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When you suffer from fibromyalgia, pain can be your constant companion. But for women suffering this debilitating condition (women suffer this condition much more than men), there’s a straightforward way to push back against the pain and ease your aches.
Frequently, fibromyalgia symptoms begin after an infection, surgery, stressful events or some type of physical injury. However, it can also strike with no obvious cause.
But a study at York University in England shows that doing yoga exercises can help reduce the physical pain of fibromyalgia, and here’s why…
A needed boost of cortisol
According to scientists, yoga influences what is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis).
The HPA axis consists of a cascade of endocrine pathways that respond to specific negative feedback loops involving the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary gland and adrenal glands. One role of the HPA axis centers around the release of the hormone cortisol.
Studies show that women with fibromyalgia have below-average cortisol levels. Those reduced levels make them much more sensitive to stress, pain and fatigue.
It’s been proposed that adrenal fatigue or adrenal insufficiency is part of the cause behind fibromyalgia.
The adrenal glands are small glands that sit atop both kidneys. They’re your “lifesaving” organs — a nickname they earned because they act as a control center for our “fight or flight” response by secreting hormones that kick in during stressful situations.
However overworked adrenal glands become fatigued and function much less effectively, resulting in insufficient output of cortisol.
The research shows that doing 75 minutes of yoga twice a week for at least two months can beneficially increase your cortisol levels and help the body produce cortisol at the correct times of day.
“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 researcher Kathryn Curtis. “The secretion of the hormone, cortisol, is dysregulated in women with fibromyalgia.”
She adds that “Hatha yoga promotes physical relaxation by decreasing activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which lowers heart rate and increases breath volume.”
Give Hatha yoga a try
Hatha yoga is a term that encompasses most types of yoga practiced in the Western hemisphere, including vinyasa, believed to open up the body’s energy channels and let the energy flow more freely.
In fact, in my experience, yoga and other types of strengthening and balancing exercises can also improve your mood and sense of well-being by demonstrating how you can shape your mind and body for the better. No matter what physical problems you may suffer, whether it is fibromyalgia or some other chronic issue, yoga can often help you cope with its symptoms more effectively.
Although today’s conventional doctor seems to feel as though almost every problem should be treated with medication, exercises like yoga, and even vitamins and herbs that reduce pain, demonstrate that you have the potential for aiding your own wellness — and that’s healing that a doctor can’t provide.
There are several easy-to-follow yoga videos available on youtube.com if you don’t have a local yoga studio in your community. But if you do live near a studio, I would highly recommend you go. Part of what makes yoga a soothing, healing experience is personal instruction.
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