Archive for the ‘Yoga and Meditation’ Category
Posted in breathing, Parasympathetic NS, Yoga and Meditation, tagged Exhalation, Food and Drug Administration, Heart rate, Kundalini, parasympathetic nervous system, Sinoatrial node, Vagus nerve on January 3, 2011 | 1 Comment »
For most of us, the concept of “breath control” is silly. I mean, like, I’ve been doing it naturally since I was, like zero years old … now you’re telling me I should work to control my breath? Yep.
Here’s an amazing physiological feat that your breath performs:
Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) is a naturally occurring variation in heart rate that occurs during a breathing cycle. Heart rate increases during inhalation and decreases during exhalation.
Heart rate is normally controlled by centers in the medulla oblongata. One of these centers, the nucleus ambiguus, increases parasympathetic nervous system input to the heart via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve decreases heart rate by decreasing the rate of SA node firing. Upon expiration the cells in the nucleus ambiguus are activated and heart rate is slowed down. In contrast, inspiration triggers inhibitory signals to the nucleus ambiguus and consequently the vagus nerve remains unstimulated.
Adults in excellent cardiovascular health, such as endurance runners, swimmers, and bicyclists, are also likely to have a pronounced RSA. Meditation and relaxed breathing techniques can temporarily induce RSA. RSA becomes less prominent with age, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
This is just obscure science-talk for the notion that slowing down and extending the breath is a good thing – good because increasing the length of one’s exhalation stimulates the vagus nerve which has wonderful effects on a person’s heart rate (slowing it), immune system, and sense of well-being (e.g., in 2005, the Food and Drug Adminsitration approved vagus nerve stimulation for the treatment of depression).
Yoga practitioners use something called ujjayi breathing wherein they constrict the back of the throat, which allows the breath to flow more slowly and evenly. This tends to increase Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia and its concomitant health benefits.
As Richard Freeman so eloquently describes in the video below, breath control is the heart, soul and root of yoga practice.
“Oneness with the universe”, “the divine”, “immortality” and “inner peace” are just a few popular themes of yoga. Practitioners delight in pondering these themes whilst in their deep meditative states attained through breathing and movement. It’s bliss – it really is.
Here are a few quotes by Woody Allen on the very same themes:
I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.
Not only is there no God, but try finding a plumber on Sunday.
Students achieving Oneness will move on to Twoness.
What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.
You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.
There’s certainly a gap between the perfect world of the ancient yogis and our modern lives – and Woody Allen, with his famous neurotic streak and wit – makes great light of it. Have you ever found yourself doubting yogic wisdom in your everyday life?
Recently, I took an online assessment for the so-called Big Five personality dimensions and found that (like 30% of the population) I also have a neurotic streak. The assessment declared “you tend to be nervous, high-strung, insecure, worrying” (my results are shown in the figure above). True enough (I even carry a few genetic risk factors), and perhaps is why sometimes I can be tormented by a skeptical inner-voice that bursts my bliss as I dwell in meditation. Sooo annoying!
We all love Woody Allen’s movies and quips. Perhaps we see ourselves in his endearing neurotic characters? and can collectively laugh at the movie screen (even if we are wracked with neurotic grief on the inside)? I don’t know. In any case, its not actually fun to be, or funny to be with a really neurotic person … someone who is always ruminating on their insecurities and fears. They can drive themselves, and you, nuts!
Can yoga and meditation help? Can they help a neurotic person shift from being a veritable prisoner of their fears and insecurities, wracked with neurotic grief on the inside – to being a more objective observer - more like a detached watcher of their own stream of consciousness – eventually coming to laugh at their inner drama as they might at a Woody Allen movie?
Here’s a research article that may shed light on the topic. Traits, States, and Encoding Speed: Support for a Top-Down View of Neuroticism/State Relations by Drs. Michael D. Robinson and Gerald L. Clore. You can read the open-access article, so I’ll just jump to the part I thought was so interesting.
