With everything we know about mind-body therapies, if you have chronic pain or are living with a chronic illness, a regular yoga or mindfulness practice should be a part of your daily routine.
Mind-body techniques such as meditation and yoga have proven to be highly beneficial in: calming the inflammatory process caused by physical or emotional trauma (traumas can include acute injury, chronic pain, illness, stress, infection, and emotional distress), strengthening the immune system, and improving central nervous system (CNS) function.
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Meditation can help improve immune function without activating inflammatory markers.
A 2021 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that a regular meditation practice strengthens the immune system without initiating an inflammatory response. Blood specimens from 106 participants of an intense meditation retreat were collected and examined before and after the retreat. The authors identified 220 genes associated with immune response that were up regulated but with no significant increase in inflammatory markers. The results of the study suggests that meditation may be an effective adjunct treatment for chronic illnesses such as Long Covid, Multiple Sclerosis, and other illnesses that are characterized by persistent or excessive inflammation.
Mind-body therapies can change the way we experience physical pain.
The results of a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that “meditation-related pain relief was directly related to brain regions associated with the cognitive modulation of pain” and provided further insight into the manner by which meditation alters the subjective experience of pain. Patients experienced a reduction in “pain intensity” of about 40 percent and a reduction in “pain unpleasantness” of 57 percent. According to the lead author of the study, Fadel Zeidan, “Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent”.
A 2022 study published in PAIN found that mindfulness meditation “significantly reduced behavioral and neural pain responses when compared to controls”.
A 2014 study published in Cerebral Cortex found “that regular and long-term yoga practice improves pain tolerance in typical North Americans by teaching different ways to deal with sensory inputs and the potential emotional reactions attached to those inputs leading to a change in insular brain anatomy and connectivity”.
Meditation and yoga have both shown to improve symptoms of disturbed sleep.
Sleep disturbance can highly influence recovery from illness or injury and impairs the body’s immune system, physical reflexes, emotional stability, and cognitive functions.
In 2018, a systemic review of research looked at 18 randomized controlled trials, including 1654 participants in total, and found that “there was moderate strength of evidence that mindfulness meditation interventions significantly improved sleep quality compared with nonspecific active controls”.
Like meditation, yoga has also proven to have benefits when it comes to sleep. Studies show that yoga can improve insomnia and other sleep problems. However, as there are many different types of yoga, make sure to avoid a high activity yoga form and chose a form with gentle body poses and breathing techniques.
There is a growing body of medical research proving that mind-body therapies can reverse the loss of gray matter.
Chronic pain causes inflammation in the brain and can lead to a loss of gray matter. When prolonged pain is present, the areas of the brain that control self-awareness, emotions, memory, and learning can all suffer.
A 2010 study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital found that mindfulness meditation, over the short period of only 8 weeks, increased the amount of gray matter in the regions of the brain involved in learning and memory, regulation of emotion, and self-awareness.
A more recent study confirmed that brief mindfulness medication “can induce gray matter plasticity” and “may have important implications for protecting against mood-related disorders and aging-related cognitive declines”.
Medical research has demonstrated that many difficult to treat chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, celiac disease, and irritable bowel syndrome, are mediated by central nervous system sensitization. It is only logical that meditation, which improves nervous system functioning, would help to alleviate chronic pain and improve quality of life.
The studies above confirm what we have seen clinically in our own patients for many years, and. meditation and yoga therapy continue to be an integral part of our treatment plans here at the Kaplan Center.
The bottom line? While meditation and yoga therapy may not be the entire solution, there is enough evidence to show that these therapies, when part of an individual’s comprehensive treatment plan, will help to alleviate pain, improve sleep, lessen anxiety and depression, and leave one with a greater sense of well-being.
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Our goal is to return you to optimal health as soon as possible. To schedule an appointment please call: 703-532-4892 x2