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On Wednesday, May 15th, 2024, Anna Haddad, Founder + CEO of ONEYOGAHOUSE, had the exciting opportunity to speak at an in-person summit hosted by Women’s Health for its first ever Health Lab Summit at Hearst Tower in NYC.

Curated by the editors of Women’s Health, and featuring Oprah Daily, Cosmo, and Prevention, the Health Lab is a first-of-its-kind summit, bringing together some of the most influential and innovative voices in women’s health. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden was the keynote speaker with Women’s Health Editor-in-Chief, Liz Plosser.

INSIDE LOOK

Learn more and watch the panel discussions from Women’s Health: Health Lab 2024

This year’s Health Lab, presented by Women’s Health with support from Cosmopolitan, Prevention, and Oprah Daily, featured a diverse group of doctors, researchers, thought leaders, and advocates, each bringing their singular perspectives and expertise to a shared focus: women’s health. The symposium, in partnership with Northwell Health and their Katz Institute for Women’s Health, an organization dedicated to improving health outcomes for women, offered discussions on cardiovascular health, maternal health, skincare for BIPOC communities and more—along with a visit from the First Lady of the United States.

As part of the summit, various panels of experts came together to discuss topics affecting women’s health, including heart health/longevity, women in sport, healthy skin, menopause, chronic migraine, and maternal health. Jane Francisco, Editorial Director of Good Housekeeping, Prevention, and Woman’s Day moderated an Amgen-sponsored panel, “The Secret to Standing Tall” to discuss Active Aging and Bone Health. Anna, alongside Dr. Kristi Tough DeSapri the founder of Bone and Body Women’s Health, a women’s menopause and bone health practice in Chicago, as well as patient advocate Laura Rinck spoke on the panel.

In honor of National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, we wanted to share more of Anna’s thoughts with the ONEYOGAHOUSE community, including some of the practical takeaways from her perspective as a yoga, pilates, and meditation teacher to bring to light our mission of helping women live healthier, happier lives. Here are several questions and an expanded version of her answers.

Question + Answer Session

Q1: Anna, you’ve had your share of injuries and body pains to manage. Can you talk about how that’s guided your career and work?

I’ve always been an athlete and as such, have had my fair share of injuries and pains; but what really had an impact on me was the debilitating low back pain I had for my entire adult life. And there was a pivotal moment – the last time I threw out my back, landing me back in the PT office, and receiving spinal injections at Mt Sinai to manage my pain. I was in so much pain that something as simple as brushing my teeth was excruciating. I realized that I needed to really investigate the cause of my pain and incorporate small actions, small habits, consistent over time which can lead to big results. Instead of only coming to PT after throwing out my back, what if I incorporated these movements in my yoga practice, into my day to day life? Into my strength training? I kept a health journal, and recorded what helped, what didn’t. I questioned what movement patterns were optimal. I also let go of the things that were feeling unsupportive in my life mentally and emotionally. I set the goal to feel even 10% better, to truly reset, and build from the ground up. Every little choice began to add up. Seeing the difference in myself, I knew I had to share my teachings with others. I now work with women across all age ranges, including many women who have Osteoarthritis and those at risk of Osteoporosis. That’s why I focus so much on strengthening the soft tissues in my yoga practice, in order to support the bones.

Q2: Anna, why is exercise important at every age? Are there different things we should focus on at different times in our lives? And how can it help keep women standing tall at every age?

Great question. I work with women across age ranges including many women who have OA. It has become an increasingly important topic. I think the key is to develop and promote a solid foundation for the love of movement. I think that most of us naturally focus on different ways of exercising at different times in our lives: for instance, as children and adolescents, physical activity and learning motor skills comes to us more out of recess, fun, sports, with the benefit of healthy growth and development. Then in adulthood, we place more value on the importance of movement to maintain overall health and prevent disease. As we age, maintaining mobility, flexibility, and balance becomes increasingly important for fall prevention and injuries. This is why in every yoga class I teach, I incorporate 5 general categories of movement, including Weight-Bearing, Strength-Building, Balancing, Dynamic Movement Patterns and intelligent transitions (using the building blocks of prior three) and Inversions.

Q3: Can you expand on these: What are some bone strengthening exercises that can be achieved through yoga?

A: For women looking to strengthen their bones, I would recommend 5 general categories of exercises that are in every single yoga class I sequence and teach.

Weight-Bearing

Poses are taught from the ground up, meaning proper alignment starting from the feet and stabilizing up the chain and on up to neutral pelvis and spine; engaging the muscles surrounding the bones, stacking joints, then bringing more challenging variations or stillness by holding the pose. You need to stabilize before you mobilize, then challenge the bony matrix and perform these poses mindfully.

Example: Standing poses like Warrior I – III, Chair Pose, Half Moon, forward lunges and moving in different planes with side lunges, extended side angle, triangle, plank/side plank… are all excellent weight-bearing yoga poses that help strengthen bones.

Strength-Building

Much of what we do in class is to unweight one side or hold for longer breaths to make sure we develop an awareness of asymmetries in our body, and how we can create optimal movement patterns as opposed to allowing compensatory muscles to kick in. From my experience as a life-long athlete and through healing myself from debilitating back pain, I learned that I was relying on my smaller muscles to perform certain tasks because my larger muscles weren’t as strong– or firing as they should. Many people commonly think they are inflexible in their hips or their hamstrings… but it is often the case that their hips and hamstrings are weak. I place a huge emphasis on building strength in the core muscles, from the glutes to the scapulae, to support the skeletal system.
Example: We build slowly to warm up the body and there’s a progression. For example, poses like plank pose can lead to 3-legged plank pose, then to side plank; downward facing dog can lead to 3-legged down dog; low lunge crescent twist can lead to high lunge crescent twist. Something simple like unweighting the back foot to meet the front foot, then re-lengthening the back leg in the lunge helps to establish a solid foundation as you advance.

