Rachna Mehta, PT, DPT, CIMT, OCS, PRPC is the author and instructor of the new Acupressure for Pelvic Health course. She is Board certified in Orthopedics, is a Certified Integrated Manual Therapist and is also a Herman and Wallace certified Pelvic Rehab Practitioner. An alumni of Columbia University, Rachna brings a wealth of experience to her physical therapy practice with a special interest in complex orthopedic patients with bowel, bladder and sexual health issues. Rachna has a personal interest in various eastern holistic healing traditions and she noticed that many of her chronic pain patients were using complementary health care approaches including Acupuncture and Yoga. Building on her orthopedic and pelvic health experience, Rachna trained with renowned teachers in Acupressure and Yin Yoga. Her course Acupressure for Pelvic Health brings a unique evidence-based approach and explores complementary medicine as a powerful tool for holistic management of the individual as a whole focusing on the physical, emotional and energy body. Rachna is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association and a member of APTA’s Pelvic Health section.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a branch of NIH, pain is the most common reason for seeking medical care1. Over the last several decades there has been an increasing interest in safe and efficacious treatment options as our healthcare system faces a crisis of pills and opioid use. Among complementary medicine approaches, Acupressure has come forth as an effective non-pharmacologic therapeutic modality for symptom management.
Acupressure is widely considered to be a noninvasive, low cost, and efficient complementary alternative medical approach to alleviate pain. It is easy to do anywhere at any time and empowers the individual by putting their health in their hands. Acupressure involves the application of pressure to points located along the energy meridians of the body. These acupoints are thought to exert certain psychologic, neurologic, and immunologic effects to balance optimum physiologic and psychologic functions2. Acupressure can be used for alleviating anxiety, stress and treating a variety of pelvic health conditions including Chronic Pelvic Pain, Dysmenorrhea, Constipation, digestive disturbances and urinary dysfunctions to name a few.
Acupressure uses the same points as Acupuncture; however, it is a very active practice in that we can teach our patients potent acupressure points as part of a wellness self-care regimen to manage their pain, anxiety and stress in addition to traditional physical therapy interventions. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes in Meridian theory and energy channels which are connected to the function of the visceral organs. There is emerging scientific evidence of Acupoints transmitting energy through interstitial connective tissue with potentially powerful integrative applications through multiple systems.
Acupressure has also been used with various types of mindfulness and breathing practices including Qigong and Yoga. Yoga is an umbrella term for various physical, mental, and spiritual practices originating in ancient India, Hath Yoga being the most popular form of Yoga in western society. Yin Yoga, a derivative of Hath Yoga, is a much calmer meditative practice that uses seated and supine postures, held three to five minutes while maintaining deep breathing. Its focus on calmness and mindfulness makes Yin Yoga a tool for relaxation and stress coping, thereby improving psychological health3. Yin Yoga facilitates energy flow through the meridians and can be used for stimulating acupressure points along specific meridian and energy channels bringing the body to its physiological resting state.
As Pelvic health rehabilitation specialists, we are uniquely trained to combine our orthopedic skills with mindfulness based holistic interventions to improve the quality of life of our patients. We can empower our patients to recognize the mind-body-energy interconnections and how they affect multiple systems, giving them the tools and self-care regimens to live healthier pain free lives. Please join me on this evidence-based journey of holistic healing and empowerment as we explore Acupressure and Yin Yoga as powerful tools in the realm of energy medicine to complement our best evidence-based practices.
1. Pain: Considering Complementary Approaches published by National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.2019.
2. Monson E, Arney D, Benham B, et al. Beyond Pills: Acupressure Impact on Self-Rated Pain and Anxiety Scores. J Altern Complement Med. 2019;25(5):517-521.
3. Daukantaitė D, Tellhed U, Maddux RE, Svensson T, Melander O. Five-week yin yoga-based interventions decreased plasma adrenomedullin and increased psychological health in stressed adults: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2018;13(7).
