Increasing Bone Density with Tai Chi
By Pat Gorman and Margaret Olmsted
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both. As a result, bones become weak and may break from a fall or, in serious cases, from sneezing or minor bumps. About 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. Studies suggest that approximately one in two women and up to one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Osteopenia is a loss of bone density that may precede osteoporosis. A balanced diet and regular exercise will help slow the loss of bone density, delay osteopenia, and delay or prevent osteoporosis. Certain medications and hormone replacement may also be used.
According to the National Institutes of Health, tai chi may help maintain bone mineral density in post-menopausal women.* The authors further note that the benefits of tai chi appeared similar to those of conventional exercise. One of the teachers in our school, Margaret Matsumoto, had a bone density scan at age 60 and her legs and hips showed the same bone density as a healthy thirty-year-old. In addition to strengthening the bones, tai chi may also improve balance, reduce fall frequency, and increase musculoskeletal strength.
To strengthen your bones with tai chi we recommend the following which can be seen on our Roots and Branches 5 Element Qigong DVD. (https://www.taichifoundation.org/products)
1. SINGLE WEIGHTING
Standing single-weighted is seen by both Eastern and Western medical traditions as the main way to stimulate bone growth. This especially addresses the long bones of the legs, and there is also stimulation around spine and the entire body.
While any single-weighted position will work, we recommend White Crane. From the Chinese point of view the White Crane posture stimulates the Metal element which collects and supplies minerals and helps in the formation of bones. Building up to and then holding the position for three to five minutes on each side will work the muscles, nourish the bones and increase the qi. This needs to be a part of one's daily routine to be effective.
2. WATER POSTURES
The Water element in Chinese medicine is seen as the actual creator of bone itself, forming the minerals into the crystalline structure of bones. Holding the positions of Ward off Left (kidney yin) and Ward Off Right (kidney yang) nourishes the Water element.
3. KIDNEY MASSAGE
Finally, the kidney massage is very good for stimulating kidney function. In this massage, we stroke downward across the kidney, from top to bottom, with the back of the hands.
We recommend slowly building up strength to be able to hold the single-weighted posture of White Crane (alternating legs) for 10 minutes followed by Ward Off Left and Ward Off Right for an additional 10 minutes. Holding these postures for a total of 20 minutes, without breaking the thread, affects our deepest ancestral [Jing] qi and would be very powerful. Following that with the 49 strokes of the kidney massage ends the workout. Do this work 6 days/week for maximum benefit.
*Peter M. Wayne, Douglas P. Kiel, and David E. Krebs, et al.. The Effects of Tai Chi on Bone Mineral Density in Postmenopausal Women: A Systematic Review.. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2007