The authors explored the extent to which people suffer from neurotic tendencies as a function of how well they are able to perceive and encode information as it streams into the brain. Some folks encode neural information more efficiently and, these folks, tend to suffer less from their neurotic tendencies. The exciting aspect of these neural processes, is that they can be improved with appropriate training and practice.
Common to these theories is the idea that anxious individuals are often trapped by habitual ways of thinking and that a focus on the present, for example, as facilitated by mindfulness training, is successful in breaking such habitual, self-defeating modes of thought linked to high neuroticism.
Therefore, the link between the present data and therapeutic techniques such as mindfulness practice must be somewhat speculative. Nevertheless, it is also worth pointing out that the largest predictor of categorization performance is practice. Furthermore, practice is viewed as the most important contributor to mindfulness-related skills. Therefore, it may be that discrimination skills, even of a reaction-time variety, can be trained that that such training would be useful in alleviating neuroticism-linked distress.
So perhaps the yogic wisdom of Woody Allen rests, not in the jokes themselves, but in a kind of mindfulness that allows him to step back and monitor his own stream-of-consciousness. Much indeed to make light of. Worth practicing and practicing in 2011 … to laugh at myself in 2012.
In the early 1900′s the world-famous sculptor Auguste Rodin was observed at a museum in Madras, India performing various yogic poses as he stood in front of a statue of Nataraja (Shiva performing a cosmic dance – shown here). In fact, Rodin was nearly arrested for performing his strange contortions as the local Indian patrons and the museum guards looked on in horror, at the strange foreign man – who was moved to tears by the statue – deforming himself publicly.
This is the story told by V. S. Ramachandran in chapter 8 of his book, The Tell-Tale Brain. In this chapter, Ramachandran explores the brain systems that underlie our aesthetic experiences – the aesthetic jolt – as experienced by an enraptured Rodin, at the sight of the dancing Shiva. There is much brain science and biology at work here (more posts to come).
For the moment though, just consider how deeply moved was Rodin by Shiva’s physical forms. He wrote a poem, “The Dance of Shiva“ (covered here). A master sculptor, and expert on human anatomy, Rodin’s poem reveals his deep sense of bones and musculature and is even echoed today by yoga instructors who prompt students to remain strong and poised while softening the face and emotions. He declared the dancing Shiva, “the perfect embodiment of rhythmic movement”!
Wow! Who would have thought that one’s ongoing voyage into yoga – often practiced as a slow rhythmic dance of shifting postures – could end up, not just in better physical and mental health, but as a living, breathing form of “high art”! These are my favorite lines:
The human body attained divinity in that age, not because
we were closer to our origins … but because we believed in freeing ourselves completely
from the constraints of now, and we spun away into the
heavens. It is a pleasure sorely missed…
Ramachandran explores the brain circuitry that we use when we feel the ecstasy of an aesthetic jolt – the kind that leaves us “spinning away into the heavens”. Its an ability we all have – to feel free – & I hope I can learn to tap into it. Yoga – with its bizarre and exotic forms – and meditation may provide a means to explore this aspect of life.
Sweating it out as a new yoga-meditation student, my instructor often says, “Make this pose feel good”! Bend here, press there, twist, up on one hand and … feel good? If you’ve practiced yoga, you may know what I’m talking about. And, if you’re like me, you’re hooked on this unique aspect of yoga. With an emphasis on breath control and meditation, yoga allows its practitioners to “feel the pleasure” instead of “feel the pain”.
Admittedly, I’ve had many sore morning-afters, but I’m starting to find that when I’m intensely focused on my breath, the experience of moving in and out of postures is a pleasurable one – not like other activities motivated by a “come on! push it!” & “no pain, no gain” mentality.
This yogic mentality has led to a profound change in my life.