Kate Bailey, PT, DPT, MS, E-RYT 500, YACEP, Y4C, CPI joins the Herman & Wallace faculty with her new course on Restorative Yoga for Physical Therapists, which is launching in remote format this June 6-7, 2020. Kate brings over 15 years of teaching movement experience to her physical therapy practice with specialities in Pilates and yoga with a focus on alignment and embodiment. Kate’s pilates background was unusual as it followed a multi-lineage price apprenticeship model that included study of complementary movement methodologies such as the Franklin Method, Feldenkrais and Gyrotonics®. Building on her Pilates teaching experience, Kate began an in depth study of yoga, training with renown teachers of the vinyasa and Iyengar traditions. She held a private practice teaching movement prior to transitioning into physical therapy and relocating to Seattle.
Yoga is a common term in our current society. We can ﬁnd it in a variety of settings from dedicated studios, gyms, inside corporations, online, on Zoom, at home, and on retreat. The basic structure of a typical yoga class is a number of ﬂowing or non ﬂowing postures, some requiring balance, some requiring going upside down, and many requiring signiﬁcant mobility to achieve a certain shape. At the end of these classes is a pose called savasana, corpse pose (or sometimes translated for comfort as ﬁnal resting pose). In this pose, which is often a treat for students after working through class, students lie on the ground, eyes closed, possibly supported by props, and rest. It is perhaps the only other time in the day when that person is instructed to lie on the ﬂoor in between sleep cycles.
Savasana is one of many restorative yoga postures. In the work created and popularized by Judith Hanson Lasater, PT, PhD1, restorative yoga has taken a turn away from the active physical postures, breath manipulations and meditations that are commonplace in how we think of yoga. She has focused on rest and the need for rest in our current climate of productivity, poor self-care, and diﬃculty managing stress and pain.
In a dedicated restorative yoga class (not a fusion of exercise then rest, or stretch then rest… which are really lovely and have their own beneﬁts), a student comes to class, gathers a number of props, and is instructed through 3 to 5 postures, all held for long durations to complete an hour or longer class. Consider what it would look like to do 3 things over one hour with the intent of resting. It is quite counter-culture. Students have various experiences to this type of practice, but overtime many begin to feel the need for rest (or restorative practice) in a similar way that one feels thirsty or hungry.
We know the beneﬁts of rest: being able to access the ventral vagal aspect of the parasympathetic nervous system is what Dr. Stephen Porges2 suggests supports health, growth and restoration. There is impact on the ventral vagal complex in the brainstem that regulates the heart, the muscles of the face and head, as well as the tone of the airway. To heal, we need access this pathway. To manage stress, we need to access this pathway. To be able to choose our actions rather than be reactionary, we need to access this pathway. Restorative yoga is an accessible method that may be a new tool in a patient’s tool box to help manage their nervous systems.
1. Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times by Judith Hanson Lasater PT, PhD
2. Polyvagal Theory by Stephen W Porges PhD
Dustienne Miller MSPT, WCS, CYT is a Herman & Wallace faculty member, owner of Your Pace Yoga, and the author of the course Yoga for Pelvic Pain. Join her in Columbus, OH this April 27-28, to learn how yoga can be used to treat interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome, vulvar pain, coccydynia, hip pain, and pudendal neuralgia. The course is also coming to Manchester, NH September 7-8, 2019, and Buffalo, NY on October 5-6, 2019.
How does a yoga program compare to a strength and stretching program for women with urinary incontinence? Dr. Allison Huang1 et al have published another research study, after publishing a pilot study2 on using group-based yoga programs to decrease urinary incontinence. Well-known yoga teachers Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD, and Leslie Howard created the yoga class and home program structure for this research study and the 2014 pilot study. The yoga program was primarily based on Iyengar yoga, which uses props to modify postures, a slower tempo to increase mindfulness, and pays special attention to alignment.
