Much of alternative health has to do with mind-body efforts. And much of that begins with focused breathing. The simple act of breathing has been proven many times to be one of the most effective pain-relieving natural remedies. A new study has delivered another morsel of health advice along these lines: controlled breathing at a slowed rate could significantly reduce feelings of pain.
Chronic pain sufferers, specifically fibromyalgia patients, also reported less pain while breathing slowly — that is, unless they were overwhelmed by sadness or depression. The study was published recently in the journal “Pain.” These findings may help explain other studies that found that meditation could have beneficial effects on pain and that yogic breathing exercises could reduce feelings of depression. These results also underline the role that a person’s positive or negative attitude can have on their feelings of pain.
The study involved two groups of women aged 45 to 65. One group was composed of women previously diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The other group consisted of healthy controls.
During the trial, women were subjected to moderately painful heat pulses on their palms. The heat pulses were administered while they were breathing at normal rates and when participants reduced their breathing rates by 50%. After each heat pulse, participants were asked to report their feelings three ways: how strong the pain was (pain intensity); how uncomfortable it was (unpleasantness); and how their mood varied (affect).
The researchers analyzed the participants’ ratings of pain intensity and unpleasantness and found an overall reduction in reported pain when the healthy control participants were paced to breathe slowly. However, fibromyalgia patients benefited from slow breathing only if they reported positive affect.
It is a great piece of evidence for the use of meditation in those who unfortunately have to live with regular pain.
Other studies have shown that depression is a hallmark of fibromyalgia and that the connection between pain and emotion is particularly evident in people diagnosed with fibromyalgia. In this study, patients with the condition as a whole did not show a lessening of pain when breathing slowly, but those sufferers with strong positive affect as a trait (meaning it is an aspect of their personality, not simply the situation) did show some improvement. This fits with the idea that fibromyalgia patients in general have low positive affect, or energy reserves. Those who do have some positive energy left in their “mental battery” can use it to reduce pain by breathing slowly.
And there you have it: even with a condition as frustrating and hopeless-feeling as fibromyalgia, relief could be found. Found only in the way you inhale and exhale.