Read the rest in Elephant Journal …
Do folks who experience LaLa Land get hooked on it? Do they desire to get back there, again and again and again? Is this why yoga teachers say that – if you let go – yoga will transform your life? I want to let go. I want to advance in my practice and let the transformation happen – to spend as much time in LaLa Land as possible. I do! I do!
But I’m torn.
my full article appears in Elephant Journal …
Posted in breathing, tagged Affect (psychology), Autonomic nervous system, B. K. S. Iyengar, Bhagavad-Gita, Kundalini, parasympathetic nervous system, Respiratory System on December 12, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
This post was graciously hosted @ Yoga Gypsy several weeks ago.
In Chapter 8 of B. K. S. Iyengar‘s Light on Pranayama, he quotes the Bhagavad Gita (VI 17) saying, “Yoga destroys all pain and sorrow”. Nice! and this is just one of dozens of poetic and inspiring sentiments that are woven into the otherwise detailed and rigorous methods described by Iyengar for the training of the lungs, diaphragm and intercostal muscles. Although I know the training is extensive and will surely take many years to master, I can’t help wonder how much pain and sorrow, realistically, might be alleviated by the mastery of something as basic as – you know – breathing?
How might this work? I mean, pain is something that happens in your body and in your mind. How might mastery of deep and controlled breathing alleviate pain?
It turns out that there is a scientific research journal – Pain – that is dedicated to these types of questions. A recent article, “The effects of slow breathing on affective responses to pain stimuli: An experimental study“ [doi:10.1016/j.pain.2009.10.001] by Alex Zautra and colleagues investigates the role of breathing in relief from chronic pain. The authors base their research on a specific neuroanatomical model of emotion and pain regulation:
The homeostatic neuroanatomical model of emotion proposes that the left forebrain is associated predominantly with parasympathetic activity, and thus with nourishment, safety, positive affect, approach (appetitive) behavior, and group-oriented (affiliative) emotions, while the right forebrain is associated predominantly with sympathetic activity, and thus with arousal, danger, negative affect, withdrawal (aversive) behavior, and individual-oriented (survival) emotions. … The homeostatic neuroanatomical model of emotion suggests that central sensitization of pain in FM patients results in part from a relative deficit of activity in the parasympathetic branch of the ANS required for down-regulation of negative emotion and pain experience.
In basic terms, the researchers suggest that if one can increase activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, then one will experience relief from pain. So they want to evaluate whether deep breathing increases activity of the parasympathetic nervous system? In Chapter 4 of Light on Pranayama (Pranayama and the Respiratory System), Iyengar provides many detailed anatomical drawings of the musculature, skeletal and neural machinery related to breathing, but unfortunately no details on the role of parasympathetic vs. sympathetic nervous systems per se. The authors however, point to a previous study that showed slow breathing increases activation of bronchiopulmonary vagal afferents and produces enhanced heart rate variability, which reflects increased parasympathetic tone – so the scientific evidence points in the right direction.
To test the notion themselves, the investigators asked a group of healthy adult females to wear a small thermal device on the thumb that could be heated and cooled to produce varying levels of moderate discomfort (pain). By asking the volunteers to experience the thermal discomfort when breathing normally vs. breathing in a slower, deeper manner, the investigators could begin to assess whether the experience of pain (a self-reported value between 1 and 11) was different between the two breathing conditions.
The results showed that the volunteers self-reported less pain (given the same amount of thermal stimulation) when performing deep, slow breathing.
Very neat. Perhaps not a surprise to yogis 3,000 years ago nor experienced yogis today, but very exciting to see how the practice of Pranayama can engage a neuroanatomical system for the relief of suffering. In a previous post on the neural stimulation of this system – and its relation to Kundalini – it has become even more clear how potent this system can be!