To be chosen for this study, women had to be able to walk more than 2 blocks, transfer from supine to standing independently, be at least 50 years of age, and experience stress, urge, or mixed urinary incontinence at least once daily. Participants had to be new to yoga and holding off on clinical treatment for urinary incontinence, including pelvic health occupational and physical therapy.
28 women were assigned to the yoga intervention group and 28 women were assigned to the control group. The mean age was 65.4 with the age range of 55-83 years of age.
The control group received bi-weekly group class and home program instruction on stretching and strengthening without pelvic floor muscle cuing or relaxation training.
The yoga program met for group class twice a week for 90 minutes each and practiced at home one hour per week. The control group met twice a week for 90 minutes with a one-hour home program every week. Both groups met for 12 weeks.
Both groups received bladder behavioral retraining informational handouts. The information sheets contained education about urinary incontinence, pelvic floor muscle strengthening exercises, urge suppression strategies, and instructions on timed voiding.
The yoga program included 15 yoga postures: Parsvokonasana (side angle pose), Parsvottasana (intense side stretch pose), Tadasana (mountain pose) Trikonasana (triangle pose), Utkatasana (chair pose), Virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2 pose), Baddha Konasana (bounded angle pose), Bharadvajasana (seated twist pose), Malasana (squat pose), Salamba Set Bandhasana (supported bridge pose), Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined cobbler’s pose), Supta Padagushthasana (reclined big toe pose), Savasana (corpse pose), Viparita Karani Variation (legs up the wall pose), and Salabhasana (locust pose).
Women in the yoga intervention group reported more than 76% average improvement in total incontinence frequency over the 3-month period. Women in the muscle stretching/strengthening (without pelvic floor muscle cuing and relaxation training) control group reported more than 56% reduction in leakage episodes.
Stress urinary incontinence episodes decreased by an average of 61% in the yoga group and 35% in the control group (P = .045). Episodes of urge incontinence decreased by an average of 30% in the yoga group and 17% in the control group (P = .77).
The take away? We know behavioral techniques have been shown to improve quality of life and decrease frequency and severity of urinary incontinence episodes.3 Couple this with our clinical interventions, and our patients have a way to reinforce the work we do in the clinic by themselves, or socially within their community. Yoga can be another tool in the toolbox for optimizing pelvic health.
1) Diokno AC et al. (2018). Effect of Group-Administered Behavioral Treatment on Urinary Incontinence in Older Women: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med.1;178(10):1333-1341. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.3766.
2) Huang, Alison J. et al. (2019). A group-based yoga program for urinary incontinence in ambulatory women: feasibility, tolerability, and change in incontinence frequency over 3 months in a single-center randomized trial. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 220(1) 87.e1 - 87.e13. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2018.10.031
3) Huang, A. J., Jenny, H. E., Chesney, M. A., Schembri, M., & Subak, L. L. (2014). A group-based yoga therapy intervention for urinary incontinence in women: a pilot randomized trial. Female pelvic medicine & reconstructive surgery, 20(3), 147-54.
When I mentioned to a patient I was writing a blog on yoga for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), she poured out her story to me. Her ex-husband had been abusive, first verbally and emotionally, and then came the day he shook her. Violently. She considered taking her own life in the dark days that followed. Yoga, particularly the meditation aspect, as well as other counseling, brought her to a better place over time. Decades later, she is happily married and has practiced yoga faithfully ever since. Sometimes a therapy’s anecdotal evidence is so powerful academic research is merely icing on the cake.
Walker and Pacik (2017) reported 3 cases of military veterans showing positive outcomes with controlled rhythmic yogic breathing on post-traumatic stress disorder. Yoga has been theorized to impact the body’s reaction to stress by helping to modulate important physiological systems, which, when compromised, allow PTSD to develop and thrive. This particular study focuses on 3 veterans with PTSD and their responses to Sudarshan Kriya (SKY), a type of pranayama (controlled yogic breathing). Over the course of 5 days, the participants engaged in 3-4 hours/day of light stretching/yoga, group talks about self-care and self-empowerment, and SKY. There are 4 components of breathwork in SKY: (1) Ujjayi (‘‘Victorious Breath’’); (2) Bhastrika (‘‘Bellows Breath’’); (3) Chanting Om three times with very prolonged expiration; and, (4) Sudarshan Kriya, (an advanced form of rhythmic, cyclical breathing).
