During an episode of "A Fib" the two upper chambers of the heart, the atria, beat out of sync with the two lower chambers, the ventricles. This results in rapid beats, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness. Left untreated, atrial fibrillation increases the risk of heart failure and stroke.
Common treatments for atrial fibrillation include medications, electrical shock, and atrioventricular ablation, a procedure which destroys the electrical connection between the upper and lower chambers of the heart. But a new study shows promise for another type of treatment.
According to research presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, 49 adults between the ages of 25 and 70 who had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation participated in a supervised yoga program. Three times each week for three months, they were led through a 45-minute routine that included yoga poses (asanas), breathing exercises, meditation and relaxation. They were also encouraged to practice daily at home and given an instructional DVD.
As a result, episodes of atrial fibrillation were cut almost in half. Participants experienced an average of 2.1 episodes during the three-month study, compared to 3.8 episodes before beginning the yoga program.
Yoga can impact the nervous system, specifically decreasing activity of the sympathetic branch. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our "fight or flight" reaction to stress, which includes increased heart rate.
Yoga has also been documented to decrease levels of catecholamines like dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine, hormones produced by the adrenal glands during times of physical and emotional stress.
Yoga may not cure atrial fibrillation, but it can help manage the condition. And it has other benefits as well. Research studies have associated yoga with lower blood pressure, better blood flow, increased immunity, and improvements in strength, flexibility, posture, mood, concentration, learning and memory.
Shurmur S. Presentation, American College of Cardiology annual meeting, New Orleans, April 2, 2011.