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.


Yoga Poses to Drive Away the Winter Blahs

One of the most defining symptoms of depression is lack of activity. Everything shuts down and all you want to do is curl up on the couch.

Yoga Poses to Beat the Winter BluesMovement is the key to feeling invigorated and full of life. It gets the blood flowing, helps speed up the metabolism and stimulates other healthy benefits in the body.

Yoga can help alleviate the symptoms of depression. Yoga also introduces you to healthy breathing rhythms and helps awaken the mind.

When you suffer from depression, breathing is often compromised and exasperated by poor posture or fatigue from a stressful desk job. You will feel the benefits from your Yoga practice immediately, even if you just start with three simple poses a day. Your body will feel refreshed, you will suffer from fewer aches and pains and your mind will be less agitated and anxious. You will find yourself looking forward to your Yoga practice with relish. It can truly work wonders in improving your health.

If your depression is caused from lethargy rather than anxiety, then you will want to focus on invigorating Yoga poses like the vinyasa (a sequence of Yoga poses that flow together, utilizing the breath to transition from one move to the other) like the Sun Salutation.

If your depression is from anxiety then you will want more relaxing Yoga poses. Here are a few of the best poses for depression:

Standing Forward Fold – standing with feet hip-width apart, bring your hands down towards your toes and hold. With increased flexibility, work on bring your hands to the side of your feet or to wrap around you ankles.

Wide-Legged Forward Fold – in the same position as above, bring your feet out as wide as you can and bring the top of your head to touch the floor.

Downward Facing Dog – from the above position, bring yourself back into Standing Forward Fold, moving your hands out along the floor in front of you until you create

Dolphin Pose – same as above, except bend your elbows and rest on your forearms.

Cat Pose – bend your knees and square off your hips and shoulders, arching your back and bringing your gaze down to look through your legs.

Cow Pose – assuming the same position as above, drop your belly and lift your gaze.

Extended Puppy Pose – relax your upper body down to the floor and raise your hips up to sit on top of your knees.

Staff Pose – sitting on the floor, straighten out your legs and rest your hands on the floor beside you.

Fish Pose – bend your elbows and place them behind you, bringing your head back to touch the floor, opening up your chest.

Head-to-Knee Forward Bend – open your legs out to the side and reach for one foot, bring your chest down as close to your thigh as possible, then switch to the other side.

Seated Forward Bend – bring both legs together and reach for the toes.

Head Stand – whatever version of head stand you do, this is probably the best pose to ward off depression as it rejuvenates the brain, bringing with it a fresh supply of oxygen. If you cannot perform a headstand, place yourself in an inverted position as if you were about to go up into a headstand and hold. Shoulder stand also works just as well.

Corpse Pose – lying flat on your back, bring your arms out to the side slightly with palms up. Keep your eyes open and do a scan of your body from head to toe relaxing every muscle from your fingers to your facial muscles, breathing deeply and soaking up the euphoric effects of your Yoga practice.


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.

Yoga Poses for Computer Neck Rehab

Finding enough time to exercise every day is a challenge in itself, but combating the stresses of the day is another.

Yoga Poses for Computer Neck RehabDemanding jobs and hectic lifestyles have elevated the amount of stress that people endure on a daily basis and is the greatest obstacle to keeping in shape, according to the “Life…supplemented” Healthcare Professionals Impact Study.

“The average American probably doesn’t realize they’re not setting aside enough time to focus on developing and maintaining smart health and wellness habits,” explains Cheryl Forberg, R.D., registered dietitian to NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and consultant to “Life…supplemented,” a consumer wellness program. “The summer months offer an opportunity to turn this around–by taking advantage of the warmer weather and slowing down with a vacation – both of which can motivate people to embark on the path to good health.”

Well, I too lead a hectic lifestyle and hold down an extremely stressful job that has sent me crying to my registered massage therapist more often than my pocketbook can support. And it was at a recent visit to my RMT that I received the news that my desk job is affecting my posture so much that I am at a great risk of developing osteoarthritis. Could that be why I’m in so much pain? Too many hours hunched over the keyboard?

My RMT explained that I needed to incorporate a serious stretching routine at the end of the day, EVERY DAY, or I was looking at a very painful, hunchback of an old age.

