Looking for better health through yoga? Then Loren Fishman, M.D. has a mantra better than om: bone. A longtime yoga enthusiast, Fishman has coauthored four books about using yoga to relieve lower back pain; osteoarthritis; and osteoporosis, a condition common among older people in which the bones become brittle. He’s now in the third year of a study examining whether yoga can slow or reverse osteoporosis, with about 400 subjects from various countries around the world, including South Korea, Serbia, and New Zealand. While he does not yet have any official findings, Fishman has found that a significant number of participants had improved bone density based on body scans taken at the two-year point of the study. The results of an earlier pilot study revealed that 10 minutes of yoga per day helped some subjects regain normal bone density without the use of drugs or any other therapy.
Fishman, medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City and a weekend resident of Salt Point, isn’t the only doctor in America who believes in the medical benefits of yoga, but he doesn’t have a lot of company. “Western medicine has begun to flirt with yoga; it hasn’t embraced it yet,” he says. An assistant clinical professor at Columbia Medical School, he’s been practicing yoga since 1973.
It’s long been known that activities such as weight lifting prevent loss of bone density. “The cells that make bone respond to those pressures by making more bone,” he says. Yoga, Fishman maintains, not only creates that useful pressure but increases the range of motion for joints, which helps prevent degeneration from arthritis.
Not yet convinced? Well, Fishman has found a simple, one-minute method of relieving the pain of a rotator cuff injury. “It’s one of the most common and disabling things that can happen to the shoulder,” he says. The injury is caused by a tear in the muscle used to lift the arm above the head. Sufferers are taught a yoga maneuver that substitutes an entirely different muscle to lift the arm. Nine out of 10 subjects have found relief by using the yoga move, he says. “Once they learn it, they’re in pain if they use the old muscle, so they’re strongly stimulated to use the new muscle.”