Of the 12 systems of the body, the skeletal system is probably one of the best known. We’ve all seen X-Rays, skeletons in the doctor’s surgery and ‘spooky’ Halloween costumes. Bones are rigid and don’t generally change unless we break one, right? What is there to know about the skeletal system and yoga that could possibly be worth writing a whole article about?
Why Yoga Is Good For Your Bones
We are born with just under 300 bones in our bodies. Some of these fuse together as we grow up and by the time we are 30 we only have 206 bones left. Our bones work together to support our soft tissues and allow movement at our joints. They provide protection for our vital organs, store calcium and produce red blood cells. They also release hormones that help to regulate our blood sugar levels. Overall pretty versatile really.
But how does yoga affect our bones? Well, the human body is really clever: our bones increase and decrease their density in response to the stresses that go through them. If we do a lot of weight bearing through our bones they strengthen by becoming more dense. If we don’t put weight through our bones, maybe through a few weeks in bed with an illness, they weaken.
So, all of the yoga standing poses are strengthening our leg and spinal bones while holding our body on our hands strengthens our arms. A few simple sun salutes benefit pretty much every bone in your body. The other great thing about how yoga affects our bones is that yoga poses are functional: they are useful to the body in everyday life. Pretty cool, huh?
For most of us, our yoga practice is maintaining our bone health but for anyone who has spent time off their feet through illness and injury, yoga can be a great way to regain bone strength as part of a recovery plan. I’d recommend gentle restorative poses at first and build up to more challenging or dynamic work as your rehab progresses.
The Knee Bone’s Connected To The Thigh Bone…
The skeletal system isn’t just about bones. The joints are almost more important seeing as without them we wouldn’t be able to, you know, move. Depending on which books you read, there are between 200 and 360 joints in the body. Our joints come in many shapes and sizes, but are separated into two categories:
- Synovial Joints: These have cartilage covering the ends of the bones and a bit of fluid that works a bit like oil to lubricate the joint. Synovial joints come in different shapes like hinge joints ( at the knee and elbow), ball and socket joints (at the shoulder and hip) and saddle joints (in our thumbs).
- Fibrous Joints: There is no fluid in fibrous joints just one piece of solid tissue between the bone ends. These can be found in our pelvis and spine.
Whether the joints are fibrous or synovial they can all benefit from yoga!
Most tissues in the body draw the nutrients they need from bloodstream but some structures in our joints have no direct blood supply. These tissues depend on the structures around them for their nutrition. When they are compressed, fluid is flushed out and when the compression is released new fluid enters. This pumping effect is what nourishes the tissues. Turns out yoga helps us here too since as we change positions through our āsana practice our joints are being pumped with nourishment.
This is particularly important for the health of our spinal discs which suffer from over-compression when we sit for long periods. Yoga is also a great way to manage any joints with degenerative changes or osteoarthritis as it nourishes the worn out joint cartilage and strengthens the muscles around the joint, both of which will really help to reduce pain.
Everyone’s Built Tibia Great Yogi
Even though we all have the same number of bones and joints, we are not all built exactly the same. Some people will have longer bones than others. Others have bones that are a slightly different shape with maybe more or less of an angle between two bits of the bone. As a physiotherapist I find this huge range of human anatomy fascinating but I won’t bore you will it now but maybe another time….. To us yogis this means that everyone’s poses look slightly different, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s is better!
Though we can stretch soft tissues around the joints to gain a greater range of movement, the shape of the bones won’t change. So if you have a joint that doesn’t want to go any further no matter how much you stretch, it may be that the bones won’t let it. The best thing to do in this scenario is to accept it and move on. Keep working on those joints that still have some give during your practice, and remember that it is more important how your yoga feels from inside than how it looks from the outside.
Yoga is great for your skeletal health, so roll out that mat and increase you bone density and cartilage nutrition with a few āsana. Any other yoga and bone-specific questions? Just post them below and I’ll do what I can to answer them! If not, stay tuned as I move on to the next system of the body: the neurological system and the brain!