The benefits of regular yoga go deeper than a toned body and a Zen attitude—striking a pose actually fortifies your bones. Just 12 minutes of yoga at least four times per week improves bone strength and can reduce the risk of fractures, according to a Columbia University study. It may even reverse osteoporosis. "The force and pressure of each pose make bones grow stronger," explains study author Loren Fishman, MD. The key is to hold each position for at least 12 seconds but no longer than 72 seconds, since after that benefits drop off. Need some bone-building inspiration? Add these 12 poses to your regular practice. (And if you want to expand your yoga session—and get more zzz's—try these moves for better sleep.)
Start standing facing straight ahead. Step your feet about 3 feet apart. Raise your arms so they're parallel to the floor. Turn your left foot 30 degrees to the right and your right foot about 90 degrees to the right. Exhale and extend your torso directly over your right leg, bending at the hips. Rotate your torso to the left and rest your right hand on your shin, ankle, the floor or a block. Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling and turn your head to look at your left hand. Hold for 30 seconds. Return to the start and repeat on the other side.
Start standing facing straight ahead. Step your feet about 3.5 feet apart. Raise your arms so they're parallel to the floor. Turn your left foot slightly to the right and your right foot about 90 degrees to the right. Turn your torso to the right, squaring your hips as much as possible to the front of your mat. Exhale and turn your torso further to the right as you lean forward over your front leg and squeeze your thighs toward each other. Reach your left hand down, either to the floor or onto a block placed against the inside of your right foot. Drop the left hip slightly toward the floor. Beginners should keep their head looking straight forward or at the floor, while more experienced yogis can look up toward the top thumb. Hold for 30 seconds. Exhale to release the twist and inhale to come upright. Repeat on the other side, twisting to the left.
Lie on your stomach with arms along the sides of your torso, palms up and forehead resting on the floor. Turn your big toes toward each other to inwardly rotate your thighs. Exhale and lift your head, upper torso, arms and legs away from the floor, without arching your neck. Your lower ribs, stomach and front pelvis will be resting on the mat. Firm your buttocks and reach through your legs. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and stretch back through your fingertips. Look forward or slightly upward without jutting your chin forward. Hold for 30 seconds, then release on an exhale.
Supine Hand-to-Foot I
Lie on your back, with legs out straight and arms down by your sides. Lift your right leg toward the sky, without bending your knee. Use your right hand to catch your toes, straighten your knee and bring your knee closer to your chest. If this is too much, use a yoga strap placed around the arch of the foot, hold it with both hands and use your arms to pull your leg toward your chest. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Supine Hand-to-Foot II
Lie on your back, with legs out straight and arms down by your sides. Lift your right leg toward the sky, bending your knee until your thigh is vertical, then straighten it. Use your right hand to catch your toes or a strap if you can't reach. Drop your right leg to the right side of your body, opening your hips and keeping your knee straight as your leg moves toward the floor. Place your left arm straight out to the side, forming a T. Retain contact between your left leg and the mat. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Lie on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor with heels as close to sitting bone as possible. Exhale and press your feet and arms actively on the floor, while pushing your tailbone upward and lifting your hips. Keep thighs and feet parallel. Clasp your hands below your pelvis and extend through the arms to stay on the tops of your shoulders. Lift your hips until the thighs are about parallel to the floor, knees directly over ankles. Lift your chin slightly. Hold for 30 seconds. Release on an exhale and slowly lower your spine back onto the mat.
Sit on the floor, legs straight out in front of you. Bend your right knee and put your foot flat on the floor, with heel as close to your sitting bone as possible. Lengthen your spine, so you're sitting up tall. Exhale and rotate your torso to the right, wrapping your left arm around the right thigh. Keep contact between the right sitting bone and the floor. Press your right fingertips onto the floor just behind your backside to lift your torso slightly up and forward. (If you're advanced, take a bind by wrapping the left arm around the right knee and moving your right arm around your back until you can grasp your left wrist or join hands.) Hold for 30 seconds. Exhale and release. Repeat on the other side.
Sit on the floor, legs straight out in front of you. Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor. Slide your left foot under your right leg, to the outside of your right hip. Lay the outside of the left leg on the floor. Step the right foot over the left leg, so your foot is outside your left hip, right knee pointing up toward the ceiling. Exhale and twist toward the inside of the right thigh. Press the right hand against the floor, just behind your right buttocks. Set the upper left arm on the outside of your right thigh. Continue to twist the torso by turning to the right. (If you're advanced, take a bind by wrapping your left arm around the right knee and moving your right arm around your back until you can hold your left hand.) Hold for 30 seconds, twisting a little further with every exhalation and distributing the twist evenly throughout the spine. Untwist on your inhale. Repeat on the other side.
Lie on your back with arms about 15 degrees from the side of your body, palms up and legs straight out in front of you. Close your eyes and take slow deep breaths through the nose. Allow your whole body to relax. Scan the body from the toes to the top of the head. Release any tense areas. Hold for several minutes, then slowly deepen the breath, wiggle the fingers and toes, reach arms over your head and stretch the whole body. Roll to the side and slowly come up to a seated position.