Posted in Mindfulness, physiology, placebo, tagged Breathing, Guided affective imagery, Holistic and Integrated Medicine, Insurance, mindfulness, New Medicine, placebo, Richard Davidson, Yoga on December 11, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
Check out part 1 of the PBS documentary “The New Medicine” – on the “new” efforts in modern medicine to harness the connection between mind and body to optimize health and healing. In the video, several physicians demonstrate the way in which various mindfulness-ish practices are now a part of the standard drug & surgical treatment process. They are not practicing yoga per se, but the similarities are obvious (perhaps even less potent than traditional yogic body and breath control training).
In a surprising twist, one interviewee, Deborah Schwab, RN, NP, MSN of Blue Shield of California noted how a study of so-called “guided imagery” (patients are given a CD with various guided imagery meditations) was associated with shorter hospital stays, and lower medication costs to the tune of $2,000 per patient.
“Folks who thought this type of stuff was too flaky or too California found that it didn’t turn out to be that way at all!”
Imagine that … one day offsetting the cost of yoga sessions with a health insurance deduction? Just unroll your mat and swipe your Blue Cross insurance card?
Another interviewee is Dr. Richard Davidson:
In our culture, we have not given the training of the mind – in particular the training of emotions – sufficient credence. … Imagine someone who spends as much time training their mind as someone in our culture spends practicing golf!
In one of Davidson’s studies, it turned out that even folks who practice just a “meager” amount of meditation showed a more dramatic immune response to flu vaccination. When one of Davidson’s research volunteers, Buddhist monk Barry Kerzin/Tenzin Choerab was asked what he gets from his meditation practice, he replied:
Tears of joy.
Posted in breathing, Mindfulness, physiology, tagged Brain, Central nervous system, dualism, Kundalini, Meditation, mindfulness, parasympathetic nervous system, Teachers and Centers, Yoga on December 1, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
Does yoga feel good? Do you feel good during the practice – moving your body through the bending, twisting, inverting etc.? Be honest. I mean, since you’re probably sore as hell the next morning … if you don’t feel good during the practice, why would you bother at all?
Now that I have a tad of strength in my arms and shoulders, I think I can say that, “yes” I do feel good and enjoy the practice … but usually just for the first 20 minutes or so before I start playing the frantic “just keep up with the instructor and hope for a break” game.
Some say that their good feelings come from the relaxed meditative state that yoga puts them in. Some folks just like to move their bodies and are attracted to the strange and exotic beauty of the postures. I always enjoy the music.
But where do these good feelings come from? Aren’t they just in my head? Do I really need to move my body to feel good? Why not just sit and breathe?
It turns out that there is a scientific theory on this topic. The so-called Somatic markers hypothesis that suggests that afferent feedback from the body to the brain is necessary for generating our feelings. For example, stimulation of the vagus nerve (aka Kundalini serpent) makes us feel good, while individuals with spinal cord damage who lack afferent input from the body reportedly have blunted emotions.
In his research review article, Human feelings: why are some more aware than others? [doi:10.1016/j.tics.2004.04.004] Dr. Bud Craig from the Barrow Neurological Institute reviews the science of this topic and lays out the neural circuitry that goes from body to brain and is necessary for us to FEEL.
These feelings represent ‘the material me’, and so this broader concept of interoception converges with the so-called somatic-marker hypothesis of consciousness proposed by Damasio. In this proposal, the afferent sensory representation of the homeostatic condition of the body is the basis for the mental representation of the sentient self. Recursive meta-representations of homeostatic feelings allow the brain to distinguish the inner world from the outer world. Most strikingly, degrees of conscious awareness are related to successive upgrades in the cortex (a target of visceral afferent activity), supplementary motor cortex (involved in manual responses), and bilateral insular cortices. This pattern supports the general view that a network of inter-related forebrain regions is involved in interoceptive attention and emotional feelings.
Amazingly, it seems that humans have evolved several unique adaptations that make us able to convert bodily sensation into self-awareness.
For instance, a novel cell type, the so-called spindle cell, is exclusively located in these regions of the human brain. Recent evidence indicates a trenchant phylogenetic correlation, in that spindle cells are most numerous in aged humans, but progressively less numerous in children, gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees, and nonexistent in macaque monkeys. Notably, this phylogenetic progression also parallels the results of the mirror test for self-awareness.
