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Breathe Your Pain Away

human lungHow about a drug-free way to reduce pain? And built on something you’ve been doing all your life – breathing?

Recent studies show that slowing down your breathing may cut your pain level as much as certain drugs. And the results aren’t limited to only one type of discomfort; cutting your breathing rate in half reduces the immediate pain of burns and cuts, but also shows promise for those who suffer the long-term malady of aching joints and muscles.

The power of breathing to increase endurance over pain gives you power over higher levels of pain, and for longer periods of time, according to one study. These results came to participants in controlled sessions during which they cut their breathing rates in half.

How do you rate? Test yourself for a moment. Look at your watch and count the breaths you take in a minute. If you’re like most healthy adults, you take about 12 to 18 breaths per minute. Slowing this down considerably – to as few as 6 breaths per minute – can substantially reduce pain, according to research done with victims of fibromyalgia, a disease marked by chronic, widespread pain. Researchers in the U.S. compared a group of women suffering fibromyalgia with a group of healthy, middle-aged women. Both groups were subjected to the same test: How well could they tolerate probes that generated heat on their hands at various temperatures, and the consequent pain?

The results were the same for both groups: When they cut their breathing rate in half, the pain was less intense than they experienced at their “normal” rate. One possible explanation for this effect is that slow breathing dampens the effect of the sympathetic nervous system, which helps control blood flow and skin temperature.

Consider spending a few minutes a day slowing down your breathing. At the very least, you’ll benefit from a cheap and easy stress reliever. But you may find it to be even more – a drug-free way to cut down on pain.

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