I remember getting the call from my mom a few years ago; at age 58, she had been diagnosed with osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis. “And your aunt has it too … you better watch out,” she warned. There are many factors that contribute to the weakening of our bones as we age: poor nutrition, genetics, smoking and lack of exercise, to name a few. But a new study tells us that a yoga practice can not only help prevent these crippling conditions — it actually builds the bones back up! Here’s how to use the 72-second rule plus photo and video how-to’s for two yoga moves to help you improve bone density.

In early March, I attended a Yoga Therapy conference in Los Angeles, SYTAR. Dr. Loren Fishman and his study partner Ellen Saltonsall presented the most compelling information about this killer disease. They emphasized that bones need STRESS (no, not the anxiety building kind) to maintain strength. Yoga poses act on the bones by “applying forces of opposing muscle groups to them that greatly exceed gravity, stimulating bone cells (osteocytes) to create more bone.” They also suggest that yoga greatly improves arthritic joints by circulating synovial fluid, and stimulating all of the connective tissues around the joints, helping to mobilize these stagnant tissues.

The 72 Second Rule to for Bone Growth

Fishman then said that there is a magic number to initiate this process of new bone growth. 72 seconds. Yes, you must hold your pose for 1 minute and 12 seconds to reap the benefits. This should be approached gradually, as building up the strength to maintain a pose for 72 seconds may take months — but it will be well worth it. Plus, you will be rewarded with less stress (the anxiety-producing kind) and improved breathing, sleep and coordination. You have nothing to lose … and you can gain bone density!

Before she began studying Yoga Tune Up® with me at Equinox in Santa Monica, 57-year-old Judy came to me with doctors’ orders to begin practicing yoga because of her newly diagnosed condition: osteopoenia. In a year, she made significant changes in her posture and health. Although Judy’s progress came to a screeching halt in February when she suffered a terrible skiing accident and fractured her pelvis and collar bone, her improved bone condition has helped her heal quickly from what could have been tragic

“My recovery from the multiple pelvic fractures has been remarkable,” Judy says. “I attribute this to my ‘core strength’ that has improved a lot from taking your classes. I was able to get in and out of bed on my own four days after I fell, and was able to drive after two weeks. Each day I had so much more strength and mobility than the day before, and I was dancing after four weeks! I also think that I am much more aware of my body and how to isolate and work different parts of it which has helped in my physical therapy.”

Judy’s progress has been off the charts in part because she has “banked” a lot of new bone in her body over the course of the past year, priming her tissue to quickly and easily repair the damage caused by the accident. In this picture, she is performing a supported version of “Leg Stretch #2″ at the wall, where she can push her strong legs into the wall for 72 seconds without placing too much undo stress on other parts of her body. Voila!

Hey Mom, this Stretch Is for You! Safe Spinal Therapy

Try this side bend from my At Home Yoga Program. It has all of the components of a healthy stretch for the spine. This will lubricate your vertebrae and tone the finer muscles of your spine, as well as open the ribs and abdominal obliques. This is a perfect stretch to begin a safe therapeutic exercise practice that can help you keep your bones healthy for a lifetime, and it can also be included as one alternative therapy for arthritis sufferers.

Liked this article? Read Yoga Tune Up® for Seniors

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alice yuan

WOW? WOW! This is a very interesting find.. to hold a pose for 72 seconds to generate bone growth. I also have a family history of osteoporosis so this is very good news to discover. I will try this out for my self practices at home. I’m very excited! Thanks Jill!

Leorna

As result of aggressive cancer treatment and surgeries I got osteoporosis at 40. I totally agreed yoga and tuneup fitness would help and recently I got much better report from my oncologist just keep practicing with patience. Like u said “Gradually” is the key.

erika mills

It is empowering to read news like this, aging is not just something that happens to us but something we need to work with. As my body changes, so does that way I do yoga. Thank you!

Helen

Wow – you just totally made a liar 🤥 out of me! As a personal trainer, I’ve always been a proponent of yoga for increasing flexibility and mobility of the spine and strengthening the spinal erectors. However, I usually follow that with a “but to prevent osteoporosis, you need to do ‘real’ strength training too” i.e. Lifting weights. I will continue to encourage seniors to lift weights, but I know there is a certain percentage of them that will never comfortable following that advice, so I am thrilled to have an alternative to offer them with the science to back… Read more »

Sara

Are you aware of research by Dr. Sinaki of the Mayo Clinic showing that flexion of the spine in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis increased compression fractures of the spine? Many experts such as Sara Meeks, PT and Yoga Teacher, Loren Fishman, MD, and Margaret Martin, PT, recommend that flexion of the spine be avoided by those with osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Carly

Love this article because it provides tools for prevention and healing! So exciting to learn about information like this. Thank you!

