Maintaining a consistent twice-weekly yoga practice helped people with cardiac arrhythmia improve symptoms and reduce anxiety, noted a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (2013; doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2012.11.060).

People with atrial fibrillation (AF),
a common form of arrhythmia, may experience palpitations, shortness of breath, weakness, confusion and/or chest pain (www.MayoClinic.com). This condition can contribute to anxiety and depression. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, MD, lead study author, was quoted on a University of Kansas website: “Yoga provides a powerful connection between mind and body. . . . Atrial fibrillation is one of those arrhythmias that is critically dependent on the communication between the heart and the brain.”

Researchers from the University of Kansas, Kansas City, conducted “Yoga My Heart,” a small, single-center, pre/post study, to observe the effects of yoga practice on the burden of AF. They observed and collected data from 49 male and female subjects with AF, aged 18-80, who were on stable medical therapy. For the first 3 months, data points included number of AF episodes, measures of depression and anxiety, and other quality-of-life indicators. In this way, each patient acted as his or her own “control.”

During the second 3-month period, subjects participated twice weekly in a 1-hour Iyengar yoga class that consisted of 10 minutes of pranayama, 10 minutes of warm-up exercises, 30 minutes of yoga postures and 10 minutes of relaxation. Patients were encouraged to practice at home and were provided with a DVD.

Data analysis showed that yoga led to significant improvements in the number of AF episodes and in quality-of-life measures. Study authors pointed out that while the exact mechanisms for why yoga was beneficial were unclear, likely reasons included its effect on the autonomic nervous system and its ability to increase parasympathetic activity.

Researchers noted the need for more studies, including large randomized controlled trials.

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