This study by Walker and Pacik (2017) included 3 voluntary participants: a 75 and a 72 year old male veteran and a 57 year old female veteran, all whom were experiencing a varying cluster of PTSD symptoms for longer than 6 months. Pre- and post-course scores were evaluated from the PTSD Checklist (a 20-item self-reported checklist), the Military Version (PCL-M). All the participants reported decreased symptoms of PTSD after the 5 day training course. The PCL-M scores were reduced in all 3 participants, particularly in the avoidance and increased arousal categories. Even the participant with the most severe symptoms showed impressive improvement. These authors concluded Sudarshan Kriya (SKY) seemed to decrease the symptoms of PTSD in 3 military veterans.
Cushing et al., (2018) recently published online a study testing the impact of yoga on post-9/11 veterans diagnosed with PTSD. The participants were >18 years old and scored at least 30 on the PTSD Checklist-Military version (PCL-M). They participated in weekly 60-minute yoga sessions for 6 weeks including Vinyasa-style yoga and a trauma-sensitive, military-culture based approach taught by a yoga instructor and post-9/11 veteran. Pre- and post-intervention scores were obtained by 18 veterans. Their PTSD symptoms decreased, and statistical and clinical improvements in the PCL-M scores were noted. They also had improved mindfulness scores and decreased insomnia, depression, and anxiety. The authors concluded a trauma-sensitive yoga intervention may be effective for veterans with PTSD symptoms.
Domestic violence, sexual assault, and unimaginable military experiences can all result in PTSD. People in our profession and even more likely, the patients we treat, may live with these horrors in the deepest recesses of their minds. Yoga is gaining acceptance as an adjunctive therapy to improving the symptoms of PTSD. The Trauma Awareness for the Physical Therapist course may assist in shedding light on a dark subject.
Walker, J., & Pacik, D. (2017). Controlled Rhythmic Yogic Breathing as Complementary Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Military Veterans: A Case Series. Medical Acupuncture, 29(4), 232–238.
Cushing, RE, Braun, KL, Alden C-Iayt, SW, Katz ,AR. (2018). Military-Tailored Yoga for Veterans with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Military Medicine. doi:org/10.1093/milmed/usx071
As practitioners, we understand the value of a yoga practice for multiple systems. Yoga improves cardiovascular function, pulmonary function, improves flexibility, builds strength, improves balance, and cultivates resiliency. Prenatal yoga is deemed safe and widely practiced. Beyond not laying prone after the first trimester, what are modifications for practicing yoga while pregnant? Is there any evidence to demonstrate if specific yoga postures are safe from both the maternal and fetal perspective?
Polis et al set out to determine the safety of specific yoga postures using vital signs, pulse oximetry, tacometry, and fetal heart rate monitoring. The patients were diverse in age, race, BMI, gestational age, parity, and yoga experience. Exclusionary criteria included preeclampsia, placenta previa, bleeding in the 2nd or 3rd trimester, gestational diabetes, BMI greater than 35 and other medical conditions that presented contraindications.
The maternal and fetal responses were tested in 26 yoga postures. The selected postures, much like most yoga classes, offered a variety of physical positions. The standing, seated, twists and balancing postures chosen were: Easy Pose, Seated Forward Bend, Cat Pose, Cow Pose, Mountain Pose, Warrior 1, Standing Forward Bend, Warrior 2, Chair Pose, Extended Side Angle Pose, Extended Triangle Pose, Warrior 3, Upward Salute, Tree Pose, Garland Pose, Eagle Pose, Downward Facing Dog, Child’s Pose, Half Moon Pose, Bound Angle Pose, Hero Pose, Camel Pose, Legs up the Wall Pose, Happy Baby Pose, Lord of the Fishes Pose and Corpse Pose.
