A weekly two-hour yoga class reduced fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and stiffness by 30% in more than half of the people who took it, according to the study, which was published in the journal Pain. A control group of patients who continued their regular treatment regimen reported no change in symptoms.
The yoga program used in the study is a low-impact way for fibromyalgia patients to get moving, and it may even change the way the central nervous system responds to pain, says James Carson, PhD, the lead researcher and a psychologist at the Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland.
“Exercise is often recommended, but many fibromyalgia patients find that exercise is too painful to continue or that the classes aren’t tailored for them,” Carson says.
Carson and his colleagues adapted elements of the gentle Hatha style of yoga into a program they call “Yoga of Awareness.” In each two-hour session, patients spend 40 minutes working through a series of familiar yoga poses (warrior 1, child’s pose) and another 80 minutes on meditation, breathing exercises, and group discussions about coping with pain.
The non-yoga activities are “major components of [the program]—not just add-ons—in helping patients learn to handle pain and fatigue in a different way,” Carson says.
In the study, the researchers randomly assigned 53 women who had lived with fibromyalgia for at least a year to maintain their existing treatment regimen or to take a weekly Yoga of Awareness class (in addition to their current medication and treatment). Patients in the yoga group also received instructional DVDs and were encouraged to practice on their own every day.
At the beginning of the study, the participants rated the severity of their fibromyalgia symptoms—including pain, fatigue, stiffness, poor sleep, and anxiety—on a scale from 0 to 100 using a standard questionnaire. After two months, the average score of the women who completed the yoga program decreased from 48 to 35, while the average score in the control group (49) didn’t budge.