Women suffering from fibromyalgia may find some welcome relief in yoga. A new study from York University in Toronto shows that practicing yoga boosts levels of the stress hormone cortisol, helping ease some of the symptoms, which include pain, fatigue, muscle stiffness and depression. Low cortisol has been tied to fibromyalgia, and this study is the first to look at the effect of yoga on levels of this hormone.
For the study, which appears in the Journal of Pain Research, the researchers followed a group of women who practiced 75 minutes of hatha yoga twice a week. After eight weeks, saliva samples revealed elevated levels of cortisol. Women also reported significant reductions in both physical and psychological symptoms. Kathryn Curtis, the study’s lead author, explains more in a release:
"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."