Balancing postures were modified to decrease fall risk. Warrior 3, Tree Pose, Eagle Pose, and Half Moon Pose were performed at the wall or using a chair for support. The addition of a yoga block to bring the floor closer to the practitioner was used for Extended Side Angle Pose, Extended Triangle Pose, and Garland Pose.
Four poses that have previously been theorized to be contraindicated were studied in this group. These postures are Child’s Pose, Corpse Pose, Downward Facing Dog, and Happy Baby. No adverse reactions were discovered for this specific population during the intervention or in the 24 hour follow-up as reported by email.
Now that we have this data, what do we do with it?
We have the opportunity to educate our non-high-risk patients that the previously theorized contraindicated postures listed above were safe for the self-selected group in this study. Those who are in high-risk categories should understand that even though yoga is not a high impact activity, there should be clearance from the OB team to ensure expectant mothers are moving as safely as possible. With proper guidance, yoga is a safe form of exercise and stress reduction which can optimize physical and mental health during the prenatal period and prepare for birth.
Dustienne Miller is the author and instructor of Yoga for Pelvic Pain. Join her in Kansas City, MO on April 7, 2018 - April 8, 2018 to learn about treating interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome, vulvar pain, coccydynia, hip pain, and pudendal neuralgia with a yoga approach.
Polis RL, Gussman D, Kuo YH. Yoga in Pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol 2015;126:1237–41
You have been treating a highly motivated 24-year-old woman with a diagnosis of Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome (IC/BPS). The plan of care includes all styles of manual therapy, including joint mobilization, soft tissue mobilization, visceral mobilization, and strain counterstrain. You utilize neuromuscular reeducation techniques like postural training, breath work, PNF patterns, and body mechanics. Your therapeutic exercise prescription includes mobilizing what needs to move and strengthening what needs to stabilize. Your patient is feeling somewhat better, but you know she has the ability to feel even more at ease in their day to day. Is there anything else left in the rehab tool box to use?
Kanter et al. set out to discover if mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was a helpful treatment modality for (IC/BPS). The authors were interested in both the efficacy of a treatment centered on stress reduction and the feasibility of women adopting this holistic option.
The American Urological Association defined first-line treatments for IC/PBS to include relaxation/stress management, pain management and self-care/behavioral modification. Second-line treatment is pelvic health rehab and medications. The recruited patients had to be concurrently receiving first- and second-line treatments, and not further down the treatment cascade like cystoscopies and Botox.
The control group (N=11) received the usual care (as described above in first- and second-line treatments). The intervention group (N=9) received the usual care plus enrollment in an 8-week MBSR course based on the work of Jon Kabat- Zinn. The weekly course was two hours in the classroom supplemented with a 4-CD guide and book for home meditation practice carryover. The course content included meditation, yoga postures, and additional relaxation techniques.
The patients who participated in the MBSR program reported improved symptoms post-treatment, and perhaps more notably, their pain self-efficacy score (PSEQ) significantly improved. All but one of the participants reported feeling “more empowered” to control their bladder symptoms.
As clinicians working so intimately with our patients, we are often given the privilege of bearing witness to the emotional pain of healing chronic, persistent pelvic pain. We understand how terribly frightening it is for our patients to feel like they will never get better and we see this come out sometimes as fear-avoidance, which has the potential to cascade further into other areas of the social sphere.
If we are able to encourage holistic methods of building strategies to handle the challenges of IC/BPS, our patients will be set up for success in ways beyond the treatment room. While we hope for immediate results in the form of pain relief (which five patients in the study did), we also can appreciate the strategy building for resiliency in the face of persistent pain. As a very strong woman said, “hope serves us best when we do not attach specific outcomes to it”.
