The United States leads the world in heart related ailments, including heart disease and high blood pressure. For people suffering from these and related illnesses, such as diabetes, treatment may feel like an uphill battle with no end in sight. But there is hope. In a number of medical trials yoga, meditation, and pranayama have proven effective in treating and in some cases even reversing many heart conditions. An exciting new study published in the 2016 European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing reinforces the benefits of yoga for heart health.
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The study focuses on atrial fibrillation, a disturbance of the heart rhythm characterized by irregular, fast, or slow heartbeats. People suffering from atrial fibrillation report symptoms of dizziness, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Other symptoms include heightened stress and anxiety and a low quality of life. This condition is caused by an irregularity of blood circulation between the upper and lower atria of the heart. There are three types of atrial fibrillation: paroxysmal, persistent, and permanent. Once a patient reaches the permanent stage there is no way to reverse the problem. Currently, conventional treatment includes medications to regulate heart rhythm and prevent blood clots, and medical procedures such as catheter ablation and cardioversion. Reported side effects from both medication and physical treatments include nausea, dizziness, infection, and blood clots. While these treatments do provide relief, it is often only temporary, with symptoms recurring over time.
Eighty patients, all suffering from paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, were invited to participate in the study. The group was divided in half, one to receive yoga therapy in addition to standard treatment, and the other to act as the control, receiving no yoga based therapies. Both groups were given tests to evaluate and establish a baseline for quality of life, as well as blood pressure and heart rate. After 12 weeks both groups were tested once more and the findings revealed overwhelmingly that the group receiving yoga based therapies had lower heart rates as well as decreased levels of systolic and diastolic blood pressure and greater quality of life.
This study reinforces the findings discussed in another article published in the Spring 2015 issue of the Journal of Arrhythmia. The patient base was similar: all people suffering from paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, although this study was unique in that the patients acted as their own controls. For three months they all engaged in standard medical approaches to treat the illness, followed by three months of yoga classes. At the end of the study all patients experienced greater quality of life as well as heightened physical, mental, and emotional health and a reduction in all the symptoms associated with atrial fibrillation.
Both of the studies utilized a mixture of Hatha and relaxation focused yoga therapies in their classes. There are a number of yoga poses that are beneficial to the heart that can be incorporated into a daily practice. These include gentle neck rolls, side stretches, and shoulder shrugs to release tension and open the sides, front, and back of the body to promote greater blood circulation and lung capacity. Supported Setu Bandha (Bridge) is a gentle inversion that helps to re-circulate the blood and reclined supported Supta Baddha Konasana is an excellent heart, chest, and hip opener. Other poses and specific heart focused practice sequences can be found here and here.
Although atrial fibrillation, heart disease, and high blood pressure continue to increase at alarming rates, there is a great deal of hope to be found in the results of these studies and many others like them. For thousands of years, yoga has consistently proven to be a powerful healing resource, bringing the practitioner increased physical health and vitality, as well as a greater sense of overall balance and well-being. So whether you are suffering from one of the heart ailments discussed here, or something else entirely, try some yoga!