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).