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Yoga Shows Promise as Complementary Therapy for Atrial Fibrillation
Researchers in Sweden recently looked at the effects of yoga on people suffering from paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. Their findings are good news for those suffering from this widespread heart condition. Those in the study who practiced yoga had a higher quality of life, lower heart rate, and lower blood pressure.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of arrhythmia, or cardiac rhythm disorder. When an arrhythmia happens, the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat veers off its normal course. The heart may beat too quickly, too slowly, or irregularly. (1)
Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation is a type of atrial fibrillation in which the irregular heart rhythm comes on suddenly and then subsides on its own. Symptoms usually last less then 24 hours, but can last as long as a week.
One-and-a-half to two percent of the global population suffers from atrial fibrillation. As yet there is no cure, and treatment usually focuses on managing symptoms and averting complications. Standard treatment may include cardioversion, catheter ablation, and medication.
In a news release from the European Society of Cardiology, Maria Wahlstrom, one of the study’s authors and a nurse and PhD candidate at Sophiahemmet University and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, spoke about the impact that atrial fibrillation has on people’s lives: "Atrial fibrillation episodes are accompanied by chest pain, dyspnoea [labored breathing] and dizziness. These symptoms are unpleasant and patients feel anxious, worried and stressed that an atrial fibrillation episode will occur. Most patients are still working and take sick leave to visit the hospital. Many patients with atrial fibrillation use complementary therapies, so it is necessary to find out if they actually help.” (2) Yoga is one of the therapies often used to complement standard atrial fibrillation treatment.
In the current study, 80 patients diagnosed with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation were randomized to either a group that practiced yoga or a control group. In addition to receiving standard treatment as needed, those in the yoga group performed gentle movement (asana), deep breathing (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana) for one hour, once a week, for twelve weeks, under the guidance of a teacher.
The subjects’ quality of life, heart rate, and blood pressure were assessed at the beginning and end of the study. After 12 weeks, those in the yoga group had higher mental health scores, lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and a lower heart rate than those in the control group.
Wahlstrom explained why they might have seen the effects they did: “It could be that the deep breathing balances the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, leading to less variation in heart rate. The breathing and movement may have beneficial effects on blood pressure."
The results of the study provide strong evidence for the efficacy of yoga as a complementary therapy for atrial fibrillation. “A lot of the patients I meet who have paroxysmal atrial fibrillation are very stressed,” said Wahlstrom. “Yoga should be offered as a complementary therapy to help them relax.” (2)
Results of the study were published March 14, 2016 in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.
Christine Malossi, RYT is based in New York City, where she offers a mindful, alignment-focused Vinyasa practice that cultivates balance, awareness and equanimity. In addition to teaching private clients and group classes at studios throughout Manhattan, she also teaches at the Spencer Cox Center for Health at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Institute for Advanced Medicine whereshe designs a practice specifically tailored to patients diagnosed with HIV and other chronic illnesses. Christine is honored to be teaching yoga and to have the opportunity to pass on to others the joy and freedom that she has found in her own practice. Find her at www.christinemalossi.com
(1) National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: “What is Atrial Fibrillation?” https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/af
(2) News release: European Society of Cardiology http://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Last-5-years/yoga-improves-quality-of-life-in-patients-with-atrial-fibrillation