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Yoga Boosts Stress-Busting Hormone, Reduces Pain, Study Finds

Posted: August 1, 2011

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"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.

Participants completed questionnaires to determine pain intensity pre- and post-study; they reported significant reductions in pain and associated symptoms, as well as psychological benefits. They felt less helpless, were more accepting of their condition, and were less likely to "catastrophize" over current or future symptoms.

"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."

The study -- Curtis' thesis -- was published July 26 in the Journal of Pain Research. It is co-authored by her supervisor, York professor Joel Katz, Canada Research Chair in Health Psychology, and Anna Osadchuk, a York University undergraduate student.