Dustienne Miller is the author and instructor of Yoga for Pelvic Pain. Join her in Manchester, NH on September 7-8, 2019 or in Buffalo, NY on October 5-6, 2019 to learn about treating interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome, vulvar pain, coccydynia, hip pain, and pudendal neuralgia with a yoga approach.
Kanter G, Kommest YM, Qaeda F, Jeppson PC, Dunivan GC, Cichowski, SB, and Rogers RG. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction as a Novel Treatment for Interstitial Cystitis/Bladder Pain Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Int Urogynecol J. 2016 Nov; 27(11): 1705–1711.
I work at University of Chicago and we are in the throes of preparing for a (big T) Trauma Center. But I am physical therapist who works with (little t) traumatized patients- as I treat only pelvic or oncology patients (and usually both).
From the online dictionary: Trauma is 1. A deeply distressing or disturbing experience (little t trauma) or 2. Physical injury (injury, damage, wound) yes- big T Trauma. In my experience, the Trauma creates the trauma and the body responds in characteristically uncharacteristic ways (more on this later).
People in distress/trauma-affected do not respond rationally or characteristically, so I have learned to respond to distress/trauma in a rational, ethical, legal and caring manner. Always. Every time. To the best of my ability, and without shame or blame.
Let’s talk briefly about Trauma Informed Approach
This is a (person), program, institution or system that:
The Tenets of Trauma Informed Approach
Trauma Specific Interventions
Types of trauma are varied but I usually treat survivors of emotional, verbal, sexual and medical trauma. I have even treated patients who felt traumatized by other pelvic floor physical therapists (again, no judgement). Since most of my clinical experience include sexual and medical trauma survivorship, I try to reframe these experiences as potential Post Traumatic Growth, especially when working with my oncology patients. For my pelvic patients who divulge sexual trauma, I don’t dictate or name anything. I allow the survivor to make the rules and definitions. Survivors of sexual trauma need extra care when treating pelvic floor dysfunction.
First, when treating survivors of sexual trauma: expect ‘characteristically uncharacteristic’ events to occur. These include the psychological/somatic effects of passing out, flashbacks, seizures, tremors, dissociation and other mechanisms of coping with the trauma. Have a plan ready for these patients.
Triaging the survivor to assess their needs, when trauma has been verbalized/disclosed:
After assisting the survivor in their journey towards healing, it is imperative that you take care of yourself. Making healthy boundaries (with patients and others), taking time to decompress, creating healthy ritualistic behaviors, mindfulness/relaxation and somatic release (like yoga, massage or working out) is crucial to successfully treating patients who have experienced trauma and who have shared that trauma experience with you.
Because I use gentle yoga for both my trauma survivors’ treatment and for my own self-care, my new course implements evidenced based trauma sensitive yoga. Additionally, modifications for manual therapy are explored. The class is designed to be informative and experiential while integrating the Trauma Informed Approaches of Safety, Trustworthiness and transparency, Peer support, Collaboration and mutuality, Empowerment, voice and choice and Cultural, historical and gender issues.
Join me in Trauma Awareness for the Pelvic Therapist, next available this March in Albany, NY.
Letting Go Breath
Integrating into the clinic
1) Iyengar BKS. Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika. Schocken; 1995.
2) Sapsford RR, Richardson CA, Maher CF, Hodges PW. Pelvic floor muscle activity in different sitting postures in continent and incontinent women. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2008;89(9):1741-1747.15.
3) Julie Wiebe, Physical Therapist | Educator, Advocate, Clinician. 2015; http://www.juliewiebept.
4) Talasz H, Kremser C, Kofler M, Kalchschmid E, Lechleitner M, Rudisch A. Phase-locked parallel movement of diaphragm and pelvic floor during breathing and coughing-a dynamic MRI investigation in healthy females. Int Urogynecol J. 2011;22(1):61-68.
5) Sapsford R. Rehabilitation of pelvic floor muscles utilizing trunk stabilization. Man Ther. 2004;9(1):3-12.
