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The effects of slow breathing on affective responses to pain stimuli: An experimental study – Source: Pain, Jan 13, 2009

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By AJ Zautra, et al. • • January 20, 2010

[Note: for more science and guidance on this subject, especially for those with fibromyalgia or ME/CFS, see the links appended below.*]

This study examined whether breathing rate affected self-reported pain and emotion following thermal pain stimuli in women with fibromyalgia syndrome (FM: n=27) or age-matched healthy control women (HC: n=25).

FM and HC were exposed to low and moderate thermal pain pulses during paced breathing at their normal rate and one-half their normal rate. Thermal pain pulses were presented in four blocks of four trials. Each block included exposure to both mild and moderate pain trials, and periods of both normal and slow paced breathing.

Pain intensity and unpleasantness were recorded immediately following each pain trial, and positive and negative affect were assessed at the end of each block of trials.

• Compared to normal breathing, slow breathing reduced ratings of pain intensity and unpleasantness, particularly for moderately versus mildly painful thermal stimuli.

• The effects of slow breathing on pain ratings were less reliable for FM patients than for HCs.

• Slow versus normal breathing decreased negative affect ratings following thermal pain pulses for both groups, and increased positive affect reports, but only for healthy controls with high trait negative affect.

• Participants who reported higher levels of trait positive affect prior to the experiment showed greater decreases in negative affect as a result of slow versus normal breathing.

These experimental findings provide support for prior reports on the benefits of yogic breathing and mindful Zen meditation for pain and depressed affect. However, chronic pain patients may require more guidance to obtain therapeutic benefit from reduced breathing rates.

Source: Pain, Jan 13, 2009. PMID: 20079569, by Zautra AJ, Fasman R, Davis MC, Craig AD. Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA.
* See:
“The Importance of Breathing Patterns in ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia,” by Australian clinical nutritionist & ME/CFS/FM specialist Blake Graham.  

“The Healing Power of Deep Relaxation” (section on Using the Breath) by Dr. William Collinge, PhD, MPH.

“Stress Reduction: Five Practical Techniques,” (section 1, Focus on Your Breath) by Dr. Bruce Campbell, PhD.

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