The rapid development of right Anterior Insula within a brief evolutionary timescale suggests that nested interoceptive re-representations could be directly related to the advantages of advanced social interaction.
So it seems that we human beings rely on bodily awareness to attain emotional awareness. This sounds very yogic and something the yoga practice helps to develop. Feel your body –> feel your emotions!
Telomerase reactivation reverses tissue degeneration in aged telomerase-deficient mice.
Accumulating evidence implicating telomere damage as a driver of age-associated organ decline and disease risk1, 3 and the marked reversal of systemic degenerative phenotypes in adult mice observed here support the development of regenerative strategies designed to restore telomere integrity.
Love yourself, love your DNA – especially the telomeres ! For more on this topic, see a few weeks back, when I covered a research article by Nobel Prize winning scientist Elizabeth Blackburn on meditation, telomeres and longevity.
Posted in breathing, Mindfulness, Uncategorized, tagged Brain, Central nervous system, Emotion, Empathy, Hormone, mindfulness, Mother Nature, Neuron, oxytocin, Society for Neuroscience, Yoga on November 17, 2010 | 2 Comments »
Please forgive the absurd title here … its just a play on words from a flabby, middle-aged science geek who is as alluring to “the ladies” as an old leather boot.
Like a lot of males (with active fantasy lives I suppose), my interest was piqued by the recent headline, “What Do Women Really Want? Oxytocin” – based on a recent lecture at this years Society for Neuroscience annual conference.
Oxytocin is a small hormone that also modulates brain activity. Many have referred it as the “Love Hormone” because it is released into the female brain during breastfeeding (where moms report feeling inextricably drawn to their infants), orgasm and other trust-building and social bonding experiences. So, the premise of the title (from the male point of view), is a fairly simplistic – but futile – effort to circumvent the whole “social interaction thing” and reduce dating down to handy ways of raising oxytocin levels in females (voila! happier females more prone to social (ahem) bonding).
Of course, Mother Nature is not stupid. Unless you are an infant, there is no “increase in oxytocin” without a prior “social bonding or shared social experience”. Mother Nature has the upper hand here … no physical bonding without social binding first!
So, what the heck does this have to do with yoga? Yes, its true that yoga studios are packed with friendly, health conscious females, but, the practice is mainly a solitary endeavor. Aside from the chatter before and after class, and the small amount of oxytocin that is released during exercise, there is no social bonding going on that would release the so-called “love hormone”. Thus, even though “women want yoga”, yoga class may not be the ideal location to “score with chicks”.
However, there may be one aspect of yoga practice that can facilitate social bonding (and hence oxytocin release). One benefit of a yoga practice (as covered here, here) is an increased ability to “be present” - an improved ability to pay closer attention to your own thoughts and feelings, and also, the thoughts and feelings of another person.
The scientific literature is fairly rich in research showing a close relationship between attention, shared- or joint-attention, trust and oxytocin, and the idea is pretty obvious. If you are really paying attention to the other person, and paying attention to your shared experience in the moment, the social bond will be stronger, more enjoyable and longer-lasting. Right?
Soooo – if you want the oxytocin to flow – look your partner in the eye, listen to their thoughts, listen to your own reactions, listen to, and feel their breath as it intermingles with your own, feel their feelings and your own, slow-down and enjoy the minute details of the whole experience and be “right there, right now” with them. Even if you’ve been with the same person for 40 years, each moment will be new and interesting.
Yoga will teach you how to do this.
Posted in immunity, physiology, tagged Brain, Central nervous system, Immune system, Kundalini, Meditation, parasympathetic nervous system, Treatment-resistant depression, Vagus nerve, Vagus nerve stimulation, Yoga on November 15, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
Have you ever seen the list “100 Benefits of Meditation“? Of course, many of these benefits are psychological. You know, things like: helps control own thoughts (#39) and helps with focus & concentration (#40). But many of the 100 benefits are rather physical, bodily, physiological, immunological and even biochemical benefits (such as #16- reduction of free radicals, less tissue damage).
