga and Older People

Post by Lydia »


Thanks for your timely response on this topic. I guess I should have just read your book! Your answer was what I was hoping for (and expecting) because I know from my own body that hydration is key. I will use this as a guide toward setting up a description for this class.

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Yin Yoga, long asana holds, and 50+

Post by marymassung »

I am 61. I do not know if I have osteoporosis or osteopenia. After being chemically poisoned, I assumed I did so refused to have a test that would make me feel I had to be 'careful'. I had enough problems with lung disease! :lol: I have been doing yoga (without the benefit of a teacher) for 4 years. (I started at age 57 with severe lung problems.) Most seniors have health issues. This is what brings most of us to yoga.

I have used many dvds over the past 4 years, including Kripalu, Ganga White, Yin Yoga, etc. Each gave me a 'piece of the puzzle'. The person who helped me to best understand the need to HOLD poses long enough to move slowly enough to allow the pose to unfold was Erich Schiffmann. His book (MOVING INTO STILLNESS) opened up many windows of understanding. I now see forward bend as an asana in its own right...not as part of a sun salutation or as part of a total program. I understand the need to slowly allow my body to open to this asana. Before reading Schiffmann and watching his DVDs, I was only doing forward bends as part of a total program (sun salutations or Kripalu Gentle, etc). Now I rarely do a full forward fold except as a practice just for this as my emphasis is on using this asana to 'lengthen my spine' as I fold. I purchased a mirror and watch as I fold to insure my spine is straight. As soon as it rounds, I stop (as Schiffmann demonstrates) and allow my hips to open more. I now understand that it is okay if it takes my body years to achieve a full forward bend (as a separate asana)! Only after I able to do a forward fold with a straight back will I use it as part of a vinyasa. Until then, I do simpler vinyasas (such as plank to chaturanga to cobra or up dog to down dog or child's pose).

When teaching yoga to seniors, IMHO, the goal is help us understand that vinyasas (which are so emphasized) are not as important as restoring atrophied LM and maintaining flexibility. This is achieved in stages over years...not months! It will take us much longer to achieve the same results as a person even in his/her 50's! However, we often push ourselves too hard as we try to keep up with those who are 10 years younger! Menopause will make a huge difference in women. We can progress much faster BEFORE menopause than AFTER menopause. Therefore, it would be wise to know if the women in your class are pre-menopausal, menopausal, or post-menopausal.

Although I have used many yoga DVDs (60+) and have read many books, the ones I have learned the most from are: Erich Schiffmann's MOVING INTO STILLNESS (and watching his DVDs in which he explains his approach) and Kali Ray's FREEING THE SPINE. These still continue to benefit me as they allow me to 'go back' to the basics...something which is frequently needed as muscles are restored to full activity and the hips are re-opened.

Although Yin Yoga is VERY beneficial for senior, go slowly. Atrophied muscles will need to be re-activated and joints, unusued for many years, will need to be VERY GENTLY re-opened. As the joints are opened, waste matter which has accumulated in them FOR YEARS will be released. This will cause exhaustion about 24 hours after the practice as these toxins circulate in the bloodstream! Therefore, I would suggest that you not have your seniors do it more than once a week until they are past this stage. They should drink LOTS of water for the first 24 hours after the practice. Also, they should NOT do a yang yoga practice the next day IF they are feeling tired! After doing Yin Yoga several times, the release of most toxins will have been accomplished and this will no longer be a problem.

After 4 years of learning and experimenting, I am able to do 45-60 minutes of an advanced beginner's vinyasa. However, I benefit the most from 45-60 minutes of slow rhythmic movements which gently lengthen (and relax) the muscles and static holds that gently 'open' the joints. Even though I do yoga DAILY, this process (of restoring joint flexibility and muscle/spinal lengthening) is a daily RENEWAL process! While progress has been steady, it has also been very slow! I have had to frequently remind myself that "The goal is NOT the mastery of an asana or vinyasa but the daily restoration of joint flexibility, spinal length, and muscular strength. The destination is the journey."

While there are seniors for whom the above information may not apply, it will apply for most...especially those who have not been involved in a formal exercise program beyond walking.

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Post by mofro »

I would just like to add that osteoporitic and osteopenic people should not place load on the cervical region this can be especially vulnerable mofro
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resourse for osteoporosis and yoga

Post by jimyoga9397 »

A great resourse for yoga and osteoporosis is Sara Meeks, a yoga instructor and physical therapist who has studied this area for years. She offers workshops around the country and I believe her website is sarameekspt.com.

I tried to post an answer, but am really not comfortable in using this type of thing. In my classes, anyone with osteoporosis is advised to limit bending (avoiding things like cat, child) and also things that may put hip at risk by putting weight on it (can have osteo. here also)--we do not do pidgeon (there are a lot of other hip openers than can be done on the back, so why put people at risk).

You have to remember that some people do not know they have osteoporosis and some may not tell you.
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