6) Lee DG. The Pelvic Girdle: An integration of clinical expertise and research, 4e. Churchill Livingstone; 2010.
7) Massery M. THE LINDA CRANE MEMORIAL LECTURE: The Patient Puzzle: Piecing it Together. Cardiopulm Phys Ther J. 2009;20(2):19-27.
8) Lee DG. The Pelvic Girdle: An integration of clinical expertise and research, 4e. Churchill Livingstone; 2010.
Speaking with a runner friend the other day, I mentioned I was writing a blog on yoga for pelvic pain. She had the same reaction many runners do, stating she has doesn’t care for yoga, she never feels like she is tight, and she would hate being in one position for so long. Ironically, neither of us has taken a yoga class, so any preconceived ideas about it are null and void. I told her yoga is being researched for beneficial health effects, and one day we just might find ourselves in a class together!
Saxena et al.2017 published a study on the effects of yoga on pain and quality of life in women with chronic pelvic pain. The randomized case controlled study involved 60 female patients, ages 18-45, who presented with chronic pelvic pain. They were randomly divided into two groups of 30 women. Group I received 8 weeks of treatment only with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDS). Group II received 1 hour, 5 days per week, for 8 weeks of yoga therapy (asanas, pranayama, and relaxation) in addition to NSAIDS (as needed). Table 1 in the article outlines the exact protocol of yoga in which Group II participated. The subjects were assessed pre- and post-treatment with pain scores via visual analog scale score and quality of life with the World Health Organization quality of life-BREF questionnaire. In the final analysis, Group II showed a statistically significant positive difference pre and post treatment as well as in comparison to Group I in both categories. The authors concluded yoga to be an effective adjunct therapy for patients with chronic pelvic pain and an effective option over NSAIDS for pain.
In the Pain Medicine journal, Huang et al.2017 presented a single-arm trial attempting to study the effects of a group-based therapeutic yoga program for women with chronic pelvic pain (CPP), focusing on severity of pain, sexual function, and overall well-being. The comprehensive program was created by a group of women’s health researchers, gynecological and obstetrical medical practitioners, yoga consultants, and integrative medicine clinicians. Sixteen women with severe pelvic pain of at least 6 months’ duration were recruited. The group yoga classes focused on lyengar-based techniques, and the subjects participated in group classes twice a week and home practice 1 hour per week for 6 weeks. The Impact of Pelvic Pain (IPP) questionnaire assessed how the participants’ pain affected their daily life activities, emotional well-being, and sexual function. Sexual Health Outcomes in Women Questionairre (SHOW-Q) offered insight to sexual function. Daily logs recorded the women’s self-rated pelvic pain severity. The results showed the average pain severity improved 32% after the 6 weeks, and IPP scores improved for daily living (from 1.8 to 0.9), emotional well-being (from 1.7 to 0.9), and sexual function (from 1.9 to 1.0). The SHOW-Q "pelvic problem interference" scale also improved from 53 to 23. The multidisciplinary panel concluded they found preliminary evidence that teaching yoga to women with CPP is feasible for pain management and improvement of quality of life and sexual function.
Whatever treatment we provide for our patients, we need to consider the individual and their often biased opinions or perceptions. Providing research and educating each patient on the efficacy behind the proposed therapy will likely impact their outcome. The Yoga for Pelvic Pain course can enhance a clinician’s understanding and allow them to better implement a potentially life-changing therapy for their clients.
