Favorite Sweet Treat: Almost any kind of chocolate!
Years Practicing: 2
Most Challenging Pose: Boat Pose
Deb started her yoga practice two years ago somewhat reluctantly, by following up on a friend’s invitation to a group yoga session. While Deb wasn’t convinced that yoga was for her after that first class, I remember meeting her then and seeing her strength and stamina right out of the gate. Plus she gave me a bear hug, back when hugs were a thing. She returned to more group yoga classes, with the hope that yoga could help her get stronger, as well as improving her flexibility and balance. Her consistency over a period of time started to have noticeable results, starting with improved flexibility which has helped her while working in the garden.
“I have noticed greater stability through my core and hip muscles which has improved my balance, particularly on uneven surfaces.
Overall I have felt more energized and I have learned ways to bring ‘calm’ to my day through some breathing techniques and guided meditation.”
Yoga is Essential
“Up until just a few months ago, I was content to take the weekly group classes (in person and then through Zoom) and perhaps practice on my own during the week but most times not. Then a medical incident occurred that impacted my balance. It caused me to reflect on the fragility of independence and how life could potentially change drastically for me as well as my partner if allowed to persist or worsen.”
As part of her journey back to a state of health and independence, Deb expanded her “wellness team” to include me, and committed to private one-on-one sessions together. We created a practice plan to address Deb’s challenges and goals. I introduced some new tools for her yoga toolbox: restorative and yin postures, breathing exercises, and yoga nidra. I tailored her asana practice to take into account her medical challenges, with her doctor’s approval.
“Two years ago when I attended my first ‘try it on for size’ session, I certainly did not think that it would be on my list of essential elements for living a healthy, balanced life; but it is. And while I admit I still am not a person who rolls out her mat every day to practice, I believe aspects of my practice are present as I go about my daily routines. And that is a satisfying feeling.”
Air hugs, Deb. It’s an honor to be a member of your Wellness Team!
Age: 71 (she adds, “old enough to know better and young enough to do it anyway!”)
Sun Sign: Aries
Pets: Two long-haired black cats, Amos and Pinkerton
Favorite Sweet Treat: anything chocolate
One thing I’ve noticed about Judy since I met her in 2016 (besides her lovely posture!) is her ability to open herself up to whatever she’s experiencing, and I can tell she’s really listening inward during class. She has been a fixture in my group classes since then, adding her special brand of graceful goodwill and lightheartedness.
Judy’s been practicing on and off since 1998, but in 2000, she needed spine surgery in her neck to repair a serious bone spur that was interfering with her range of motion and causing numbness down her arm. They took the discs out of C6+C7 and replaced them with bone from her left hip. While she suffers from arthritis throughout most of her joints, Judy has learned that she feels much better if she keeps moving.
Currently, she practices yoga about 2-3 hours each week, which has also helped strengthen her bones as we reported earlier this year. (Her improved Dexa Scan scores contributed to the blogpost I wrote on Yoga for Stronger Bones.) In fact, I blame Judy and another student for getting me interested in yoga for osteoporosis, and I’m only at the beginning of that journey, so thank you…
Judy came to my house for a special one-on-one session – or an osteocyte party as I like to say! Osteocytes are important building blocks of bone synthesis, but we need to practice the right poses with proper alignment and work hard within the pose (hold for at least 30 seconds, for one!) in order to put enough stress on the bone to get that bone-building party started. She even got into an Extended Side Angle Pose, great for stimulating the femurs and spinal vertebrae – the areas where Judy has thinning bone.
With her weak ankles and neuropathy in her feet, Judy’s toughest challenge is balancing poses like Tree. “Balance is hard for me, and it makes me feel less successful, though it does get somewhat easier with practice!”
Because of Judy’s regular yoga practice, she experiences less arthritis pain, stronger bones, and feels more centered in her daily life. Yoga class provides her with a social connection with like-minded people. I’m so grateful to have Judy’s beaming smile in my classes, along with her humor and present-moment insight into her own practice. I hope she will consider the yoga dose response study with Dr. Fishman and keep those BMD scores improving!
We are offering special deals for seniors this month. Stay active, challenge your balance, and meet like-minded members of your community! At Team Sun Wellness, we teach many adults over the age of 65. Avoid injury, manage stress, and get more joy out of life by exploring some of our wellness offerings!
Aging gracefully: Our health and the rate at which we age entirely depends on our choices. We can actually reverse or slow down the pace at which we age by practicing yoga and meditation! We have seen improvements in balance firsthand with regular practice in our balance and yoga classes. Being more active seems to go hand in hand with maintaining or improving balance.
According to a 2016 study conducted by Yoga in America, 17 percent of current yoga practitioners are in their 50s, and 21 percent are age 60 and older!
TUESDAYS AT 11AM: All ages and mobility levels are welcome. Learn breathing techniques, easy stretches, and specific yoga poses adapted for the chair. Props like blocks and straps are used to help support, achieve, or deepen a pose. Improve your balance with standing poses that use the chair for support, if it’s in your practice. Come refine your posture, improve balance, strength and flexibility – in a supportive and relaxing community environment. First class is free for seniors! For more info: Chair Yoga. Swarthmore United Methodist Church.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 7th, 10-11:15AM:There’s a real “use it or lose it” component to maintaining your balance. Whether you’re looking to prevent balance issues or to reverse them, you need to challenge your balance on a regular basis. In our class we’ll be learning safe, effective exercises that can improve your balance, flexibility, and strength. With practice, almost anyone can achieve better balance. Participants of all ages and mobility levels welcome. Donation-based, pay what you can.For more info: Balance Workshop. Swarthmore United Methodist Church.
