In a study of women with the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia, the practice of yoga was found to reduce both physical and psychological symptoms of pain.
Researchers from Canada’s York University studied the effect that yoga had on the cortisol levels of women with fibromyalgia, symptoms of which can include muscle stiffness, gastrointestinal discomfort, depression, anxiety and poor sleep. Fibromyalgia sufferers have lower levels of cortisol (a steroid hormone) than those in good health.
Following an eight-week series of twice weekly Hatha yoga sessions, study participants’ cortisol levels were found to have increased.
Lead study author Kathryn Curtis, a PhD student at York University’s Department of Psychology said, “Ideally, our cortisol levels peak about 30 to 40 minutes after we get up in the morning and decline throughout the day until we're ready to go to sleep. The secretion of the hormone, cortisol, is dysregulated [impaired] in women with fibromyalgia”.
“Hatha yoga promotes physical relaxation by decreasing activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which lowers heart rate and increases breath volume,” Curtis said.
A questionnaire was also used to gauge pain levels pre- and post-study. After the yoga course, participants reported feeling reduced pain and symptoms, as well as increased happiness – which the researchers attributed to that favourite buzzword at the moment, ‘mindfulness’, a non-judgemental acceptance of your current state of being.
“We saw their levels of mindfulness increase – they were better able to detach from their psychological experience of pain,” reported Curtis. “Yoga promotes this concept – that we are not our bodies, our experiences, or our pain. This is extremely useful in the management of pain. Moreover, our findings strongly suggest that psychological changes in turn affect our experience of physical pain.”
Source: Journal of Pain Research