Michelle B

Such great information. Before becoming a yoga enthusiast, I used to spend a lot of time running or walking on a treadmill so wasn’t worried if I was getting enough exercise that promoted bone density. I enjoy yoga so much more than the treadmill but was still forcing myself on it for skeletal health. Knowing that I can incorporate this strengthening into my practice is encouraging. Are there any particular poses you recommend to increase bone density. I know I won’t be able to hold all of them for 72 seconds!

ShellY Zagor

72 second rule is a great and new discovery for me. I have been diagnosed with “osteoporosis”. As the broken bones occur with the brittleness of the bones- it makes total sense that holding the poses longer will add more blood flow. Iyengar yoga is great as the poses are held for longer periods of time. When I am in a killer pose, i will remember that I am helping my bones!

Can Yoga Really Help Back Pain? Yoga Tune Up® Poses for Back Pain Relief | Yoga Tune Up

[…] sciatica, osteoarthritis and back pain. Their studies are ongoing and very motivating. See my previous osteoarthritis post for more […]

Natasha

I spent the weekend with Lillee in a Yoga Tune Up training and learned all about how our bones, muscles and joints work. But what I found most enlightening was Wolff’s Law and the 72 second rule. I immediately told my mom she needs to start doing more yoga to strengthen her mild case of osteopenia in her lower back. Thanks to Yoga Tune Up, I knew to “prescribe” warrior 1, baby cobra and camel.

Elissa Strutton

It’s comforting to know that our yoga practice, when postures are held for a specific period of time (at least 72 seconds) we can increase bone density.
A common question regarding this finding asks: “Must the postures be strong weight bearing poses such as downward dog, plank, Warrior II, etc. to reap the bone-building benefits?” If I understand the article correctly, the answer seems to be that just about any asana can help build bone density if enough muscular effort is applied to “stress the bones” and if it can be maintained for a minute and 12 seconds.

Jill Miller

Glad you like the blog! Visit Dr. Loren Fishman’s website sciatica.org for more details about his approach for osteoporosis and arthritis. He may still be looking for volunteers in his continuing studies!

Jessica Patterson

When Lillee first talked to us about this, I was happy to hear that there was solid clinical support for the strengthening aspects of yoga. But, after reading this, I found myself wondering if the 72 second rule applies to ALL postures, or if there is a specific sequence recommended. Are there postures that are contraindicated for holds that long? To which resources would you direct me if I would like to compile a sequence of, say, 5-10 bone-building postures? Thanks, Jill!

Alexa

I am a petite Asian woman. A few years ago, another petite Asian woman in my office marched up to me (apropos of nothing) and told me I was in the high-risk category for osteoporosis. I frowned at her, my face full of skepticism. I was healthy, observed healthy habits (aside from french fries on occasion) and was capable of holding yoga poses that made burly men cry. But I googled the issue and found the stats indicating she was right. But then Jill told me about the 72 seconds rule during a YTU class and all is well with… Read more »

dilshad keshwani

Thanks Jill for this article. This reinforced for me what I learnt in the YTU training recently. Yes, of course, it takes time and consistent practice to build up the strength to sustain poses for 72 seconds, but it is really worth it. The more I study the body and my practice, I am amazed at the miracle of the body. How phenomenally one could reverse the age and age related issues and live fully, with the help of Yoga.

Basia Going

Thanks Jill, I did not know about the 72 sec. rule. I knew holding poses, tensions, weight bearing, etc… was great for building bone mass. Knowing some specifics helps. Yey, yet another nugget I will take away.

Andrea - Bala Yoga

What many people don’t realize is that yoga is just as much about strengthening as it is about flexibility, if not more. Yoga strengthens your muscles and is a weight-bearing exercise. Yoga is much like lifting weights; you are just using your own body weight rather than dumbbells! Weight-bearing exercise not only strengthens muscles, but it also strengthens bones and prevents bone deterioration diseases, such as osteoporosis. To build bone density, definitely follow the 72-second rule, holding poses for 1 minute, 12 seconds.