Are there dangers of Yin Yoga for individuals with osteoporosis, osteopenia or low bone density? Yin Yoga unto itself is not dangerous to practice. However, if you have osteoporosis, you should exercise some caution and either modify the poses or practice another form of yoga that is more appropriate for people with osteoporosis.
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What is Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga is a style of yoga that claims to target the connective tissue — specifically the ligaments and tendons in the joints and spine. The poses involve static holds lasting up to three minutes or longer. According to its followers it has many benefits including the elimination of energy blockages and enhancement of circulation.
I decided I would give Yin Yoga a try and see if it is safe for someone with osteoporosis.
Dangers of Yin Yoga for People with Osteoporosis
One of the primary dangers of Yin Yoga practice, in general, is that it encourages extended periods of flexion of the spine — something that should be avoided by someone with low bone density, osteopenia or osteoporosis..
Yin Yoga Poses Can Cause Flexion of Spine
I recommend that you make sure that your teacher understands how to modify certain Yin Yoga poses so that flexion comes from the hip and not the spine.
If this is too much to ask of your instructor or you cannot avoid flexion, I suggest you avoid this type of yoga altogether and find an alternative practice.
Yoga Spinal Flexion Poses
A recent case study report by Dr Sinaki at the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation identifies many of the problems associated with yoga spinal flexion positions and their affect on people with osteopenia or osteoporosis.
In the report (1), three patients had osteopenia (low bone mass). They were in good health and pain free. The yoga practitioners embarked on a yoga exercise program to improve their musculoskeletal health.
Unfortunately, the yoga flexion exercises the patients followed brought on pain and fractures. The author concludes that while exercise has been proven to be beneficial to bone health, “some yoga positions can contribute to extreme strain on spines with bone loss.” The concern is even greater among individuals with osteoporosis.
Exercise Recommendations for Osteoporosis
Yoga is excellent for your overall health and well-being. However, you need to do more than that if you have osteoporosis. Exercise is an essential ingredient to bone health. If you have osteoporosis, therapeutic exercise needs to be part of your osteoporosis treatment program.
But what exercises should you do and which ones should you avoid? What exercises build bone and which ones reduce your chance of a fracture? Is Yoga good for your bones? Who should you trust when it comes to exercises for osteoporosis?
A great resource on exercise and osteoporosis is my free, seven day email course called Exercise Recommendations for Osteoporosis. After you provide your email address, you will receive seven consecutive online educational videos on bone health — one lesson each day. You can look at the videos at anytime and as often as you like.
I cover important topics related to osteoporosis exercise including:
- Can exercise reverse osteoporosis?
- Stop the stoop — how to avoid kyphosis and rounded shoulders.
- Key components of an osteoporosis exercise program.
- Key principles of bone building.
- Exercises you should avoid if you have osteoporosis.
- Yoga and osteoporosis — should you practice yoga if you have osteoporosis?
- Core strength and osteoporosis — why is core strength important if you have osteoporosis?
Enter your email address and I will start you on this free course. I do not SPAM or share your email address (or any information) with third parties. You can unsubscribe from my mail list at any time.
Safe Yin Yoga Poses
The following Yin Yoga poses are generally safe for individuals with osteoporosis, osteopenia or low bone density. Certain poses need special attention. I have commented on those poses.
- Melting Heart.
- Ankle stretch.
- Half Butterfly: This pose is safe when done with a tall back hinging forward at your hips.
- Cat Pulling its Tail: Unmodified, the pose involves side flexion and rotation of the spine. It can be done safely lying on your side with the top hand holding the top foot.
- Happy Baby Pose: If you have had a disc problem then using a small roll at the lumbar spine will keep your back safer.
- Extended Child’s Pose: This can be modified by bringing big toes together, knees apart. Sit back with emphasis on the hips joints. Bending from the hips and avoid rounding the spine.
- Butterfly and Wide Angle pose: This is safe when the legs are resting up against the wall (not a traditional Yin).
Unsafe Yin Yoga Poses
Yoga practitioners and teachers should generally avoid these Yin Yoga poses for individuals with osteoporosis, osteopenia or low bone density.
- Seated Butterfly: With or without a bolster or blocks to rest your head, your lumbar spine is in flexion. Depending on your flexibility, your thoracic spine is also in flexion.
- Long Legged Butterfly: Resting your lumbar spine forward places it in flexion. Depending on your flexibility, your thoracic spine is also in flexion.
- Shoelace: This pose places excessive rotation at the neck of your femur.