So, I went home and put together this Yoga routine that helps open up the chest and upper back and shoulder area to counterbalance all the hunching over I do. I’m feeling better already and my consumption of aspirin has dwindled considerably. Try it for yourself and experience immediate relief!

Yoga Poses for Computer Neck Rehab

Mountain Pose – standing with feet shoulder-width apart, swing your arms out to the sides for a deep breathe in and bring your arms above your head and hold. Breathe out as you open up your chest and bend backwards. Return to Mountain Pose with a straight spine and hands at the chest in Namaste pose. Repeat for 3 to 6 times.

Mountain Pose with Hands Entwined – standing in Mountain Pose, bring your hands behind you and interlace your fingers with index fingers extended. Pull the shoulders down and open up the chest as you breathe out. Hold for 3 seconds and repeat 3 to 6 times.

Forward Fold with Hands Entwined – from Mountain Pose, bring your arms out to the side to fly down, bending at the waist for Forward Fold, bringing your arms up and forward with hands interlaced as in the above pose and hold the position for 3 seconds. Repeat 3 to 6 times.

Downward Facing Dog – return to standing and form a triangle with your body as you stretch out into Downward Dog. Hold for 3 counts. Repeat 3 to 6 times.

Cobra – lower yourself down into Cobra Pose and extend up into Upward Facing Dog, stretching out through the chest and hold for 3 counts. Lower back into Corbra and transition into…

Locust Pose – bringing your arms down to your sides and lifting your legs slightly off the ground, concentrate on opening the chest. Hold for 3 counts and repeat 3 to 6 times from the beginning of Cobra.

Bow Pose – increase the stretch of Locust by grabbing hold of your ankles and making a bow with your body. Hold for 3 counts and repeat 3 to 6 times.

Upward Plank – flipping over onto your back, raise your body off the floor in Upward Plank with straight legs and arms positioned directly underneath your shoulders. Hold for 3 counts and repeat 3 to 6 times.

Camel Pose – bring yourself onto your knees and reach back for the ankles, opening up the chest. Hold for 3 counts and repeat 3 to 6 times.

Savasana – relax in Savasana for up to 3 minutes.

Yoga Poses for Golfers

Improving your swing is the eternal goal of every golfer, but many make the mistake of focusing on the upper body when they should be paying more attention to their hips and pelvic area.

Yoga Poses for GolfersHaving flexibility in the hips is crucial to your swing because it helps to keep you grounded and steady as you swing back. The hips and glutes are the driving force behind your down swing, so having strength and flexibility in this region is crucial to improving your golf swing and driving longer balls.

There are some Yoga poses you can do to achieve this goal. Yoga poses target specific areas and open up deep-seated areas that defy regular stretching. Yoga helps relieve tension and learning correct breathing techniques will carry over into your game when you’re on the course and have to keep your cool.

Golfer’s Yoga Sequence

Start standing in Mountain Pose with hands at Namaste and circling the arms up, take in three deep breaths.

Forward Fold – sweep out from the hips and bring the arms down to touch your toes – hold and breathe for 30 seconds.

Warrior I – lunge one leg forward and hold, bring your arms up with fingers pointing to the ceiling and hold and breathe for 30 seconds.

Downward Facing Dog – bring the hands down to the ground to form a triangle with the body. Elbows should be in line with your ears. Hold and breathe for 30 seconds.

Knees to Chest – lying on the ground, bring your knees into your chest and hold and breathe for 30 seconds.

Butterfly Pose – open the knees out to the side and rest your hands gently on the inside of the knees. Hold and breathe for 30 seconds.

Hamstring Stretch – straighten out both legs. Pull one leg into the chest and straighten it out to the ceiling, supporting it from behind the knee. Hold and breathe for 30 seconds, then switch legs.

Plow Pose – straighten both legs up and over the head to rest on the ground behind you. Hold and breathe for 30 seconds.

Pigeon Pose – sitting up, tuck your foot under one hip and straighten out the other leg behind you. Slowly lower yourself forward. Hold and breathe for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

Eagle Twist – lying on your back, bring one knee into the chest and move it across the body and twist to the other side. You should face in the opposite direction. Hold and breathe for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

Savasana – lying on the ground with arms out at about 30 degrees from the body with palms open, eyes closed, relax and breath deeply.

When you first run through this sequence, hold each pose for 30 seconds. Then repeat the sequence two more times, this time not pausing, but moving straight into each move.