Yoga Helps Physical and Emotional Pain

Some people turn to Yoga to burn calories and work up a good sweat when it’s hot Yoga, but Hatha Yoga has always offered a combination of strength conditioning and relaxation.

Yoga can help fibromyalgiaA new study out of York University published in the Journal of Pain Research found that Hatha Yoga can have a profound effect on physical pain and psychological symptoms of chronic pain in women who suffer from fibromyalgia.

The focus of this study was the stress hormone cortisol and how Yoga would affect these levels as it has been shown to stimulate cortisol. In women with fibromyalgia, cortisol levels can be quite low and this contributes to their symptoms like chronic pain, fatigue, muscle stiffness, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal discomfort, anxiety and depression.

These women were studied for a period of eight weeks and took a 75-minute Hatha Yoga class twice a week. After which their saliva samples were taken to test for cortisol levels and the results showed they were higher than before.

“Ideally, our cortisol levels peak about 30-40 minutes after we get up in the morning and decline throughout the day until we’re ready to go to sleep,” says the study’s lead author, Kathryn Curtis, a PhD student in York’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health. “The secretion of the hormone, cortisol, is dysregulated in women with fibromyalgia” she says.

Cortisol is part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. As a steroid hormone, cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands in response to stress.

“Hatha yoga promotes physical relaxation by decreasing activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which lowers heart rate and increases breath volume. We believe this in turn has a positive effect on the HPA axis,” says Curtis.

As well as the saliva test, the study group women filled out a questionnaire rating their levels of pain before and after the eight-week study. The main areas of improvement after eight weeks of Hatha Yoga were:

  • Less pain
  • Fewer symptoms
  • Psychological benefits
  • Acceptance of their condition
  • Reduced anxiety and feelings of helplessness
  • Less likely to “catastrophize” over their condition

“We saw their levels of mindfulness increase — they were better able to detach from their psychological experience of pain,” Curtis says. Mindfulness is a form of active mental awareness rooted in Buddhist traditions; it is achieved by paying total attention to the present moment with a non-judgmental awareness of inner and outer experiences.

“Yoga promotes this concept — that we are not our bodies, our experiences, or our pain. This is extremely useful in the management of pain,” she says. “Moreover, our findings strongly suggest that psychological changes in turn affect our experience of physical pain.”

The study – Curtis’ thesis – was published July 26 in the Journal of Pain Research. It is co-authored by her supervisor, York professor Joel Katz, Canada Research Chair in Health Psychology, and Anna Osadchuk, a York University undergraduate student.

Curtis was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Canada Graduate Scholarship and a CIHR Strategic Training Grant Fellowship in Pain: Molecules to Community.


York University. “Yoga boosts stress-busting hormone, reduces pain, study finds.” ScienceDaily, 27 Jul. 2011. Web. 1 Aug. 2011.


Warm Up with Exercise this Winter

With the advent of winter, comes shorter days and colder temperatures.

Warm up this winter with exerciseBut don’t let that deter you from getting regular exercise, especially if you suffer from arthritis.

Too many people slow down and neglect their exercise routine with the onset of winter and this is a big mistake for those managing the pain of arthritis.

“We found that there’s a huge difference in trying to get these patients to be active in the winter and trying to get them to be active in the summer,” said Joe Feinglass, a research professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Lead author of a recent study called “The Effects of Daily Weather on Accelerometer-Measured Physical Activity,” published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, Feinglass  also notes that elderly people who suffer from arthritis from low-income households neglect exercise during the winter months because of lack of funds.

“Chicago has indoor ‘exercise deserts,’ just like we have food deserts, making it difficult for low-income seniors, like many in our study, to get the physical activity they need,” said Feinglass, lead author of the study. “Even modest reductions in activity can have serious health consequences for people with arthritis.”

This study was conducted over a three-year period and followed 250 men and women over 60 with either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, equipping them with an accelerometer to record their physical activity. This study also took into account the type of weather and the available hours of daylight from day to day.

“The lack of daylight hours in the winter had a huge effect on the participants,” Feinglass said. “There’s more than a three-hour difference in the amount of completely sedentary time each day, where people are just sitting around doing nothing, during the months with less daylight, such as November, versus June.”

It is important for people with arthritis to get daily exercise to help manage their pain. Low-impact activity of moderate intensity for 150 minutes per week is the recommended dose of exercise for arthritis sufferers.

“We spend an enormous amount of money on outdoor activities in the summer months for younger and healthier people,” he said. “We need to design more public access opportunities for older people to be more physically active indoors, in the winter.”

If you live in a climate that experiences cold temperatures in the winter time that makes exercise outdoors difficult, look into some inexpensive ways to keep active. Resistance bands and exercise balls are relatively cheap and are effective ways to keep active. You can pick up a lot of used equipment for a good price at secondhand stores. Also, look into mall walking, which is free and often draws a huge crowd. It’s a great way to meet new people. Exercise videos can also be rented out from your local library to help guide you through some new and different exercise routines.

Ease Back Pain with Yoga

If you’ve ever taken a Yoga class, then you know firsthand how incredible and instant the benefits are and how energized and flexible you feel afterwards.

Yoga for back painMany people turn to Yoga as a form of therapy to reduce stress, induce calm and alleviate aches and pains, particularly in the back.

If there was any doubt of these benefits, a recent study published by the Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the largest US randomized controlled trials to date, has proven that practicing Yoga leads to improved back function and reduced back pain. However, the researchers argue that an intense stretching class will deliver the same benefits when it comes to managing back pain.

