We’ve all been told to “just breathe.” But a few psychology researchers at ASU and the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix took that a step further in a study that took a closer look at the actual value of breathing.
The study, more specifically, looked at how meditative breathing affects the way women with fibromyalgia respond to pain in the form of heat pulses.
College Times met with Alex Zautra, the lead author of the study and a foundation professor of psychology at ASU, to talk about what this study means to the public, the idea of pain and pain treatments and the value of meditation.
College Times: From what I gather, this study was about the mind-body relationship. Can you talk a little about that?
Zautra: One of the methods by which a person can regain a kind of physiological balance and homeostatic state is through a relaxation method, and some are more valuable than others. One of the methods people have been doing since ancient times in the Eastern world is meditation, whether it’s local or mindfulness meditation, and breathing is a big part of that; slowing down your breathing rate. And that’s what we tried to put into the laboratory.
Does meditative breathing really have a physiological effect on people?
We did measure that; that’s not reported in the study yet. We’ll report it in later studies … The premise of the study is that slower breathing does activate the parasympathetic nervous system, slows the heart, reduces blood pressure and leads to greater, what is called, heart-rate variability, which is a greater sense of capacity to be both alert and relaxed.
That’s kind of a paradox though; awareness while trying to forget one’s pain.
It seems paradoxical doesn’t it? Well, what we teach with chronic pain patients is, ‘Yes, you’re in pain, but that’s not all you feel. What else are you feeling at the time?’ It expands their horizons to allow themselves to do more than be embattled with the pain they have and to see many other emotions; some they can appreciate more if they can allow themselves a greater latitude to understand their own feelings.
Why did you decide to make half of the study’s population fibromyalgia patients?
First of all, it’s a population in pain that’s troubled by their condition. So we think that this group could benefit greatly from meditation interventions. When that study started we didn’t have that, but we do now have a five-year study to examine whether meditative practices could benefit somebody with fibromyalgia. We don’t have the results yet, because we’re in the middle of it.
Do you worry about the way the pharmaceutical industry might respond to research like this being successful?
I don’t worry about that. I think the pharmaceutical companies have their own business, but they’re also interested in methods that can accent, elaborate on or facilitate benefits to patients that are on the medications they have. So, when we talk to rheumatologists, who are prescribing meds for people with fibromyalgia or some other chronic pain condition, they’re eager to support [and] participate by helping us learn [and] they find ways for their patients to learn about our studies because they see it as meds-plus as being what’s going to be most beneficial for their patients.[via College News]