These are awesome claims, and I’ve certainly found that mediation helps me feel more emotionally balanced and physically relaxed, but I’m wondering – from a hard science point of view – how legit some of these claims might be. For example, “#12 Enhances the immune system“ – REALLY? How might yoga and mediation enhance my immune system?
In a previous post on the amazing vagus nerve – the only nerve in your body that, like the ancient Kundalini serpent, rises from the root of your gut to the brain – AND – a nerve that is a key to the cure of treatment resistant depression – it was suggested that much of the alleviation of suffering that comes from yoga comes from the stimulation of this amazing nerve during postures and breathing.
Somehow, the ancient yogis really got it right when they came up with the notion of Kundalini serpent – so strange, but so cool!
I happened to stumble on a paper that explored the possibility that the vagus nerve might also play a role in mediating communication of the immune system and the brain – and thus provide a mechanism for “#12- Enhances the immune system” Here’s a quote from the article entitled, “Neural concomitants of immunity—Focus on the vagus nerve” [doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.05.058] by Drs. Julian F. Thayer and Esther M. Sternberg (Ohio State University and National Institute of Mental Health).
By the nature of its “wandering” route through the body the vagus nerve may be uniquely structured to provide an effective early warning system for the detection of pathogens as well as a source of negative feedback to the immune system after the pathogens have been cleared. … Taken together these parasympathetic pathways form what has been termed “the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway”
The scientists then investigate the evidence and possible mechanisms by which the vagus nerve sends immunological signals from the body to the brain and also back out to the immune system. Its not a topic that is well understood, but the article describes several lines of evidence implicating the vagus nerve in immunological health.
So bend, twist, inhale and exhale deeply. Stimulate your vagus nerve and, as cold and flu season arrives, awaken the serpent within!
Really enjoyed reading Stretch – The Unlikely making of a Yoga Dude by Neal Pollack! He’s so honest and blunt about his extensive journeys through yoga practices, workshops, conventions, that – as a guy and newbie to yoga – it was hard to put the book down. Over and over again in the book, he skewers the phony “open your heart to the possibilities of the universe” and “feel good” culture of western commercial yoga inc., and finally comes to resonate and find inner-peace in the deeper guidance of Richard Freeman and in-depth analysis of the ancient yoga texts. Drug-use, fart and sexist humor aside, I learned A LOT about yoga!
Have you ever lost track of time in yoga class? On a good day, I’ll get so into the practice that my awareness of “how much time still to go?” comes at the very end. Other days, I might feel time dragging as if the class is taking forever (best not to glance at a wristwatch).
We – as human beings – have a very poor sense of time. Intensely new and wonderful experiences may pass too quickly, but remembered years later, seem greatly expanded. In flashes of intense fear, time has a way of moving very slowly, yet un-recallable in repressed memories. Sitting and waiting for a bus makes time pass so very slowly, until an attractive or interesting person sits next to you.
Somehow its not time, per se, that we measure, but rather the intensity of our emotional experience that makes time expand and contract.
Yoga texts are chock full of references to “consciousness” and the “illusions” of everyday thinking. Sometimes, these notions can sound hokey when spoken in the NJ suburbs where I practice, but that doesn’t mean they are not true. Just consider how illusory your perceptions of time are. Your sense of time is just a by-product of your experience – its not an absolute “thing” you can measure. Your sense of YOU and the events in your life – as they stretch out over time – the mere jumble of memories – is very far from the objective reality you might want think. We all live in the illusions created by our own minds.
