I came across this article from NIH National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health a few days ago.
Its a commentary on a recent study into how a functional set of connections in the Brain called the Default Mode Network adapts in people with Fibromyalgia.
Default mode network changes in fibromyalgia patients are largely dependent on current clinical pain
The study showed that where someone with Fibromyalgia was currently experiencing pain, the Default Mode Network had strong connections to the Insula cortex. To translate this the Default Mode Network is the set of connections the brain defaults to if it is not focused on something else – hence, literally “default mode”. The Insula cortex is a brain structure responsible for an assortment of brain functions, but most notably interoception – the sense of how the internal state of the body – and the sensing of emotional states, including anger, fear, disgust and happiness.
So there are a couple of interesting things to note from this:
First, that part of the brain that is activated when Fibromyalgia is flared up is not only the pain register, but the area of the brain that deals with the sense of how we are and our emotions – no wonder a Fibromyalgia flare up can leave people exhausted, emotional and unable to cope.
Second, these senses feed of each other. We know that pain causes us to feel fearful and anxious, and in turn fear and anxiety will intensify the experience of pain. Again, explaining a little of how a Fibromyalgia flare up becomes all encompassing.
Third, other studies show growing consensus that Yoga practices can improve the functioning of the Default Mode Network:
Greater Anteroposterior Default Mode Network Functional Connectivity in Long-Term Elderly Yoga Practitioners
Meditation’s impact on default mode network & hippocampus in mild cognitive impairment: a pilot study
Changes in Neural Connectivity and Memory Following a Yoga Intervention for Older Adults: A Pilot Study
Yoga Effects on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature
So, bringing this together starts to explain how Yoga helps with conditions like Fibromyalgia. If the Default Mode Network can be enabled to work more effectively across a number of brain areas rather than getting caught up in the areas that focus on pain, the the person with the Fibromyalgia flare up may be able to contextualise the pain and cope with it more easily.
Of course, thats not to say that Yoga is the only option here, and doubtless similar results may come from Tai Chi, Pilaties or other disciplines – Yoga doesn’t have a monopoly on brain health! However when taught by an experienced Yoga Therapist then Yoga has a lot of supporting evidence behind it in terms of brain health.
Equally it needs to be said this is simplifying complex issues around both Fibromyalgia and Neurological Function considerably.
However, all said and done, some interesting links arising.
Fibromyalgia and Pain Conditions are an area I specialise in as a Yoga Therapist, and good results can often be achieved when someone sticks with Yoga over a period of time.