“We found yoga classes more effective than a self-care book — but no more effective than stretching classes,” said study leader Karen J. Sherman, PhD, MPH, a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute. Back-related function was better and symptoms were diminished with yoga at 12 weeks; and clinically important benefits, including less use of pain medications, lasted at least six months for both yoga and stretching, with thorough follow-up of more than nine in 10 participants.

In total, 228 adults who were moderately active and of good mental health were randomly picked to participate in 12 weekly 75-minute Yoga or stretching classes or given a self-care book called The Back Pain Helpbook. Nine in 10 of subjects were primary-care patients at Group Health Cooperative.

In addition to attending the exercise classes, participants were given an exercise video and encouraged to practice at home for 20 minutes a day between their weekly classes. The results were recorded at three intervals: six weeks, 12 weeks and six months.

This research follows on the heels of a smaller study in 2005 that proved that Yoga is effective in alleviating chronic low back pain.

“In our new trial,” Sherman said, “we wanted both to confirm those results in a larger group and to see how yoga compared to a different form of exercise of comparable physical exertion: stretching.

Both the yoga and stretching classes emphasized the torso and legs:

  • The type of yoga used in the trial, called viniyoga, adapts the principles of yoga for each individual and physical condition, with modifications for people with physical limitations. The yoga classes also used breathing exercises, with a deep relaxation at the end.
  • The stretching classes used 15 different stretching exercises, including stretches of the hamstrings and hip flexors and rotators. Each was held for a minute and repeated once, for a total of 52 minutes of stretching. Strengthening exercises were also included.

“We expected back pain to ease more with yoga than with stretching, so our findings surprised us,” Dr. Sherman said. “The most straightforward interpretation of our findings would be that yoga’s benefits on back function and symptoms were largely physical, due to the stretching and strengthening of muscles.”

But the stretching classes included a lot more stretching than in most such classes, with each stretch held for a relatively long time.

“People may have actually begun to relax more in the stretching classes than they would in a typical exercise class,” she added. “In retrospect, we realized that these stretching classes were a bit more like yoga than a more typical exercise program would be.”

So the trial might have compared rather similar programs with each other.

“Our results suggest that both yoga and stretching can be good, safe options for people who are willing to try physical activity to relieve their moderate low back pain,” Dr. Sherman concluded. “But it’s important for the classes to be therapeutically oriented, geared for beginners, and taught by instructors who can modify postures for participants’ individual physical limitations.”

The bottom line is everybody needs to stretch to increase flexibility and avoid injury. Dedicating at least two sessions a week to either a Yoga or deep stretching session is recommended for optimum health.


Group Health Research Institute. “Yoga eases back pain in largest U.S. yoga study to date.” ScienceDaily, 24 Oct. 2011. Web. 25 Oct. 2011.

Staying Active with Arthritis

Living with arthritis can have drastic effects on your quality of life.

Staying Active with ArthritisAn alarming 50 million Americans are diagnosed with arthritis and by 2030, this number is expected to climb to 67 million. Arthritis is the leading cause for disability in the US with 19 million experiencing limited activity and 8 million experiencing loss of work.

On a yearly basis in the US, arthritis results in:

  • 44 million outpatient visits
  • 1 million hospitalizations
  • More than $128 billion in medical expenses

In a study published online at Arthritis Care and Research, a journal published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the American College of Rheumatology, scientists found that those arthritis sufferers who exercised regularly had a significantly higher quality of life and continued better health.

“Given the projected high prevalence of arthritis in the U.S. interventions should address both physical health and mental health,” concluded Dr. Furner. “Increasing physical activity, reducing co-morbidities, and increasing access to healthcare could improve the quality of life for adults with arthritis.”

So if you’re arthritic, what kind of exercise is right for you? The two most recommended forms of aerobic activities are walking and swimming. They are both low impact and easy on the joints. If you take an aquafit class, you will get both resistance training and cardio all in one. If you find walking difficult because you’re unstable on your feet, try Nordic walking. With the aid of walking poles, Nordic walking is very popular among arthritis sufferers and older people who are not so steady on their feet.

Staying flexible is crucial for arthritic sufferers and engaging in some stretching or Yoga classes are both ideal ways to stay limber. Resistance training using resistance bands twice a week or more is a gentle way to keep the supporting muscles around your joints strong and supple.

Here are a few exercises that focus on flexibility and range of motion. These can be done with or without bands:

  • Shoulders – start with your arms at your sides and bring them all the way up toward the ceiling. Continue as far behind your body as comfortable, making a huge circle. Repeat 10 – 20 times.
  • Wrists – Make circles with your wrists, rotating your hands in both directions. Repeat 10 times in each direction.
  • Ankles – While sitting comfortably in a chair, draw big circles in the air with your big toe. Repeat 10 times both clockwise and counterclockwise.
  • Hips – Start by lying on your back on a firm, but comfortable surface. Your knees will be bent, and your feet flat on the floor, with your arms down by your sides. Bring one knee to your chest, slowly rotate the knee in an easy circle. Repeat 5 – 10 times with each knee.

Omega-3 has been shown to benefit both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. For those of you who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, studies have shown that it is an effective anti-inflammatory and can also reduce joint stiffness, swelling and pain.

Always check with your physician to make sure your body is ready to take on any type of workout. Once you have the okay, go ahead and get started. Not only will you improve your endurance, you will also help maintain normal movement, while increasing muscle flexibility and strength. Just work at your own pace and be sure to take it one step at a time.


Wiley-Blackwell. “Adults with arthritis suffer with poorer health related quality of life.” ScienceDaily, 29 Apr. 2011. Web. 29 May 2011.

Originally published @ FITLODE.COM