When it comes to the illusions of time, somehow, it seems, our perception of time is tied mainly to the intensity of our emotional experience. People seem to understand this. Folks like Marcel Proust who wrote, “Love is space and time measured by the heart.” And folks like Craig Wright who wrote the play – Melissa Arctic – that made me acutely aware of the illusion of time in our all too brief lives. Check it out if you ever get the chance. The play – wherein a young child plays the role of “time” – pulls you through the course of one man’s tragic life and deeply into your heart to realize that time is, indeed, measured by the heart – captured and measured by the intensity of emotional experience. Consider how Time, the young child, invokes the audience at the start of the play, “Everything be still. Can everything be perfectly still?”
Needless to say, this all sounds much like the common yogic counsel to “stop thinking and start feeling” and “live in the present moment“. Perhaps its worth recognizing how fallible, illusionary and fanciful our sense of time really is. Perhaps also, emotions are the key here. Perhaps I should try harder to engage my heart in life (and in yoga class) - the key to really experiencing now and living in this present moment.
Posted in Mindfulness, physiology, tagged Fibromyalgia, Oregon Health & Science University, Pain, parasympathetic nervous system, Psychology, Teachers and Centers, Yoga on October 20, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
A recent scientific study of yoga and fibromyalgia has been buzzing around the web (here, here, here, here). The study is entitled, “A pilot randomized controlled trial of the Yoga of Awareness program in the management of fibromyalgia” [doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.08.020] and is one of the most scholarly articles on the science of yoga that I have ever read (more posts to come on this research article). In a nutshell:
53 women who have suffered with fibromyalgia for 1-10+ years were randomly separated into a test group (25 women) who participated in an 8-week Yoga of Awareness course vs. a control group (28 women) who participated in so-called routine care for fibromyalgia. After the 8-week course, the test (yoga) group showed greater improvements in a number of fibromyalgia symptoms than the control group.
The results are big news – not only for people who suffer from fibromyalgia – but for many others who suffer with chronic pain. The results suggest that yoga works! and may be worth a try!
One of the things I found so great about the article, is the way the authors delved into the question of WHY yoga works and why it may be a rather ideal adjunct to traditional medical therapy. Here’s a passage from the article:
The intention of the yoga program we employed was to fulfill the need for both exercise and coping skills training as effective counterparts to pharmacotherapy for FM. Recent reviews of exercise trials concur that aerobic exercise and also strength training usually improves some FM symptoms and physical functioning, but rarely shows effects on pain or mood. In contrast, reviews of FM coping skills trials have concluded that such treatments usually show mild to moderate post-treatment effects on pain, mood, and disability. However, several reviews have emphasized that the best results have been produced by multi-modal interventions that combine both exercise and coping skills training.
What made a this yoga intervention so innovative – from a purely medical or clinical perspective – is the way it aimed to treat BOTH body and mind. Note how the medical world has a way of divvying up treatments into those that are specific to the body and those that are specific to the mind. Perhaps, it is starting to dawn on modern medical practice that this separation does not work well for certain ailments – particularly for the treatment of chronic pain.
Credit two unassuming yoga instructors for this!
It turns out that the lead authors for the research are James W. Carson and Kimberly M. Carson from the Department of Anesthesiology and Peri-operative Medicine and School of Nursing, Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon. They are strangers to neither science nor the practice of yoga. From their website – Jim is a former yogic monk with more than 25 years of teaching experience while Kimberly is an instructor of Kripalu Yoga – in addition to numerous other academic and yogic accomplishments.
Yogis doing science?
Of course! This should not come as a surprise. Ancient yogis were dabbling in psychology, chemistry and medicine LONG before our modern era of science came along. Just like modern medical practitioners – they wanted to help people cope with suffering
Today, there is much to be gained in scientific research on the mind-body interface. A recent article in Nature Medicine reviews the neuroscience of this most mysterious interface. “Getting the pain you expect: mechanisms of placebo, nocebo and reappraisal effects in humans” [doi:10.1038/nm.2229]. Will try and explore some of these brain-body connections and the way yoga practice engages them in future posts (related post here).