YogaThe Natural Painkiller

Healthnotes Newswire (July 20, 2006)—Yoga may be among the oldest—and newest—pain-relief treatments. People suffering from the debilitating pain of chronic pancreatitis have found relief by practicing yoga; less pain and less medication are among the promising benefits reported in the journal Gut.

Yoga, an ancient art combining specific body postures with controlled breathing exercises, has been practiced in India for centuries. The ultimate goal is to unite body and mind in a state of peaceful tranquility. Erin Goodman, a certified yoga practitioner says, “Yoga is much more than physical postures. It is a state of being; an awareness that begins with simply tuning in to the breath.”

Over the past 100 years, yoga has gained in popularity in the Western world, with reported benefits ranging from improvements in asthma, multiple sclerosis, depression, and arthritis, to aiding in heart disease, high blood pressure, and pain relief.

The pancreas—an organ situated behind the stomach—aids in digestion by releasing enzymes that help break down fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Long-term alcohol abuse causes inflammation of the pancreas, called chronic pancreatitis. The enzymes normally used for digesting food actually start to eat away at the pancreas, causing scarring of the organ and the surrounding tissues.

People with chronic pancreatitis often have severe abdominal pain that may be worse when they eat or drink, and sometimes the pain can be constant. Weight loss is another symptom related to the condition.

Researchers from the United Kingdom’s Grantham and District Hospital wanted to add a little something extra to their rehabilitation program for people living with chronic pancreatitis. A yoga program led by an experienced instuctor was started for 24 people there who were suffering from pain, anxiety, and weight loss.

Practicing yoga just three times per week for 12 weeks led to dramatic improvements in pain—a 62% reduction, on average—and the people needed significantly less pain-relieving medication than before practicing yoga. The people also gained an average of almost five pounds over the course of the study, reversing their chronic weight loss.

Yoga has been shown to improve flexibility, balance, and strength, and to relieve tension, improve mood, and enhance circulation. It now appears that yoga can help bring hope to people living with chronic pancreatitis, and potentially many other causes of pain.

Goodman commented, “A common misconception is that you have to be young or agile to practice yoga. It is a wonderful way to start or end the day and helps to improve sleep, which is very important for everyone, especially people living with chronic illness.”

(Gut 2006;55:1051)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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