- Square Pose: With or without a bolster or blocks to rest your head, your lumbar spine is in flexion. Depending on your flexibility, your thoracic spine is also in flexion.
- Camel Pose: Involves too much compression on the spinous processes and facet joints of the spine. It is also unhealthy for the anterior capsule of the shoulder.
- Reclining Twist: This pose is unsafe without appropriate back support.
- Deer Pose: Is unsafe for the medial collateral ligament of the back knee.
- Caterpillar Pose: A forward resting posture puts your lumbar spine in flexion. Depending on your flexibility, your thoracic spine is also in flexion.
- Child’s Pose: Knees are kept close together and arms are by your side. This position can put your spine in flexion.
- Dangling Pose: Hanging forward with hands resting at opposite elbows places large compressive loads on the disc and vertebra of the lumbar and thoracic spine.
- Frog: Unsafe for your hips and knees. This pose places excessive rotation at the neck of the femur and the medial collateral ligaments in your knees.
- Saddle: Unsafe for your knees.
- Straight Leg forward fold.
Safe Yin Yoga for Osteoporosis Routines
I recently released two Yin Yoga routines on streaming video. The series are available on Amazon Prime and Vimeo on Demand.
If you are interested in practicing Yin Yoga in a safe manner, consider my Yin Yoga for Osteoporosis video series.
Yin Yoga Dangers and Concerns
Several instructors and teachers promote Yin Yoga principles that are not appropriate for people with either osteoporosis or disc issues. While these instructors are well-intentioned, because they have not received formal training in human anatomy and are unaware of some underlying issues caused by their recommendations.
Pushing the Edge
The principles include gradually getting to the edge or boundary of a pose. When you initially enter a Yin Yoga pose, in a slow and deliberate manner, you might find you are limited in how far you can push yourself. Instead of stopping the pose, you are encouraged to “to feel the stretch and then in time, as your body opens up, go to your next edge. ”
My concern is that this principle and others do not take into account individuals with unstable discs, low bone density or osteoporosis.
The unsafe poses that I mention above place the spine into flexion and can cause a disc that had a small bulge to create a large bulge. The same pose in individuals with low bone density or osteoporosis can cause vertebral compression fractures.
Another principle encourages practitioners to extend the time to hold the pose to as long as possible. In a pose that causes too much rotation at the hip or too much flexion at the spine, the principle of time allows “creep” to set into disc tissue or the end plates of the vertebral bodies. This can lead to disc herniation (excess bulging) or it can lead to compression fractures of the spine.
The usage of props in Yin Yoga, such as a sandbag weight to the spine to increase flexion, is problematic for people with osteoporosis, osteopenia or low bone density.
As noted above, there are some Yin Yoga poses that can be done and enjoyed knowing harm will not be done. I encourage you to limit your practice to these poses and feel safe while enjoying the benefits of Yin Yoga.
Yoga for Better Bones
Many of these concerns were raised in my book, Yoga for Better Bones. The book recommends modifications to popular yoga poses and identifies a number of poses that should be avoided altogether by people with osteoporosis, osteopenia or low bone density.
As I have mentioned in earlier articles, yoga has many benefits and when practiced safely it can bring great joy.
I find that most people do not have the body awareness required to make sure that they avoid getting into a flexed position. As a result, I always encourage my clients with osteoporosis to search out a teacher who knows how to modify poses to make them safe and pain free.
- Sinaki M. Yoga spinal flexion positions and vertebral compression fracture in osteopenia or osteoporosis of spine: case series. Pain Practice. 2013 Jan;13(1):68-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1533-2500.2012.00545.x. Epub 2012 Mar 26
Osteoporosis Exercise Plan
Visit my Osteoporosis Exercise Plan page for more information on this topic.
I have been practicing Iyengar yoga for close to 30 years, and was diagnosed with osteoporosis about 10 years ago. A few years ago I went to a yin yoga class. When we were doing a forward bend, I was careful to keep my spine straight and bend only from the hips. The teacher came over and actually encouraged me to round my back! I told her why I was not doing that, but she did not seem to be aware that rounding the back was not a good idea for someone with osteoporosis! Her attitude seemed to be that she was the teacher and new better about how to take care of MY body. Needless to say I have not returned to that teacher’s classes. Glad to see you are spreading the word, and I will look for your book!
Margaret Martin says
Thank you for sharing your story. Unfortunately, osteoporosis is not understood by 99% of Yoga teachers out there. Keep up the good work in keeping your spine safe and strong!