Balancing Poses

Balancing poses combine weight bearing and strength building with a steady gaze, using muscle memory and engaging core muscles, often by unweighting one leg and/or arm to maintain balance. Start with shorter holds with the support of the breath, and gradually increase the duration as you improve your balance and stability.

Example: Tree pose, eagle pose, extended hand-to–big-toe pose, half moon pose, and standing on one leg with arms reaching up to the sky and opposite leg straight forward, all challenge your balance and stability, which can help improve bone density.

Dynamic Movement

To me, this means finding a flow state: once your joints are warmed up, to embody each movement with the power of the breath, the yogic gaze, and feeling the tensegrity of effort and ease, encouraging further exploration through the spherical nature of our movements. Transitions between poses, prepared and taught in the beginning moments, come into play, moving with more ease and grace.

Example: Flowing sequences such as Sun and Moon Salutations (Surya and Chandra Namaskar) and weaving in dynamic movement patterns and intelligent transitions to experience how the last posture flows into the next, resulting in the culmination of weight-bearing, strength-building, and balancing benefits.

Inversions

Developing an inversions practice is beneficial to improve bone density by reversing the effects of gravity and promoting blood circulation to the bones. As with anything else, you can start with supported variations using props, including a wall, or under the guidance of a teacher.

Example: Downward-facing dog, dolphin, crow pose, headstand, handstand, forearm balance, and shoulder stand are beautiful postures to incorporate into your practice. Listening to your body and practicing with mindfulness will be the key to achieving a life-long practice.

Q4: Some of our audience members do have osteoporosis or may be at risk. Or maybe their mothers have osteoporosis. Does that mean they have to stop all exercising or are there safe ways they can keep active while protecting their bones?

A: Given I have numerous clients in this demographic, I feel it’s critical that everyone understands one major take away: Our bodies adapt to the demands we place on them. This is the KEY rule for why we need strength/resistance/weight bearing activities. Our brains are wired to keep our bodies working efficiently. But this also means that if you don’t use it, you “lose it”. So if we do not load the body with weight-bearing and strength training exercises which require us to work against gravity and help to stimulate and maintain bone density, we get weaker. This is why I teach optimal movement patterns and meet people where they are – working from the ground up, and layering on – because with proper form and intensity, not only will you develop bone strength and joint stability, but also confidence and mental well-being. I also stress the importance of moving in different planes in my classes – we tend to move in sagittal planes – forward and back, and don’t get enough frontal plane motions (lateral/side-to-side) and transverse plane motions (rotation/horizontal movement) as we get older; so again, the body adapts and loses mobility, joint range of motion, and connective tissue pliability.

Q5: What are several bone strengthening strategies women can implement into their everyday life off the mat?
A:Bodyweight Exercises:

You don’t need a gym to target major muscle groups throughout the day.

Example: wall squats, lunges (forward, side, and reverse), push-ups, and planks can all be done during breaks at work, listening to a podcast, watching tv, or while waiting for the coffee to brew. 🙂

Chores:

Many of us manage our households and perform chores – i.e. vacuuming, raking, mopping, gardening, and carrying groceries. Try to incorporate functional movements into these activities and do them mindfully. Position yourself optimally when lifting and engage your glutes. When pushing or pulling objects – mindfully engage the core muscles without straining the back.

Non motorized commutes:

Being a New Yorker, walking and biking is a great way to achieve some resistance training instead of driving. Be mindful about the route you take – perhaps add some extra intensity by walking uphill or riding into the wind. Choose to take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator whenever possible.

Resistance Bands:

Keep resistance bands at home or small weights in your office and use them for quick workouts or stretching sessions, even when sitting or standing, engage your core muscles to maintain stability and improve posture. Resistance bands are versatile and can be used to target various muscle groups, providing an effective way to incorporate resistance training into your daily routine.

Q6: Low bone density can increase the risk of fractures, and falls. What are some ways to increase bone density to prevent the risk of falls as we age?

A: There are other experts on this panel who can speak to dietary choices, weight management, bone density testing for timely intervention and treatment, supplementation with micro nutrients like calcium, magnesium, zinc, and potassium, and other lifestyle habits that impact bone health. Given my occupation, I’ll speak more on the mind-body connection and optimizing bone health through exercise off the mat.

Add Resistance / Weight Training into your weekly routine.

Resistance/Weight training should involve functional movements that stimulate bone growth, build muscle mass and strength, improve balance and stability, promote hormonal balance, preserve joint health (muscles around the joint can help reduce risk of osteoarthritis + other degenerative conditions), and increase metabolic rate. My favorites: deadlifts, squats, bench presses, reverse lunges, pull ups, push ups, lat pulls.
-Incorporate eccentric engagement (targeting the muscles that control your body weight as it moves in a downward motion). Example: Hiking downhill; bicep curls, pullup, pushups, squats, can all be performed eccentrically.

Incorporate isometric engagement

(static exercises where you recruit muscles and exert tension without lengthening or contracting them or moving the joints.) These are also useful for improving muscular endurance to further stabilize and support the bones and are even effective in lowering blood pressure. Example: plank pose; wall squats, static lunge

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ONEYOGAHOUSE is a community of shape creators, energy expanders, and movement manifestors in the heart of Brooklyn and Montauk.

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