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Yoga and Stress and Pain Relief

by Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH

Being a mom is a wonderfully rewarding experience, but sometimes, it can be tiring. For moms with fibromyalgia, even the smallest labors of love can lead to intense pain and overwhelming exhaustion.

A new study* by York University scientists recently found an activity that might just help. Practicing yoga, they discovered, reduces both the physical and psychological symptoms of chronic pain in women with fibromyalgia. The condition, which affects mostly women, is characterized by chronic pain and fatigue. Accompanying symptoms include muscle stiffness and aching, difficulty sleeping properly, and gastrointestinal upset; as well as anxiety and depression.

Previous research revealed that women who suffer from fibromyalgia have below average levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Low levels of cortisol can contribute to fatigue and a greater sensitivity to stress and pain. In this study, the York researchers studied the effects of yoga on cortisol levels in women with fibromyalgia. They found that among women practicing 75 minutes of hatha yoga twice a week for eight weeks, salivary levels of cortisol were elevated.

The women in the study reported significant reductions in pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia. They also stated that they felt less helpless, were more accepting of their condition, and were less likely to “catastrophize” over current or future symptoms. The researchers observed that the women were better able to detach themselves from their psychological experience of pain as a result of practicing “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is a state of active mental awareness rooted in Buddhist traditions. This state is achieved by focusing on the present moment with a non-judgmental awareness of inner and outer experiences. Because yoga helps individuals achieve this state, it is extremely useful in the management of pain caused by fibromyalgia, as well as many other conditions.

If you’re exhausted, stressed out, or in pain, don’t give up on an active lifestyle with your children. Find a yoga class in your community, and find out if practicing yoga helps you get your life back.

*Kathryn Curtis, Anna Osadchuk, Joel Katz. An eight-week yoga intervention is associated with improvements in pain, psychological functioning and mindfulness, and changes in cortisol levels in women with fibromyalgia. Journal of Pain Research, 2011; : 189 DOI: 10.2147/JPR.S22761

The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.