The past several years have brought home the reality that those who have practiced Eastern meditation and breathing techniques have had a head start on the rest of us. However, it is now mainstream in Western culture and we, too, enjoy the benefits that come from learning how to use our breath to control emotions and pain and just to relax and refresh. Relaxation helps to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and encourage the flow of oxygen throughout the entire body, healing damaged muscles and quieting the mind from racing thoughts.
Pain Relief with Breathing
When it comes to reducing the pain and stress of fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), breathing exercises have been proven to:
· reduce anxiety and depression
· reduce the duration of migraine headaches
· decrease symptoms and pain
Breathing is Difficult for People with FMS
People with fibromyalgia often contend with shortness of breath and a feeling that they are not getting enough air. About 50 percent of people with fibromyalgia report feeling short of breath, a condition known as dyspnea. However, when studies were done using a control group and women with FMS, the results indicated that both groups were inhaling the same volume of air. (Journal of Muscoskeletal Pain, 2001). There are a few theories as to why this happens, from chest wall pain to brain stem abnormalities that have been found in FMS patients, to lack of thyroid hormone regulation. None of these theories have been proven to be the cause of shortness of breath in FMS patients.
Disordered breathing is common to fibromyalgia sufferers. In general, people with FMS tend to take very small, rapid breaths that recruit only the small chest muscles. This type of breathing increases the feeling of tension and anxiety that can make fibromyalgia symptoms worse. Sleep disorders arise out of these breathing disorders. If there is a pain that occurs as a result of breathing deeply into the chest, then it is certainly detrimental to doing deep breathing exercises. However, learning how to breathe deeply and correctly is a vital key to eliminating, or at least controlling, pain and emotional discomfort.
Study Shows Breathing Helps FMS Pain
A small study that was completed in April of 2010 aimed at fibromyalgia pain found that slow breathing may help people cope with the emotional and physical symptoms that result from chronic, moderate pain. The study, lead by Dr. AJ Zautra of the department of psychology, Arizona State University in the US, examined whether breathing affected pain levels. Their findings support former reports on the benefits of yogic breathing and mindful Zen meditation for pain and feeling depressed.
The study measured the pain responses in a group of 27 women with fibromyalgia and a control group of 25 healthy women. They were measured at their regular breathing speed and again at a lower speed, half of the speed of their regular breathing. A stimulus that caused moderate pain through short bursts of heat in a probe held in the palm of the hand was administered to the women and their pain levels were measured. The women all reported reduced pain and less emotional stress when they practiced slow breathing as compared to the pain felt when they practiced regular breathing.
Learning How to Breathe Can Relieve Pain and Emotional Stress Levels
Breathing well is a learned skill and one that can be of great benefit to managing the pain of fibromyalgia. Yoga, Pilates, and mindful mediation are all excellent sources to learn how to breathe correctly and deeply. All three use diaphragmatic breathing, which takes air deep into the lungs, taking in a large volume of oxygen throughout the body, ridding the body of waste gasses like carbon dioxide and stimulating organs and muscles.
Knowing how to use the diaphragm to control breathing is the first step in using the breath to manage the pain and emotional stress that accompanies fibromyalgia.
Breathing difficulties seem to come with the package of FMS. Read our article on the subject in this section.