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SALT LAKE CITY -- There's a smile etched on Jennifer Mosher's forehead. It's a scar, a daily reminder that she survived a near fatal car crash in August 1994 in Nebraska.
The Salt Lake resident wrote a book that details how she and a friend were driving to Brigham Young University for school that summer when her SUV rolled off the highway. Looking at photographs of the accident, she says people tell her they can't imagine how anyone survived.
Researchers found that after 75 minutes of a yoga program, twice weekly for eight weeks, cortisol levels increased.
As a result of that crash, Mosher suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Sometimes she has mental fatigue and physical ailments. But since she started an exercise regiment that includes yoga, she says she can better manage her chronic pain.
"I have an overall sense of well-being now that I didn't feel like I had before. I feel like I have more endurance," she said.
That response is typical of participants in a small Canadian study. Researchers analyzed chronic pain and mental stress in women with fibromyalgia, which is often seen as a "phantom illness." People report chronic pain and fatigue, and symptoms such as muscle stiffness, sleep disturbances, and depression.
The study is the first to look at the effects of yoga on levels of the hormone cortisol in women suffering with fibromyalgia.
While Mosher doesn't suffer from fibromyalgia, her head trauma sustained years ago sometimes makes her feel she fits in the same category. She suffered from sore muscles, had difficulty sleeping, brain fatigue, and sometimes depression. That was before yoga.
"I had pain in my legs. I just didn't feel very comfortable," she explained. "I had a difficult time focusing."
According to the report, previous research found that women with fibromyalgia have lower than average cotisol levels. In this new study, researchers tested saliva from the participants and found that after 75 minutes of a yoga program, twice weekly for eight weeks, cortisol levels increased. Patients in the study reported significant reductions in pain levels and also experienced a boost to their mental health.
I have an overall sense of well-being now that I didn't feel like I had before. I feel like I have more endurance.
None of this is a surprise to Mosher, whose exercise regiment includes weight lifting, cardio, and yoga movements.
"Practicing yoga has taught me breathing techniques," explained Mosher. "It helps me fall asleep and helps me focus better."
"Ideally, our cortisol levels peak about 30-40 minutes after we get up in the morning and decline throughout the day until we're ready to go to sleep," said the study's lead author, Kathryn Curtis, a PhD student at York University in Canada. "The secretion of the hormone cortisol is dysregulated in women with fibromyalgia."
The study, published in the July 2011 issue of the Journal of Pain Research, follows another study that found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis who practiced yoga showed significant improvements in their symptoms.
"I start deep breathing and sometimes I will start focusing on my yoga moves," explained Mosher. "Sometimes I'll practice my yoga moves and it'll help me start to feel a lot better."
Another study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that meditation also delivered powerful pain-relieving effects to the brain. In the study, the subjects took four 20-minute sessions to learn how to control their breathing and put aside their emotions and thoughts.