Two Breathing Practices for Calming Inflammation and Strengthening Bones
We all know that inflammation affects our joints (think arthritis), but have you given any thought to how much it impacts the strength of your bones? The truth is inflammation has a negative effect on bone strength and bone strength is essential for healthy aging.
It seems unfair, but people who have inflammatory arthritis also have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, the bone thinning disorder that can lead to frailty and fractures.
Now for the good news! Studies have shown you can lower inflammation in your body by practicing yoga. Read on to learn more about several simple yoga breathing techniques that may help lessen your arthritis pain and lower your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Inflammation and Bone Health
The link between osteoporosis and inflammatory arthritis conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and lupus) is not fully understood, and scientists are still learning the exact mechanisms involved. What they do know is that chronic inflammation has a negative impact on the cells involved in building new bone.
The science behind it→ Healthy bones are constantly undergoing a process called remodeling. As cells (called osteoclasts) break down old bone, other cells called osteoblasts build new, strong bone. Inflammatory diseases like arthritis often increase what is known as bone resorption. Bone resorption is the process by which osteoclasts break down bone minerals in order to release calcium and phosphorus into the bloodstream. Why is this important to know?
In a 2016 review of 21 studies, low bone mineral density was identified as a significant problem among people with psoriatic arthritis (PsA). When bones lose density they become weaker and more prone to fracture. In people with rheumatoid arthritis(RA), the fracture risk is roughly twice that of people without RA. That’s why taking care of your bones should be a priority for individuals with arthritis.
Breathing Your Way to Stronger Bones
Recent studies suggest that yoga is one tool you can use to slow the harmful physical effects of stress and inflammaging. Inflammaging is the subtle,chronic, low-grade inflammation that is characteristic of increasing age.
Cortisol, often called the “stress hormone,” is a steroid hormone that is produced and released by the adrenal glands. Cortisol levels in people who are chronically stressed become less variable. This can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system.
A 2017 study found that participants who practiced yoga postures, breathing, and meditation five days a week for a 12 week period had lower levels of inflammation and significantly decreased levels of cortisol, suggesting that yoga has a potential protective effect for the brain, and is effective in lowering inflammation.
Many breathing practices in yoga have a calming, anti-inflammatory effect on the nervous system. Here are two that are very accessible, both for beginners as well as experienced yogis. Aim to do these breath practices two to three times a week.
Two Anti-Inflammatory Breathing Practices
Bhramari, or “bee breath,” calms the nervous system and relaxes both the brain and forehead. The humming sound, similar to the sound a bee makes, produces vibrations which have a natural soothing effect.
1. Sit comfortably with your spine straight on the floor or in a chair. Close your eyes and observe your natural breath as well as any sensations in your body for three breaths.
2. Breathing through your nose, establish a slow steady breath rhythm, inhaling for a count of three and exhaling for four. Repeat for five cycles of breath.
3. Next, place your index fingers on the cartilage between your cheek and ear. As you breathe out, gently press the cartilage inward as you exhale with an audible humming sound like a bee. You should feel the sound vibrating inside your head.
4. Release the pressure on your ears as you inhale. Then repeat for five more rounds. Sit quietly and notice how your body and nervous system respond.
Rhythmic or Ratio Breathing
Rhythmic breathing is a simple technique to reduce stress and help you relax. You can do it for as little as one minute a day. To receive the greatest benefit, pick a regular time to practice (first thing in the morning, just home from work, or just before bedtime). Maybe even set an alarm to remind yourself.
1. Sit comfortably with your spine straight on the floor or in a chair. Close your eyes and observe your natural breath as well as any bodily sensations for three breaths.
2. Next, inhale through your nose for three counts, imagining your lungs slowly filling from the bottom to the top.
3. Visualize the reverse as you exhale for four counts, emptying the top of your lungs first, then the middle, and finally the bottom. You want your exhale to be slightly longer than your inhale. Repeat this breath pattern for five cycles.
4. Now add a short pause: inhale for four counts, pause for one count, exhale for four counts, pausing for two counts. Imagine each pause as suspending rather than stopping the breath, similar to when you lift a bed sheet and it fills with air and is suspended briefly. Continue with this breath pattern for five cycles. If you feel lightheaded or anxious, stop and breathe normally.
5. To finish, come back to the initial ratio (three count inhale, four count exhale) for three more cycles of breath before returning to your natural breath. Be sure to take a moment to notice how your body responds to the practice.
It’s comforting to know that something as simple as your breath can help to control stress and inflammation and strengthen your bones. And, because the breath is one of the few autonomous functions of the body that you can control, it is an incredible resource at your disposal anytime, anywhere.