Yoga practiced on a regular basis could help strengthen your bones! Certain poses including Warrior II, Triangle, and Tree are considered weight-bearing exercise, often recommended along with a healthy diet for optimal bone health.
“Yoga puts more pressure on bone than gravity does. By opposing one group of muscles against another, it stimulates osteocytes, the bone-making cells.”
Recently, I’ve had several students approach me after yoga class to talk about their bones. “I just got the results from my most recent DEXA scan, and there’s been an improvement in my bone mineral density score in my spine!” says one 73-year old student who started practicing yoga consistently about two years ago in my classes. Another student, who just turned 70, reported a similar result on her latest scan. Both were kind enough to share their results with me, pictured below.
The DEXA or DXA scan is today’s established standard for measuring bone mineral density, and helps to estimate the density of your bones and your chance of breaking a bone. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, “a bone density test is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis before a broken bone occurs.” If you’ve got osteopenia or osteoporosis, it’s reflected in the numbers.
In fact, more than 200 million people suffer from osteoporosis. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women over the age of 50 and 1 in 5 men will experience osteoporotic fractures in their lifetime.
We reach peak bone density by our late twenties, and then it’s maintained by a continuous process called remodeling, in which old bone is removed and new bone is created. The renewal of bone is responsible for bone strength throughout life. Certain factors like age, genetics, lack of exercise and poor diet can slow down bone renewal, and then our bones might thin to such a degree that we develop osteopenia or osteoporosis. Happily, there are lifestyle changes you can make to maintain and build bone density.
Of course we’d love to attribute the slight improvement in our yoga students’ bone mineral density scores to the practice of yoga. The only real change they’ve made has been adding a regular yoga practice, and neither of them are on medication. So just how effective is a regular yoga practice for building stronger bones?
According to one study, “there is qualitative evidence suggesting improved bone quality as a result of the practice of yoga.”
The study is pretty much the only one of its kind, and its revelations are being touted in Harvard Health and The New York Times. Researchers prescribed 12 yoga postures held for 30 seconds each, practiced on a daily basis by 221 participants. They measured bone density at the beginning and end of the study, and concluded that yoga “actually builds bone significantly in the spine and the femur, the two most frequent sites of fracture.” You can find out more on Dr. Fishman’s site, Sciatica.org.
The 12 yoga poses included in the study:
Triangle (Uttitha Trikonasana)
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II
Extended Side Angle (Parsvakonasana)
Reverse Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
Bridge (Setu Bandhasana)
Supine hand-to-foot I (Supta Padangusthasana I)
Supine hand-to-foot II (Supta Padangusthasana II)
Straight-legged twist (Marichyasana II)
Bent-knee twist (Matsyendrasana)
We do most of these poses in our classes on a very regular basis, as they were covered extensively in our 250-hour teacher training certification. It’s been eye-opening to learn that not all yoga poses are good for someone with bone loss issues, and could actually increase risk for a vertebral fracture – as in poses with extreme spinal flexion (as in, forward folds.) Yoga should be practiced under the guidance of an experienced teacher who provides safe alternatives to classic poses, with an emphasis on proper alignment.
I’m so excited for my students who have committed to a regular practice and seen some heartening benefits show up in the very fabric of their bones! They continue to do the work, and it’s wonderful to witness firsthand what could be part of a relatively low cost and low risk answer to maintaining strong healthy bones and avoiding broken ones. Yoga also comes with some pretty great “side effects,” such as better balance, improved posture and strength, and reduced levels of anxiety. Hope to see you and your beautiful bones on the mat soon!
For best bone health, Harvard Health recommends:
eating foods rich in calcium, such as low fat dairy products, sardines, salmon, green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified foods and beverages.
getting more vitamin D from the sun or a supplement
doing weight-bearing exercise every day
not drinking too much alcohol
Note: if you are under 30, building bone so that your peak bone density score is as good as it can be could help you tremendously later in life! All of the above recommendations apply to those who are still building bone density.
If you can breathe, you can practice yoga! No matter your age, level of mobility or fitness, there is a yoga practice for you. In all of our classes, we explore a variety of postures and the transitions between those poses, adapted to your level. In addition, we learn more about the limbs of yoga beyond the physical postures, such as meditation and breath-work. A consistent yoga practice can:
Improve your posture, flexibility, strength and balance.
Help you manage your stress and anxiety.
Deepen your awareness and acceptance of self.
We are passionate about bringing the principles of yoga to atypical populations outside of the classic yoga studio space; and offer our classes in community, corporate, and private settings where participants can feel supported while safely finding their own practice. Feel free to explore our Class Calendarfor more details on when and where.
Check out the Feedback Page to hear what some of our students of all shapes, sizes, ages and mobility levels say about practicing yoga with Team Sun Wellness. You can also Meet Our Students and hear what yoga means to them.