Saxena, R., Gupta, M., Shankar, N., Jain, S., & Saxena, A. (2017). Effects of yogic intervention on pain scores and quality of life in females with chronic pelvic pain. International Journal of Yoga, 10(1), 9–15. http://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.186155
Huang, AJ, Rowen, TS, Abercrombie, P, Subak, LL, Schembri, M, Plaut, T, & Chao, MT. (2017). Development and Feasibility of a Group-Based Therapeutic Yoga Program for Women with Chronic Pelvic Pain. Pain Medicine. http://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnw306
During labor, I had no problem breathing out. My hang up came when I had to inhale - actually oxygenate my blood and maintain a healthy heart rate for my almost newborn baby. When extra staff filled the delivery room, and an oxygen mask was placed over my face, my husband remained calm but later told me how freaked out he was. He was watching the monitors that showed a drop in my vitals as well as our baby’s. In retrospect, I wonder if practicing yoga, particularly the breathing techniques involved with pranayama practice, could have prevented that moment.
A research article by Critchley et al., (2015) broke down breathing to a very scientific level, determining the consequences of slow breathing (6 breaths/minute) versus induced hypoxic challenges (13% inspired O2) on the cardiac and respiratory systems and their central neural substrates. Functional magnetic resonance imaging measured the 20 healthy subjects’ specific brain activity during the slow and normal rate breathing. The authors mentioned the controlled slow breathing of 6 breaths/minute is the rate encouraged during yoga practice. This rate decreases sympathetic activity, lessening vasoconstriction associated with hypertension, and it prevents physiological stress from affecting the cardiovascular system. Each part of the brain showed responses to the 2 conditions, and the general conclusion was modifying breathing rate impacted autonomic activity and improved both cardiovascular and psychological health.
Vinay, Venkatesh, and Ambarish (2016) presented a study on the effect of 1 month of yoga practice on heart rate variability in 32 males who completed the protocol. The authors reported yoga is supposed to alter the autonomic system and promote improvements in cardiovascular health. Not just the breathing but also the movements and meditation positively affect mental health and general well-being. The subjects participated in 1 hour of yoga daily for 1 month, and at the end of the study, the 1 bpm improvement in heart rate was not statistically significant. However, heart rate variability measures indicated a positive shift of the autonomic system from sympathetic activity to parasympathetic, which reduces cortisol levels, improves blood pressure, and increases circulation to the intestines.
Bershadsky et al., (2014) studied the effect of prenatal Hatha yoga on cortisol levels, affect and depression in the 34 women who completed pre, mid, and post pregnancy saliva tests and questionnaires. While levels of cortisol increase naturally with pregnancy, yoga was found to minimize the mean levels compared to the days the subjects did not participate in yoga. After a single 90-minute yoga session, during which breathing was emphasized throughout the session, women had higher positive affect; but, the cortisol level was not significantly different from the control group. Overall, the authors concluded yoga had potential to minimize depression and cortisol levels in pregnancy.
Considering the positive effect of slow breathing practiced in yoga, the positive shift in the autonomic nervous system function and the decrease in cortisol levels, yoga is gaining credibility as an effective adjunct to treatment during pregnancy. If a woman enters the delivery room with a solid practice of slow breathing under her belt, she may be equipped to handle the intensity of contractions and the pain of pushing a little better. Yoga may help a woman breathe for her life and her baby’s as well.
If you're interested in learning more about yoga for pregnant patients, consider attending Yoga as Medicine for Pregnancy with Ginger Garner, PT, DPT, ATC/LAT, PYT. The next opportunity is in Fort Lauderdale, FL on January 28th and 29th, 2017. Don't miss out!
Critchley, H. D., Nicotra, A., Chiesa, P. A., Nagai, Y., Gray, M. A., Minati, L., & Bernardi, L. (2015). Slow Breathing and Hypoxic Challenge: Cardiorespiratory Consequences and Their Central Neural Substrates. PLoS ONE, 10(5), e0127082.
Vinay, A., Venkatesh, D., & Ambarish, V. (2016). Impact of short-term practice of yoga on heart rate variability. International Journal of Yoga, 9(1), 62–66.
Bershadsky, S., Trumpfheller, L., Kimble, H. B., Pipaloff, D., & Yim, I. S. (2014). The effect of prenatal Hatha yoga on affect, cortisol and depressive symptoms. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 20(2), 106–113.