Practicing yoga promotes relaxation and reduces the physical and psychological symptoms of chronic pain in women with fibromyalgia, a new study has found.
The condition, which predominantly affects women, is characterized by chronic pain and fatigue; common symptoms include muscle stiffness, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal discomfort, anxiety and depression.
Previous research has found that women with fibromyalgia have lower-than-average cortisol levels, which contribute to pain, fatigue and stress sensitivity.
Lead author, Kathryn Curtis, a PhD student in York's Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health and colleagues found that, participants' saliva revealed elevated levels of total cortisol following a program of 75 minutes of hatha yoga twice weekly over the course of eight weeks.
"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," she said.
"The secretion of the hormone, cortisol, is dysregulated in women with fibromyalgia."
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is produced and released by the adrenal gland and functions as a component of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis 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.
The study was published recently in the Journal of Pain Research.